Annually I try to develop a plan for myself, a list of things I'd like to accomplish during the ensuing year. Having worked as a VSO volunteer in international development since March 2009, I'll soon be approaching my five year anniversary in this field, about 17% of my working life. I came into the development field fairly late in life, although living/working abroad was something that I had wanted to do since I was 17. However life sometimes gets in the way. But as I recently explained to a first year group of Bachelor's level hospitality students, your career path can be circuitous, but one should still hold out for achieving one's goals. As someone who had wanted to go overseas after becoming a dentist, but never making it past college chemistry labs, to a person finally able to live/work overseas once my children graduated to adulthood, I've learned a lot during these past five years.
When I first came to India in March 2009, I thought that I had a lot of answers, that as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland says, " Your way? All ways here are my ways!" Maybe not quite this drastic, but you get the point. Development is not about what we want, but is being able to listen deeply to others and ask the question "What is it that you feel that you want/need?" This, to me, is the basis for, in development lingo, "theory of change", i.e. developing a road map of getting from here to achieving long-term goals. In a world in which there are too many distractions and multi-tasking, hearing what others are truly saying is key to understanding. Realizing that there are multiple methods for achieving goals, and allowing for this kind of space, has to be part of one's perspective. Personally I will slow down and listen more deeply when others are speaking to me, trying not to be judgmental.
Even though my volunteer stipend and living conditions may be more than what most people have in-country, living/working overseas has helped me to more fully appreciate/understand other's situations. I know that I am not poor, but am able to further empathize with others. During the new year I will continue to be empathetic.
Understanding another's native language is very important to building trust and relationships. Although I've found that people 2 people connections happen naturally, especially when one is friendly and open, smiles go a long way, being able to communicate in one's host country's native language is vital. I will make it a priority to learn my host's language.
Cultural faux paux's are bound to occur. I've made my share. A difference can be made by being patient, understanding other's, listening, and taking time to explain my perspective. I will work to not let things get out of hand and try to resolve issues sooner rather than later.
Seeking collaborating/partnerships and letting go of ego are key to making progress. This is most difficult as we all try, on some level, "to toot our own horn". However, given limited resources the only way to really make positive change is through collaboration . I will continue to network and reach out to others to make positive change occur.
When people are in an emotional crisis, egos take over and human rights get abused leading to oppression. We all need to treat others with kindness, being non-judgmental and helping one another to share in the world's vast resources. It doesn't matter how much one has accumulated when one is no more, more importantly it is about the quality of the relationships which we have developed. I will treat others with understanding and kindness.
Having friendships, loving others no matter what their circumstances, living with passion and doing what one enjoys, ultimately leads to happiness. What a different place the word would be if we all lived our true selves and treated others with the same respect that we a want. I wish everyone the best and hope that your dreams are fulfilled in 2014.