“We will support democracy from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom. And we must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice – not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice.
“We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”
-Obama’s second inaugural address
These words, I think, ring very true for PCVs around the world. Many times people in our host country see us, and because of the color of our skin, they ask us for money. Or they teach their child to ask us for money. It’s annoying, but it’s understandable. Annoying because we’re here to work and to live with the people. Understandable because so many charities come and go, giving things. Things, only. Not conversation. Not relationships. They give things. So people see us and think that we are here to give things too.
Just today, I was at the market. There are many ladies who use an oil to wash and shine Rwandan women’s hair. I usually greet them, one carrying a baby on her back. There is a crowd, listening to our conversation. She asks me for food for her baby. Her baby could only be like 2 months old. I don’t know how to say “to breastfeed” in Kinyarwanda, so I say, “Your baby has food because your baby has you.” She laughs. Again, she asks me for food for her baby. I walk away. There are 2 dozen people watching. If I give her a fruit, I have to give her and all the people around me a fruit every week. I can’t do that. That’s not my job.
I teach English to my students, and I hope that they take the lessons as opportunity to move forward. I greet the market children, including the one with a twisted foot, and I hope that he understands he’s every bit a child as the others. Rwanda isn’t very accommodating to those with disabilities. Most I see in the bus parks, begging for money.
And every day that I do my job, I know that my effort won’t always be seen. I know that my lessons won’t always be understood. I know that my students don’t have the time to complete their homework because they have to fetch water, clean their homes, and cook for their families. I do my work out of hope. Hope that maybe, somehow, I’m making a difference.
I know that there are a lot of debates going on in America about gun control, gay marriage, debt ceilings, global warming, and tax increases. A lot of people chose the extremes of these arguments, saying things like, “I’m going to move to Canada if…,” “The world as we know it will end if…,” and “If…it will not be the America we know and love.” A lot of things can happen and change to improve America, though we all have our own ideas of what those things are, but I hope you from America reading know that you are very lucky to be who you are and to be living where you are. You have freedoms and access to opportunities of which many of my students can only dream.