How Elon Students are Helping “Developing Worlds”

Give freely to the world these gifts of love and compassion. Do not concern yourself with how much you receive in return, just know in your heart it will be returned.” 

These are the words spoken by Steve Maraboli, and words that Elon students certainly live by and follow. Through various service trips that Elon offers, the students who partake in them definitely spread love and compassion wherever they are traveling to. Usually it is to developing countries who do not have much, so they are not able to give back to the students. However, the experiences they share and the memories they help create for the Elon students is enough. Also, the feeling in one’s heart after traveling to and helping people in developing countries is something that cannot be felt by receiving a concrete item. It comes from knowing that you have spread love and compassion. One recent example of Elon students fulfilling everything this quote says, would be the Elon alternative break trip to Malawi a couple weeks ago. I first heard of the Elon trip to Malawi on my way back from my alternative break trip in Jamaica. One of the girls who went to Jamaica was going to Malawi as well, and I happened to sit next to her on our flight home from Jamaica at the end of spring break. She mentioned to me that she was going and I thought it was amazing how she was giving up her spring break and two weeks of her summer to help people in developing countries. I think it is awesome that Elon offers trips like this to its’ students, and at an affordable price. Our Jamaica trip cost $1,100 for the entire week, and little spending money is required because the area we were in was a poverty stricken area. I am assuming it was much the same for the group that went to Malawi. When reading the article on the Elon website, “Students visit Malawi for service opportunities,” I thought it was interesting to read that the group spent a day working with an HIV/AIDS support group. According to this article, about 12 percent of the population in Malawi is inflicted with HIV/AIDS (“Students visit Malawi for service opportunities”). Twelve percent of a population of just one area is an extremely high number and I think it was beneficial for the Elon students to spend time with people who make up a large portion of the population where they were staying. HIV/AIDS is something we here about quite frequently in America. Having the opportunity to speak with and listen to people living with this disease must have been eye opening for the group. I think it takes a lot of courage to be able to do something like that.

For this assignment, we were asked to reflect on Elon travel experiences similar to the Malawi trip, in developing countries. I have had the opportunity, as you know from some of my other posts, that I went to Jamaica this past spring break. I also went as an alternative break trip through the Kernodle Center at Elon. I don’t think anyone can quite understand the reality of life in developing countries such as Jamaica and Malawi, until they experience it first hand. With Jamaica especially, you usually see travel commercials on tv that highlight the pristine beaches and luxurious places to stay while you vacation on the island. However, that only makes up a small portion of the country, and I was exposed to the majority of the country that is not shown on television. What’s interesting about the country and people who live in Jamaica, is their attitude toward life. Many of the people living there have little money and live in small houses, oftentimes with no running water. However, despite the little that they had, they were some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I feel like people in America who do not have much feel sorry for themselves on a day-to-day basis, and don’t take the time to appreciate that they are alive. In Jamaica, the people learned to use the resources they had and make the most of their situation. When we taught kids at a local day school, they were some of the happiest children I have ever encountered. They were so glad to just be spending time with us and they laughed and smiled and it was so refreshing to see kids act like this. Children in America can be so whiny and ungrateful if they do not get their way or get some toy that they want. In Jamaica, kids are raised without getting much so they don’t expect anything. In a way, I wish kids in America were raised like this because the kids in Jamaica proved that money doesn’t buy happiness.

Playing with some of the kids at recess in Jamaica

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“What ‘we’ experience is not what ‘they’ experience. The experience of receiving humanitarian action is not the experience of being a humanitarian (Donini).”

I would definitely agree with Donini when he says that the experience for a humanitarian aid worker is quite different from that of the person receiving the aid. I think the humanitarian aid worker experiences a sense of accomplishment, no matter how much or how little humanitarian aid is given. The person receiving the aid feels a sense of worth, in my opinion. They are receiving some form of aid that will better them as a person. Whether they are receiving clothing items to clothe their family, or receiving medical aid so they can be a stronger, healthier person. In the way of emotions, I think that the humanitarian aid worker and the person receiving the aid both feel the love and compassion that I mentioned earlier from the quote by Steve Maraboli. The humanitarian aid worker feels love and compassion when they are able to help others, and the person receiving humanitarian aid feels like they are loved and is compassionate towards those giving them the aid. I think these two emotions bounce back and forth between the humanitarian aid worker and the victim of a crisis. I believe that the Elon students who traveled to Malawi recently, definitely felt love and compassion as well as spread it to the people in Malawi. I know this was the case when I went to Jamaica on a service trip.

Donini touches on a few interesting topics in his statement, “Humanitarian action works as a powerful vector for Western idea’s…that shape the relationship. And power.” By powerful vector for Western idea’s, I think he is talking about the ideas and culture that someone in a Western society brings to another country. For the Elon students who traveled to Malawi, they may have acted in a manner that is normal for them but not normal for the people of Malawi. Over the course of the two weeks that the students were there, the people in Malawi they worked with may have started to adapt the ways of the Elon students, aka people in a Western society. After the two weeks were over, however, I think that the people in Malawi slowly started to go back to their old ways. Dan Dennett, in his video, says “am I saying that a sizable minority of the world’s population’s had their brain attacked by parasitic ideas?…most people (Dennett).” Even though he was kind of joking when saying this, I think he is correct. Many people are influenced by what is around them and the ideas that they get in their minds usually stems from an outside source. When a group of people travel to another country to provide humanitarian aid, their cultures and mannerisms are usually vastly different than those of the country they are traveling to. When you bring an entirely different culture into another country it can stir things up a bit. People start to act like who and what they are around, so I definitely think there can be some negative aspects to humanitarian aid in this respect.

References:

“Quotes About Helping Others.” (74 Quotes). N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013. <http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/helping-others?page=1>.
“Students Visit Malawi for Service Opportunities.” E-Net! Elon University News & Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013. <http://www.elon.edu/e-net/Article/72834>.
Dolini, Antonio. “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, Power.” In the Eyes of Others: How People in Crises Perceive Humanitarian Aid. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2013. <http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/book/perceptions/?id=5961>.
“Dan Dennett: Dangerous Memes.” YouTube. YouTube, 02 July 2007. Web. 16 June 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzGjEkp772s>.
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