It isn’t perfect

Global Citizen Year isn’t perfect. Far from it. The Brazil Cohort has been really shaken up recently because of clashes between Fellows and GCY administration. Hypocrisy runs rampant on both sides, especially regarding expectations of the other.

There are many things I would like to change about how the program is run internally, but I appreciate the effect GCY has externally, at least through what I’ve seen here in Brazil.

There is no effect. I don’t think me, or any of the other Fellows, are really going to have a tremendous impact on our communities here in Florianopolis and Garopaba. And that’s exactly what we want.

One of our assignments for our first Training Seminar is to prepare for a debate about “voluntourism” and “more than good intentions” and the heat revolving around the new trend to go abroad to make a difference. Unsurprisingly, I found much more for the Cons of voluntourism than Pros. There may have been some confirmation bias in my research, but I feel more solid in my standing here in this program than before.

I didn’t come to Brazil to serve or save anyone. I didn’t come here to grow as a better person, or empower myself. I just came here to learn.

I applied to GCY because I wanted to learn about Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Sustainability. I wanted to work under experts in the field so that I could solidify my dream of saving the Earth from humanity. I wanted to learn Portuguese. I wanted to learn about Brazilian music and culture.

I think that is what GCY does well. It gives us space to learn.

We have weekly language classes to supplement our immersion based language learning.

We have apprenticeships. I think this is the part that gets most confused with voluntourism. I don’t wake up every morning to go build a well for a poor community that doesn’t have access to clean water. I wake up at 6 am and come home at 4 pm because I spend my time learning about care for wild animals under Brazilian veterinarians. Sure, most of the time I’m learning how to perfect my sweeping efficiency as I clean cages, or improving my reflexes as I try to not get bit by hungry parrots. But I’m still learning. I am also not taking away jobs from community members, which I think is very important. R3 is an NGO that relies on volunteers to help maintain the rehabilitation center for the animals so that the trained vets can do their work. I am not performing heart surgery on an injured Capuchin monkey, but as I clean the cage, the vet is saving a life.

We have host families. The families choose to be in the program. We are not imposing ourselves in the community, but are integrated by and with people who want us to be in their lives. We are not intruding, but being invited in. We learn holiday traditions, different types of cuisine, and new family dynamics.

I am not here to see and experience poverty, only to go home to my comfy life and tell everyone that I made a difference, unlike what volunteering has largely turned into. I am here to be an unconventional student in a home away from home.

And again, that is not to say that GCY is perfect.

Some say that the language classes are useless. Homework does nothing but waste time that could be spent having conversations in Portuguese that teach you much more. Everyone learns at different paces as well, so being in a class where you are being taught about basic foods at the grocery store , yet are already able read full novels in the language, can be very aggravating and seem like a waste of time. But at least the focus is still about learning. We could be tossed into the country and expected to learn completely on our own. Or even worse, we could be tossed into the country and told to “help”, without even bothering to learn the language.

The apprenticeship situation is also not perfect. I am fortunate and grateful to be able to work in a field that I can see as a future career possibility. Some of my peers don’t have that opportunity. Some are struggling as volunteers at daycare centers, learning how to handle children, and learning that they don’t like children. Others don’t have strict enough schedules, and are left with too much free time, both in and out of the apprenticeship. Some are struggling to find a purpose in their work, if their supervisors give them any purpose in the first place, in some cases. The problem of apprenticeships isn’t a quick fix. There are only so many places where you are able to volunteer in a way where it doesn’t become a case of an American imposing their values onto a “less developed” country. I appreciate the skeleton that GCY gives regarding apprenticeships, but there is much more that could and should be done so that everyone is able to get what the program intends out of the apprenticeships.

Host families, like all families, are never perfect. No one can say why a family really wanted to bring a Fellow into their life. No one can anticipate that the members that said they would be there for the Fellow would make themselves scarce. Not all personalities will match. An adventurous, outdoorsy type may be matched with a family who’s favorite pastime is watching TV. Expectations on both sides are often hindering the development of strong relationships. Conflicting schedules may limit the amount of time that Fellow and family have to be together. While it is mainly the Fellow’s responsibility to integrate into the family, it is also expected of GCY to help facilitate and ease any difficulties. I am again fortunate to not have conflict with my family, but many of my peers have unresolved problems that I can only see getting worse with time.

I appreciate GCY for their values and implementation, how their program makes sure I don’t feel guilty about being a “voluntourist”, because I am not one. I am happy to be in the program, to be in Brazil. I have already learned so much by being here to learn, not to save.

But with any and everything, it isn’t perfect.

stumbling through our global citizen year


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