The Head & The Heart

by rachel

So… I’m highly aware that I have procrastinated on these GPS reflections for quite awhile but I do (somewhat) have a reason – I wanted to take time to process everything that we went through and see how it led on to experiences after GPS. At the same time I did keep a physical log of my thoughts over the course of the trip just that those aren’t being published (at the moment anyway). Yesterday I was talking to Ashley and Regine about follow up trips to our respective OSL/GPS locations and a number of things came up that made me feel like I should write this reflection so here goes!

Before I begin this reflection, I would like to clarify that the thoughts I represent in this post are solely my own. Reflecting on a public platform has its pros and cons but I felt like this was something I want to share and if your opinion differs from mine do feel free to drop me a message elsewhere or to leave a comment on this post!

Recently amongst my GPS team there has been a lot of talk about going back to Zambales to work with the Aeta people there. So far the consideration has been about going back post-IB when we’ll hopefully have more time to commit to planning the project and also more time to spend there. I really want to go back again as well but I find myself questioning if our reasons for wanting to go back again are concrete enough to justify us going back. As it stands I think my question is, essentially, how sustainable will what we do be and will the impact that we leave on the community actually be positive? There’s this nagging worry that our presence in the village with the villagers will end up bringing more inconvenience as opposed to aid.

Over the course of the past two trips, they’ve made so many provisions to ensure that our stay with them will be comfortable, whether in Maporak or in Alunan, especially so when we home-stayed with them during GPS. Yes, the living conditions were simple, being a bamboo or wooden platform shared across the 3/4 people staying in one house. However, because we were sleeping there, this meant that they ended up sleeping on smaller platforms like benches because that’s where they usually slept. And, on top of that, they actually went out of their way to purchase new items for us like how Nanay Delia who two other girls and I were staying with laid out a new mat to cover the platform for us. I understand that, as the teachers and co-ordinators have mentioned to us, that we do pay them to accommodate us but I do feel like to a certain extent we kind of get in the way of their daily activities.

My thoughts are so dichotomized right now. I know that we have definitely tried our best to help the Aeta community. One of the things we did while we were there on our second GPS trip was bring in new books into the library and also try to help categorize the existing books in the library. We chose to do this because we felt like, at least, with a well stocked library, the children can better practice their reading and writing skills which would be more effective than having us come in and teach them English for a week or so. But at the same time, I really don’t know how much of what we have done will actually be useful to them. There’s no way of telling at the moment whether or not the library is actually being utilized by the people. And that’s where my worries lie – will what we can do while being physically there actually help the community in the long run? If we were to go back, what is it that we can do? Because ultimately, even if we stay there for a few weeks things might just revert to how they were before after we leave. Reason being there are larger issues that we, as students, might not necessarily be able to combat yet. I believe that everyone’s heart is in the right place but I do feel like we need time to figure out what exactly this community needs and whether or not we can, realistically, provide it. I do feel like what we’re trying to do with the documentary and book will be able to raise awareness for the community if we execute it well and that is important but in order to do so we will definitely need to work with Asian Bridge Philippines again in order to get it to reach out to the Filipino community as well because ultimately that is where this awareness will matter the most.

Other than that though, I do feel like to a certain extent what we can do is limited because a lot of the issues that they are facing originate from a very structural, governmental level. Looking through Chieftain’s 5 year projection plan for the Maporak community, I felt like if we could try to help lobby for that to be viewed by more people and to be considered more carefully so that they can get the support they need from a governmental level, that would be something that would really help them. After all, they would know best what they need and Chieftain clearly has it all planned out clearly in his report. I understand that I come from a rather idealistic point of view and that there’s a lot I don’t know about these processes that I am talking about but I do feel if there is something we could do, that would be it. Definitely it would still require a lot of communication with Chieftain and the members of the community in order fully understand the context of the issues and to see whether they want our help in that way but I do think it’s something viable for us to consider. However, it does mean that us being older and better trained in issues such as these would really help. This does mean that perhaps we might not be able to do this in the very near future but thinking forward I think the bonds that we have formed over OSL and GPS are invaluable and will be able to aid us to help fight for their rights when we are better able to, and that time might not be now.

I’m in no way trying to discount the work that we have done or that service learning groups in general do. But, personally, I feel like it’s very important to acknowledge that as youths engaging in service learning, the focus for the creation of these programs is on the learning of students. To some extent, the NGOs and communities we work with do accommodate us. While we do provide service, I’m not sure if the sort of service we provide is wholly necessary?? I feel like I am walking on tenterhooks right now. But I think what I’m trying to say is that, especially in the case of Overseas Service Learning, they key takeaway is the spirit of service. And as youths, I think we should recognise that most of the time the place where we can make the most positive impact is in our own communities. Meaning, back here in Singapore. While doing Service Learning overseas can be a huge source of inspiration, we should never forget about serving our community here, taking what we learnt through those experiences to apply them back in our own contexts. When we work with communities from different cultural backgrounds, like with the Aeta people, there is the danger that what we introduce to them from our communities can have a negative impact. In comparison, working within our own cultural contexts reduces that considerably. We will better be able to understand these communities and provide the aid they need. And through the process of serving our own communities, I believe we will then learn and grow as well and perhaps one day we will be ready to return to these overseas communities to provide aid to them from a more mature standpoint.

As much as we might really want to go back and all, I think before doing so we really need to consider why we want to go back and whether our returning to the community will truly create more good than staying away for now will. For example, I’m not sure if this is wholly true but I believe the Year 4 Zambales team will not be returning to Maporak this OSL trip partially because Chieftain felt it would be too much for the community to handle. If true, this does, to a certain extent, indicate to us the sort of inconvenience we pose to the community.

I understand that everyone’s heart is in the right place and perhaps yes there is a reason to go back, all I’m saying is that for now I don’t particularly see that reason yet. Yes, there are things we could do if we went back that we can’t do from Singapore but is there not also work we can do here that we cannot do there? Ultimately, as students we also have to remember the cost behind organising a trip like that. At the moment I believe if the trip were to happen a lot of us would be “sponsored” by our parents and it wouldn’t be a small sum. I do think there are a lot of other opportunities for us to serve communities around us that could be more cost-effective and also more impactful. From these opportunities we can then learn and then finally return truly on our own terms.

When the term “sustainability” comes up, I think we have to consider if it’s “sustainable” for us to constantly return to the community at this point as well. Sigh and honestly I don’t have an answer. I do acknowledge that returning will allow us to continue building bonds with the people in order to better understand them and their needs which will aid us in working with them moving forward but at the same time so much resources are used into organising such a trip back that I honestly question if we are making the best use of such resources.

My heart really wants to go back and sees the importance of the bonds we form which connect us on a very human level but my head tells me that we might be able to better aid the community in other ways?

I’m not sure what will eventually come out of this but if anyone has read this till the end, do let me know what you think!