Guest Post: Have I made a difference?


549580_10200916508659537_542936612_nWe’ve loved having Anna with us! Here’s her reflection on her time with us.

It is almost time for me to go home, which means I have been a volunteer at iThemba Projects for about four months. My biggest fear these days relates to trying to answer the question, “Anna, did you make a difference?”

I left my home, my family, my boyfriend, my friends, and my country to go to a place where I didn’t know anyone and had never been before. As I packed up and traveled all the way from Denmark, I had one goal: I wanted to make a difference. I didn’t know for whom, and didn’t really know how, but I wanted to make some kind of difference. I just finished High school in Denmark, and remember sitting with some of my friends talking about the following year. Almost everyone wanted to travel, and we were excited about experiencing the world after many years of school. The others wanted to go back-packing and to see a lot of different countries – the more the better. When I told them I wanted to stay one place to get “under the skin of a culture” and make a change, a lot of them thought it was a bit naïve. But I stuck to my plan and went to South Africa with the hope of making a change. So have I made a difference?

Anna's art club
Anna’s art club

Only time will tell if I made a lasting difference, and certainly I wasn’t a part of any huge changes. Even though four months sounded long to my friends, in the big picture, it is just a short time. But here are some things that give me hope that in this short time I have made some kind of difference:

  •  When I come to the schools every week to teach, and see the smiles on the children’s faces.
  • When I talk to the teacher about next week’s lesson, and she replies “Thank you so much. I’m learning so much”.
  • When the students at After-School-Art-Club stopped laughing at their art and started looking at it with pride.
  • How the student’s eyes’ shined when I told them I would make an art-exhibition with their artwork.
  • When I do warm-up-finger-gymnastic with the fourth grade students at Mountain Home, and they all ecstatically raise their hands to be chosen to lead the exercises.
  • How they hug me when I leave.
  • When the teacher at Nobanda excitedly tells me about an art course she went to but already knew a lot of the material because of our lesson planning/couching sessions together.
  • And afterwards when she says “I’m actually starting to like teaching art.”
  • When the teachers gave us a juice and snack break at St. Raphael’s crèche while we were painting a mural there.
  • When I do all the hard work of my preparation with a smile and commitment.
  • When I give Thulani ideas for crafts to do in his Life Group.
  • When they call me Anna-Banana at the office – followed by a giggle.

Yes, when I reflect on all these little things I’ve been privileged to be a part of, I believe maybe God has used me to make a difference .

We’ll miss you Anna! Thank you for serving with us with thoughtfulness, cheerfulness, and SO much creativity and love!!

A World Where Short Term Trips Aren’t Needed

“But when we are honest, too much of the time our service projects cover up the reality that our way of life is what makes the service project necessary to begin with. In that way service projects don’t function to change the status quo, or even push against it, they actually function to maintain it. They are what makes it possible for us to continue to live in consumptive patterns that are destroying the ecology, social fabric and other people’s lives while at the same time telling ourselves that we are good, generous, compassionate Christians.

The best service projects tell the unvarnished truth. They don’t manipulate folks out of guilt. They don’t sugar-coat the root causes of poverty. They let people experience the impact of their way of life on others. And they provide hope for a way forward. That way forward doesn’t involve more projects, it involves new ways of living! It involves people with power and wealth laying it down on behalf of the poor and marginalized. As followers of Jesus, we should be about making a world where the Mother Theresa’s and Martin Luther King Jr.’s have nothing to do. To the degree that our service projects can help do that, I’m all for it. To the degree that they help to obscure reality and maintain the status quo, they aren’t helpful.

This is where we, in the church, could learn a thing or two about community development. Often times church leaders, and youth guys who lead these churches, have absolutely no training in what it takes to transform a community from the ground up. We do service projects without thinking more deeply about how time, energy and money could be best used to help solve grass-roots problems. Too often, youth pastors unwittingly play the role of facilitator in covering up the ways we maintain the status quo. We aren’t asking enough hard questions about the root causes of poverty, both locally and globally. Until we do, we will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.”

(Quote from Michael Danner’s blog post “no saint’s needed” on Provoke+Love.   Thanks Sam for passing it along!)

This quote is really challenging to me, as someone who helps bring teams on “service project trips”. iThemba, as a development organization, is always trying to think about how we can “work ourselves out of a job”. How can we help create a world where our job is not needed? So I wonder… can we apply that to teams? How can we structure our trips and outreaches with local and overseas volunteers in such a way that they are challenged to change their lifestyles so much that their outreach trip will no longer be needed? A major part of that has to come from the sending organization itself (church, school, or organization). But I am sure there are things we can do from our side to help people start a journey of re-thinking how they live.

Maybe you can challenge the groups you work with to start thinking about how they do outreach?