International development is a tricky field. The lines between what is helpful for a community versus what is harmful for a community can be blurry. Especially when the help is coming from a foreign (often Western) country. As citizens of developed nations, we often like to think that we know what’s best for other countries without having a complete understanding of the environment that we’re entering. Many organizations and their projects base the needs-assessment for developing communities on the needs the we, as foreigners, see as priorities. But in reality, the focus should be on the perceptions and actualities of the country being helped. We should be sure that we are not imposing our priorities and our culture on these nations, but rather aiding their development in a way that enhances their own cultures.
International development needs a more effective and more thorough, anthropological approach to its work. Before saying these are your needs and here is how you should fix it, every group should ensure that they understand the actual situation at hand. What is the culture here? What is most important to the people? What systems do they have in place already? What are the obstacles (politics, resources, etc) that exist? What do the locals see as their greatest needs? What technologies exist already in this area? How will this affect the various members of the community?
Edge of Seven volunteer working with The Mountain Fund staff member.
One way to ensure that the correct approach is taken is to pursue partnerships with organizations that already exist in the particular community. I was lucky to observe Edge of Seven’s partnerships first-hand this fall. Having been involved with the organization for over a year, I’m familiar with all of the efforts that go on State-side and the projects that each team member takes on to educate the public on our mission, bring in donations and gather volunteers for our trips abroad each year. But the partnerships that are formed with organizations in the communities that they help are the pieces of the puzzle that makes the operations work—this is what drew me to Edge of Seven originally.
Being involved with local Nepali groups gives Edge of Seven a leg-up in the international field. They know exactly where the needed resources are. They are able to communicate daily and more effectively with the people of the community. They are able to help maintain the project site even when we don’t have a staff member present. All while being able to focus on providing the financial and volunteer support needed to complete each project.
Edge of Seven trekkers spend the day at the Salleri girls hostel with The Small World staff members.
Because of the local partners, Edge of Seven and other similarly-structured organizations are able to operate more efficiently and provide effective assistance to communities in need.
Traveling has been my addiction for a while now. I feel that it was inevitable before I even set foot outside of the United States. I remember every year, Randy Nadler would come to our grade school and mesmerize all the students with his hour-long slide show presentation of all the amazing photos he snapped during his latest overseas trip. One year was China; one year was Spain; one year was Papua New Guinea. I always looked forward to this and knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be like Randy.
I’m grown up (at least I’m older) now and have be super lucky to do quite a bit of traveling since my grade school days. While I keep adding to my list of traveled-to countries, I have not been able to form this passion into a career or even generate an income from related activities. But that doesn’t stop me. My love for exploring and learning in the global community is what drives me to take the time and the money and dedicate it to traveling.
Here are the major major advantages that I find with international traveling:
- Learning about different cultures. It is fascinating to see how different countries celebrate Christmas. Or maybe they don’t even celebrate Christmas, they celebrate Diwali. Being in other countries and learning about others’ traditions, religions, daily activities, etc. is a great way to broaden your mind and see that just because things are done differently, doesn’t mean that things are wrong or bad. We should be exposed to the different flavors of the world.
- Finding an honest appreciation for my own culture and upbringing. At the end of every stint abroad, I always seem to find at least a small sense of relief when returning the States—my home, my things, familiar food, no problems with communication. Traveling can be sensory overload and mentally draining at times. It makes you ask questions and seek answers. And it leads you to a new perspective. What are the things that are important to you and the comforts of home that you may have taken for granted before? Experiencing new, uncharted territory (for you) helps to view your “normal” in a new light—maybe this leads to reaffirming your place, maybe it leads to a realization that change is needed.
- Seeing the common thread among all humans. While many countries and cultures are different in terms of the food eaten, the language spoken, the customs practices and other aspects, the basic needs of humans are the same anywhere you go. The pursuit of food, health, education and belonging exists all over the world but takes manifests itself in various ways depending on location. Traveling has really opened my eyes to this common thread that stays consistent throughout all of humanity.
- Trying new and different foods. Food is one of the most fun things about traveling. There are so many delicious cuisines around the globe! New foods aren’t always good, but how do you know that you don’t like it until you have tried it? I made the policy for myself that I will try any food one time. This has led to me eating bugs and lungs and some other not so appetizing things. But now I have tried them—I can say for certainty that I will not be eating them again and the story is fun to tell.
- Experiencing the natural beauties of the world. Beyond the cultures to see and learn about, the world is filled with incredible sites that humans had nothing to do with. We are lucky in America to have a vary diverse landscape across our country. However, there are so many other natural formations that are worth seeing. The Himalayas are the tallest mountains, the Great Barrier Reef is the only living organism that can be seen from outer space, the Costa Rican rainforest sports one of the highest levels of biodiversity. These things can’t can accurately described without seeing it firsthand.
- Meeting other similar-minded and inspirational people. Perhaps one of the greatest experiences that I have found while traveling is forming new friendships with the other travelers that I meet along the way. Curious people come from every country and have the same goals to step outside of their culture and bubble to learn about others. And everyone has a fascinating story. Whether it is a girl from North Carolina leaving the US for the first time, or a pharmacist from Scotland in between jobs and locations, or a guy from Sweden that is cycling his way across Asia, I have met so many individuals that have inspired me in one way or another and become valuable relationships for me.