American Eyes

It was in late 2015 when I decided I wanted to make a significant, long-term commitment to helping young people in the community of Rocky Point break the cycle of poverty they come from. I began by forming a Mexican Civil Association and then made what I believe is the best decision that I have made throughout this four-year journey: I formed a local advisory group. I did so because I believe that a challenge that Americans frequently face when trying to help in another culture is that, while we leave our country physically, we do not leave our country mentally. In my experience, when we Americans go to help where there is a need outside of the U.S., we can sometimes tend to think that we know better than others how things should be done.
It is understandable why we do this; we have been trained to look at the world in a certain way and it is hard to lose that perspective when going to another country. While this is true for non-Americans too, since the United States has dominated so much of the world economically, militarily and culturally we can tend to see the world with our own eyes more than others do. This carries with is the very real danger of thinking that the way that we think is the right way to think and often prevents our efforts to help elsewhere from being successful long-term.
I have learned a great deal from a dear friend of mine who opened an orphanage in South Africa 14 years ago. When he has long-term volunteers come to serve at the orphanage, he sends them a thank you card and a quote before they arrive. I have come to deeply appreciate this quote which is from the late Max Warren, an Anglican missionary leader who wrote, “Our first task whenever approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.” These words have become incredibly important to me in my role as the founder of an organization trying to help young people in a country that is not my own.
I have tried hard to remain humble as this program has developed and evolved. However, a challenge I have faced is that I have a Master’s degree in Child Psychology and significant experience working with children and families in need here in the U.S. I have found that this can lead me to sometimes have strong beliefs and feelings about how to most effectively serve the families in our program. Quite honestly, I have had to work very hard to avoid ‘forcing’ my American ideas and beliefs about the best way to do things on my local team. I try to always remember that, regardless of my experience working in the U.S., the members of my team will always know better than I do how to work most effectively in their own country. So, although I cannot completely take off my American eyes, it is important that I always try to do this as best I can. Fortunately, having an incredibly talented, compassionate and committed local team makes this much easier than it might otherwise be. Next month I look forward to introducing you to this amazing team and helping you get to know the role that each of them play s in the success of this program.
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While much support for our program comes from the United States, our compassionate, committed local team is responsible for the tremendous success we have experienced.