Service can be Selfish…

By: Chris Roundy and Nathan Calies

In thinking about the trip so far, especially in thinking
about the service portion of the trip which is now behind us, the many reasons
for doing service have become more apparent. Before we left for Thailand, the
group read and discussed two papers that addressed the ideas behind service and
how it is viewed. It was refreshing to see a straight-forward analysis of
service that wasn’t afraid to say that some reasons for doing service are more
selfish than others. Some of the reasons for doing service that were discussed
include: 1) a love of whatever god(s) you choose to believe in and his/her
children; 2) we’re all human and occupy this planet; 3) I can relate to your
problems; 4) bragging rights; 5) karma points. When serving internationally,
one might also include a desire to see the world as an excuse or reason to do
service.

On this trip, our service has been focused around two
villages: Kalasin and Bannamhom. In Kalasin our service activities included
painting new school buildings, checking for and treating mosquito larvae that
could cause malaria and dengue fever, and planting a rice paddy. While the
mosquito control was a more sustainable and selfless service, the other two
activities were much more selfish. We had fun doing it and will no doubt return
home bragging about the experience. However, with the money that we spent in
traveling to the country and our inexperience as painters and planters, we were
easily the most expensive, not to mention worst painters and planters in Thailand.
It would have been much more cost-effective to send the money that we would
have spent traveling and have the school hire dozens of professional painters
and have them paint many more school buildings. And in planting the rice, it is
likely that the area of the crop that we planted will not do well at all.
Again, it would have made more sense to send money to hire professionals or to
simply allow the villagers to plant the rice themselves. In Bannamhom it was a
similar story. While some projects, such as our health assessments with the
Thai nursing students, were very effective and sustainable, other work that we
did, mostly the manual labor in minor construction and painting work, was less
so. Again, it would make more sense to send money to hire professionals.
However, in taking that path, we would be missing the point.

This course is called Concepts in Global Citizenship and that is exactly what we are here to experience: global citizenship. It is one thing to sit in a classroom and discuss the health issues and international
development of Thailand, but having the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in the country is another entirely. We are living the once in a life
time chance to do home stays with Thai villagers, to sleep in a dormitory in the jungle for which we helped raise thousands of dollars in funding, to experience
rural Thai life, and we have had the chance to experience days of bucket showers and squat toilets. One must also consider our level of expertise. We
are not eye surgeons that can come in and spend a week doing cataract surgeries to make a difference, but rather we are lowly college students with basic skills. We help however we can and in the end we learn much more than we give. With that knowledge, we are able to return home as experienced advocates for Thailand and have more meaningful, more productive conversations about what the
problems are, what we learned from our experiences, and how we can address them
in future work. Service learning never felt so good.

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