Confessions of an International Nonprofit Hopper
Written by Plant With Purpose on October 25, 2012 in General
by Aly Lewis (Former PWP staff writer and grants specialist and lifetime PWP enthusiast)
Hello blog readers!
I am thrilled to be sharing my thoughts on this blog again. For the past two months, I’ve been living in La Antigua, Guatemala. I’ve been salsa dancing, Spanish classing, and spending my afternoons wandering the cobblestone streets while passing women in colorful woven skirts and tops pressing their palms together in the pat-pat-pat of tortilla making.
As a part of my cultural immersion, as well as personal and professional curiosity, I’ve been nonprofit hopping. I’ve visited nonprofits that work with kids, microfinance institutions, student discipleship groups, women’s groups, and organic farms. I even marched in a parade on behalf of a peace building organization.
All of my touring and traipsing has convinced me of one thing: Plant With Purpose spoiled me. Not just with amazing coworkers, being able to live in America’s finest city of San Diego, and a flexible schedule, but with its unique mission and vision for implementing development.
For five years I lived and worked and breathed the Plant With Purpose model—local leadership, holistic mission, qualified, compassionate staff who speak the language, know the culture, and are called and created for their exact position.
I’m now a foreigner living in a developing country and I want to help and I don’t know how. What’s a girl to do in Guatemala, stumbling over the Spanish subjunctive, not able to identify which Mayan group someone belongs to based on the color of her skirt or traje (the typical indigenous dress unique to each village and people group), and am more likely to be proposed to for a green card than to make a true friend?
My nonprofit hopping has reiterated the wisdom of the Plant With Purpose model. The nonprofits I’ve seen doing the best work are the ones with local staff, built on local initiative, and engage in responsible cooperation with their international partners. They don’t give handouts. They address root causes, not just surface symptoms.
For example, I’m volunteering with an organization that provides educational reinforcement, food, and a safe hang out space for at-risk youth in one of Guatemala’s most dangerous neighborhoods. I’m trying my best to support and love these kids, but I’m not the one making a big impact: the local teachers are.
While my mind’s stuck conjugating verbs and trying to decipher Guatemalan street slang, the teacher I assist is making the real difference. The students ramble off the details of their day while she listens intently, giving them a level of attention they probably don’t receive at home. She can be silly one second and the next be giving a serious lecture on staying in school and making good life choices. And they listen to her because she knows their history, their culture, their stories. They’ve done a lot of life together.
My point today is that it’s hard to serve cross culturally, internationally.
So if you want to serve, to be a part of world change, I’d say first take a look at the community around you. Who do you know? How can you get involved exactly where you are? What relationships can you invest in? How can you share your time and skills?
That’s the beauty of community. We complement each other. We each have a part and a role to carry out. I encourage you to look for your role in your local community.
Also, with Plant With Purpose you have the opportunity to support dedicated, hardworking people who have asked themselves these questions and jumped in full force.
Today I invite you to support the incredible workers of Plant With Purpose who have identified problems in their own towns and regions and communities and are using their skills, talents, and shared history and shared life to foster change, to share their expertise, and to join together to create opportunities for growth, to decrease suffering, and to multiply joy.
And if, like me, you’ve been nonprofit hopping, perhaps it’s time to hop no further.