There is a certain humility that comes with being a long-term volunteer. As a white American, I learned very quickly that I needed to know my place and my role within the community. Many people approach volunteering in a developing country with the notion that they are going to change the world and experience new and wonderful cultures and be met with gratitude for all that they are doing. While that can be true, what my time at CBS has taught me is how important it is to realize that it is not about you at all. I saw many volunteers come through with a sense of entitlement. They felt that they were making a big sacrifice just by showing up (which to be fair, they were) and that that in itself should earn them the respect of the students at our school. They then became deeply offended when such respect was not always instantly awarded and instead they found themselves having to learn how to reach rowdy, difficult children who did not want to do their work or apathetic, unimpressed teenagers, not to mention the parents who constantly questioned their child’s marks but did not want to take an active role in helping them learn.
I learned we all have to work much harder than that, because at the end of the year the international volunteers get to leave and the children have to stay here. That is their reality, and for some of them it is pretty grim. Many live in poverty, some are absolutely destitute, and many of our students come from broken families and serious abuse. It is not our right to be accommodated as if we are living in a developed country or to expect automatic openness and trust from every student just because we showed up. It is a privilege to be granted access into the reality of the people who live here, and we must learn how to live and help within their reality rather than try to impose on it.
I taught at CBS from 2013-2015 and I was also the Volunteer Coordinator/Vice Principal during my second year. After counting the days until I could return, I am finally back here visiting and teaching for two months. I am so impressed with this year’s group of volunteers. They are giving it their all and have so much genuine love for their students. Many of them are constantly questioning and assessing their teaching methods, and how to better help their students learn. Evenings lesson planning around the table turn into brainstorming sessions on how to teach a tricky concept or how to best help a struggling student. It is very encouraging to work with a group that is always trying to figure out how they can give their students more. I was gone for 15 months and I thought about and missed and worried over the kids at CBS every day that I wasn’t here. Now I am trying to slow down time because the weeks are flying by and I don’t know how I am going to bring myself to leave again. But at least when I do I am leaving behind a group of people whose actions have told me “We get it, we love it here, we love the kids, and we’ve got this.”
Amanda, 8th and 9th grade teacher