- What does your organization do and what is your job there? How long have you done this work? Is it your first overseas relief post?
I work for LifeWind International as an “Area Coordinator”: coordinating training and follow-up of CHE (Community Health Evangelism, now called Neighborhood Transformation in the
My organization is a Christian non-profit which bases itself in the idea of shalom: harmony with God, with ourselves, our neighbors, and the earth. We train and accompany people (other NGOs, mission organizations, churches) who are seeking a holistic transformation of their rural villages or inner city slums. By holistic I mean physical (community health, prevention of disease), emotional (harmony in the family, with neighbors, no family violence), vocational (micro-enterprise), and spiritual. The spiritual part consists of Christian teachings in many countries, while in Muslim countries we work with our common ground of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament, and in Buddhist and (post-) communist countries we use moral values teachings.
This is my first time working full-time overseas. I have traveled extensively, as well as spent a year abroad as an exchange student (between high school and college) and a semester overseas while at Macalester. I spent five weeks on a humanitarian mission to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in the
- What led you to this work?
I’ve been interested in development for a long time. I would also like my work to be meaningful and make a difference for good in the world. During my last three years in the
- Did your time at Macalester play into your decision to take on this work?
Yes. Macalester was a wonderful environment. Perhaps even more helpful than the actual studies were the relationships that I developed and have retained with amazing people. Many of my friends from Macalester have gone on to community activism, many volunteer, and one friend started a non-profit to teach homeless people computer skills. They are people who really believe that we are “global citizens” (so Macalester cliché, but true), and that we not only have a responsibility to work for a better tomorrow but that a better tomorrow is actually possible. (That sounds super-cheesy but I think it’s also true.)
- What’s the hardest part of your daily routine?
Well, I’m still pretty new at this job. Doing the necessary administrative work isn’t all that exciting. Keeping up with the requirements of my medical license is not relevant to my current job position and so can be frustrating. And we’re still really new in
- What’s most gratifying?
I really love meeting with people and helping them to realize their own abilities and verbalize their vision for their community.
- Has your worldview changed? Become more pragmatic? More cynical? More accepting?
One of the great things about Macalester was that it helped me understand the concept of worldview. And as I moved to different states and within different sub-cultures I was able to process cultural differences better. I think that I am more hopeful. The more I see in the world, the more I see that despite overwhelming obstacles (such as corruption, poverty, horrific mistreatment of women and children) people can find creative solutions and make life-giving choices.
A lot of this comes out of one’s worldview, right? I liken it to when they taught us in psychiatry that we could truthfully tell a person who was depressed that there was a way out even if she couldn’t see it. That we knew for certain that the patient would not stay depressed forever, and in this way be the light that she could not currently see. My worldview/theology/life philosophy teaches me and gives daily evidence that LIFE eventually wins out over death, and that every person is created in the very image and likeness of God and is therefore worthy and capable of living a life of dignity and value and meaning.
who wanted to know what contributions are most meaningful? Time? Money? Activism? U.S.
Before going overseas I had already done a lot of volunteer work (homeless shelter, tutoring literacy, youth ministry, overseas trips visiting missionaries) and had formed an idea of what was effective, which is why I chose the organization I’m working with: it has its flaws (as does any organization) but always remains very true to its core values which I share:
1) holism (I discussed this above)
2) community ownership: the communities are the ones who are expected to take the lead, forming a committee to decide on large projects and selecting community members to go house-to-house to teach their neighbors
3) development rather than relief: relief work is very detrimental to communities when done outside of a crisis situation. Obviously in the case of a natural disaster, like what is currently happening in
4) multiplication: in my job I train others who will be training others. This not only multiplies my efforts but also has people teaching and working in more natural circumstances (their own neighbors, who tend to share a similar lifestyle, similar problems, and similar educational level).
I really think that it is key to have community ownership. So, money is great if it’s put into organizations that are in keeping with your values and are really leading to transformation. Time is also excellent, since that tends to change the one giving the time, right? I’m really into the importance of relationships, and think that spending time with people who are doing development (or relief) work helps change our perspective on our own lives, and can lead us to make significant changes in them. And activism is really important as well since that can lead to structural societal change.
- Advice for current students who are interested in relief work? Would a minor or major in humanitarian studies or global health help?
I think the most helpful thing is to actually get out there and cultivate relationships with both people doing development/relief work and -- if community work is your goal -- start forming relationships with people from varying sub-cultures. Knowing at least one foreign language well is also incredibly helpful since it really expands your ability to form relationships with people from different cultures.