Monday, November 10, 2008

A question of giving

We headed south out of Surabaya to the smaller city of Malang this past weekend. Unlike our own bustling chaotic urban sprawl monster, Malang seems to allow for foot traffic. Part of this is the cooler temperatures, and part of it is the inclusion of such pedestrian niceties as sidewalks and crosswalks.

So we walked.

And saw more of the developed world culture that we have placed ourselves in but also partially separated ourselves from.

In any city, anywhere, there will be people in need, and people begging. Sometimes they sit quietly waiting, other times they grab your arm or follow you around.

And there are many of them. So many that one cannot give to all. You see this suffering, and you want to do something, but if I handed even a dollar to everyone, I would be out $50 by day's end.

We gave to the crippled: the man missing an arm, the man with the ravaged knees. We sometimes ignored those who begged for money even while they offered goods for sale.

We are teaching English here in the underdeveloped world (though such a description relies on one's definition of "development"), but we are working for a private company. We are teaching spoiled rich kids, not the kids who could use an added skill to raise their quality of life.

The kids ask us where we live, and then they laugh because they know that their neighborhoods and their houses are far superior to ours. Some of them have bedrooms larger than our classrooms at the school. These are not people who need my help to forge a path through the world.

I knew sort of what we were getting into when we signed up. I expected this quality of life. But what I didn't expect was how disheartening it would be to realize that I am not making a difference here.

In Alaska, I taught nights at the University. I helped people who wanted to learn, since these are the types of people who attend night classes. And I worked my normal job for a company serving nonprofits. Most nights, I could go home feeling like I was doing something to improve the world, even if it was just a little something.

But here, I don't know. We are not rich by any measure here, though we can give a little money, but there has to be some other way to help, some way to make a difference. We need to find it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pretty sobering, all right. I suppose the EF school is in a delicate position, too: If it clamps down on the rich students' attitudes, then the brats would go elsewhere and the funding for the school dries up.

Hang in there, you guys. Only ten months to go, right?