Since premiering H.O.P.E. Was Here: A Volunteer Travel Documentary online, we’ve received amazingly insightful responses to our inbox that we can’t help but share.
This one comes from Erin Maher, a Public Health Associate at ICF International and former AmeriCorps member.
When I did AmeriCorps, we had a monthly seminar called "The Meaning of Service." It was led by a philosophy professor and we often did readings and then would reflect on how we were feeling about our service. I got a lot out of those sessions and the discussions almost always led back to the questions raised in this film. So it really resonated with me. One thing we talked about that has always stuck with me, was that when you are doing a "service" for someone else, it almost always establishes a "have" and a "have-not." And would there even be a purpose of service without that divide? Sometimes, doing that type of work can just reinforce those roles and potentially emphasize the idea that one group is lacking and has a need. So although aimed at reducing an inequality, it maybe just reinforces it.
Erin added that while viewing parts of the film where American college students entered the classrooms of high school and grammar school-aged Peruvian students, she asked herself hypothetical questions about how that volunteer-beneficiary relationship of “have” and “have-not” might change under different circumstances.
How would this be different if this classroom were full of English-speaking people? Or white people? How would this be different if they were working with adults instead of children? How would this be different if this were in the US rather than Peru? How would this be different if it were for a year or a month, rather than a week? These are things I think of because I'm a researcher for a living, but also because I think those all play factors and are really important to think about, particularly for people who coordinate and/or design volunteer programs like this.
Have you experienced a clear “have” and “have-not” divide in your volunteering? Let us know in the comments.
After watching H.O.P.E. Was Here, we encourage you to email your responses to our production team at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can feature them in open articles such as these that stimulate constructive dialogue about international service.