As a volunteer, everyone will tell you how essential it is to learn the language of the people you intend to support. While that may be true, I discovered it was much more than that. I spent more than two months forcing myself to learn the most romantic language apart from Italian—Portuguese. However, by the time I arrived to my project country of Mozambique, I could barely understand or speak out of fear that I would be misunderstood. The reality is that your work can still be done without words. Whatever you specialize in, whatever environment you have been placed into, whatever language difficulties are handed to you, there ARE various ways to connect and promote partnership that supersedes verbal communication.
While observing the conditions and the lifestyle in Chimoio, a city in the Manica province of Mozambique, I noticed the need for empathy, consistency, longevity and humility from volunteers. These qualities bare the fruit of real sustainable development because it goes further than simply changing external circumstances in a community, it changes mindsets too.
We could build the schools. We could build chicken fences. We could place our hands in the mashamba (i.e. crop fields). However, in the midst of all that physical labor, we leave out the development and evolution of thoughts and ideas. The ideas that: cure illnesses; increase the graduation rates in secondary schools; provide jobs; and build economies. All evolutionary ideas start first with providing a non-verbal environment free of judgment and overflowing in what I call “the seeds of authentic connectivity.”
I advise you not to confuse this attribute with its cousin, sympathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. It is the ability to hug a young female student on the verge of tears from constant societal pressure and whisper, “Eu sei/I know.” It is taking yourself out of your reality and your shoes and putting on the shoes of those you intend to support. It is being mindful of your environment and understanding the community through observation. It is taking “self” out of everything.
In my experience, empathy was the first form of communication that enabled me to promote change. Through the power of empathy, we can develop a better way of teaching English courses to communities. We can find the true importance of different art forms. Regardless of the hardships we will witness, we can discover the small beauties that make the people of Mozambique priceless. You truly connect and create an impact when you can make their reality yours.
In our community, the locals embodied humility. I rarely saw a moment where someone held themselves at a higher regard or demeaned another. Resistance to change arrives when those who intend to help give off the notion that the advancements and knowledge they bring to developing countries qualify them as superior. Even a whiff of this attitude will stunt growth.
As empathy seeks to take “self” out of situations, humility removes “ego” so that selflessness can flourish. Humility is fundamental for volunteering. To coexist with a different culture, values, and/or beliefs takes stepping away from yourself and realizing one thing—we are all human beings. We are all living and breathing. We have a duty to protect our humanity through the flow of education and resources.
CONSISTENCY & LONGEVITY
The concepts of consistency and longevity go hand in hand. Without them, projects might never continue or disappear completely after a volunteer’s project period ends. This is why sustainable development is so important and why we work WITH the communities. When you are consistent in your actions and apply an ongoing determination, it becomes contagious. The community around you are persuaded to work and take ownership of the project. You mobilize others without even saying a word. Once the project becomes the community’s project, there will be longevity.
You can promote change and empower others as a volunteer even without knowing their local language. It comes from the heart. All you need in your toolkit is a little bit of empathy, some humility and a splash of consistency.
Written by: Shanyce Auguste (United States) - June Team 2019