Since I'm leaving Botswana on Sunday, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my time here. The more I reflect on these memories, the more sense they seem to make as one long story. The catch is that this story is told in emotions, which makes it hard to pin down the right words. I'm going to give it a shot, and hopefully nothing gets lost in translation.
There are many people that think internships such as mine exist so that the volunteers can feel like they're saving the world. I can't speak for all interns, but I can say that in my case, this experience was about saving myself. The past six months have enabled me to grow in ways I didn't expect. I've exchanged my analytical tendencies for embracing ones, after realizing that by comparing cultures, one will be seen as superior to the other. It is only through experiencing a culture as its own separate entity that it can truly be appreciated.
I've never really been a person that prioritized money or material goods, but living here has shown me that they're even less important than I thought. I've seen so many people get by, and be happy, on so little that living in our two-storey house in Gaborone can be embarrassing. As always, there are people that are possessed by the allure of ownership, which can lead to negligence of actual needs, and crime. I've had three phones stolen since I've been here, but I've only gained friends.
The biggest lesson I've learned has led to my greatest regret. This internship has opened the door to do more development work, but the thing that bothers me is that I needed this internship to become interested. There are so many other problems, so much that can be done, that I've ignored. It's not like this is my only first-hand experience working in development. In 2004, I participated in St. FX's Service Learning program in Guatemala. It was only during Spring Break, but it was an introduction to what's being done around the world. In the months following my group's experience, we'd receive e-mails telling us what's going on and what can be done. We did our best to stay informed and to respond, but as time went on, these emails went unread. I originally thought I was the only inconsiderate one, but I later found out that the other 10 group members did the same thing.
What is it going to take for us to rid ourselves of this "out of sight, out of mind" mentality? I'd like to think that six months is enough time to firmly ingrain it in my mind, but who knows what will happen in the next few years? All I can do is devote myself more fully to this cause than I have in the past. I have a feeling I'll do better this time.
If anyone who reads this is thinking about pursuing a future in development work, I would advise him/her to remember that firsthand experience is only one way of achieving that goal, and that there are as many problems at home as there are abroad. Volunteer, teach, give, just do what you can to help. One person isn't going to change the world, and that's exactly why there are so many of us.