*warning ... it's a big one*
Well ... it has been three weeks since classes ended with my girls and I have been to new places and made new friends along the way. (And I have neglected this blog). Complete freedom in schedule and life is a real treat; however, I do miss the life and connections I made during my first month via Cutting Borders.
Today I woke up feeling the need to reflect.
Let's get the downside out of the way:
Disorganization in an organization - oxymoron? ... No.
And it doesn't appear to be just the organization I chose to team up with. I met some other travellers volunteering with a different (dis)organization as well. It seems that it is part in parcel with the way of life here. And in honesty, I am attracted to the slow pace and the lack of sweating the small stuff - that is always a big draw to Latin America for me. Although, to take that saying a little further I could say that most people aren't even sweating the big stuff here. Which makes me wonder ... who is better off?
North Americans definitely have a leg up in terms of business and technology - simply put ... We get shit done; however, it is clear that we are a much more stress filled lifestyle as well. What do you think the trade off is worth?
As far as Cutting Borders is concerned there were some big gaps in partnership: I rarely ever saw or heard from the directors during my time there - No one ever came on location to check it out. Weekly fundraisers and meetings sometimes left volunteers hanging with no forewarned cancellation. All of the Spanish-challenged volunteers were never addressed or included in group meetings by utilizing the translators for communication and feedback. And finally, I was promised being connected with at least one local stylist in order to sustain Cutting Borders when my time there was finished ... Never happend.
I don't mean to complain here, but I want to be honest about all sides of the project as it can't always be peachy. I understand there are cultural differences that play a factor in how we all operate in life and I respect that I am not at home and can't have the same expectations; however, there is a sadness in the fact that (not just the Cutting Borders project but) all efforts connected to Mariposas Amarillas have massive potential that isn't being actualized. In order for this to happen I believe there needs to be more structure and communication between the volunteers and the directors.
(side note: I have had the pleasure in meeting a wonderful Dutch girl, Amis, in Cartagena who is currently studying Spanish in order to work with NGO's here to create organization and structure where it is so desperately needed. Amis, no doubt, will provide a missing link to the future and success of many individuals here. Amazing.)
In aknowledging that I don't have a complete idea of what is on the directors plates ... the truth of the matter is that without the volunteers themselves there would be just buildings and supplies sitting there and an essential ingredient in creating the changes in these communities are the people that wake up each day and go spend some of their face-to-face time with the people. It is the relationships that make the difference and that relationship should start within the foundation in order to reach outside of it.
I believe that Cutting Borders unfortunatey had a short shelf life and the flame of potential sustainablity was extinguished when I left Santa Marta. This is a tough pill to swallow for many reasons: The amazing support from home to launch this thing, the time invested by volunteers and students, the interest and engagement of the girls taking the class and, of course, the potential the project has to continue reaching others and growing along with its students.
On a positive note:
I've been in touch with Sirlis via facebook and have heard from other volunteers still in Santa Marta ... My girls have been using their tools! They have been cutting family and friends hair and a few of them have been discussing creating a little business together once they get a bit more practice under their belts. Absolute music to my ears. Out of the initial overwhelming interest in the classes - (lucky number) Seven women now have a new skill and the fact that they are using it and sharing it with other women is outstanding. This makes it all worth it.
One of the days of class was dedicated to the question, "What is beauty?". Through a collage project followed by discussion it was heartwarming to learn that beauty was interpreted beyond asthetics and all of the students clipped images of moments in life as well as beautiful hair and outfits.
Another magical discussion was near the end of classes during the evaluation. All of the students talked about how empowering it was to meet everyday as a group of women and learn a practical skill together. There was something major in the realization that they didn't have to just see life as wives and mothers. On the contrary, they could contribute to their families/future families through another role as well and this brewed passion and an aliveness in their eyes that just can not be depicted with words. Seeing that made me feel the most alive I have possibly ever felt. That is all I can say about it.
A wrap up party on the final day reached well into the night when the women organized massive speakers pumping latin music, an incredible spread of home made food, flowers, notes, etc ... a big fat thank you party was had. It was an honor. I brought champaign and my translators brought a beautiful cake. We partied on that little dirt road from afternoon until after dark. Motorbikes, donkeys with carts and random people just walked right on through our celebration and by the end of the night it felt like the whole barrio was dancing and laughing with us. Needless to say, the final goodbyes were heartbreaking.
And so there it is ... the balance of setting high goals without clinging to expectation - it's a challenge. Also, a lesson for me in accepting the glitches and focusing on the successes has really helped me in seeing this project, and all of the life changing relationships I have had the pleasure in experiencing, as a major successes.