The end of an internship

April 1, 2011 | Alexandra, EIL Program, Panama, Nutre Hogar Santiago, Social Worker Assistant

I think many of us held the belief that we would come to conclusions after we have gone through our internships. We would have experienced something new and the world would clarify. This hasn’t been true for me. A sort of clarification has happened; I see the intricacy and depth of complicated problems. I have more questions; I understand how difficult it is to come to any solution.  In our pre-departure training, Rex brought up the old truism “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, you feed him for life”.  At the training session, Rex opened the floor up to discuss all the angles and approaches that we could take looking at that truism. Not only how we, from a Western point of view, approach this truism, but also from a gendered and classed perspective.  At the time, it felt like an interesting exercise, but throughout my internship, I have felt the central importance of this discussion.

This morning, we were eating breakfast outside a modest hotel in a small central Panamanian town where the only industry seems to be a sort of ‘rustic’ tourism.  An old woman came up to us and asked for some money to pay her water bill, which she proceeded to show us. I don’t usually give money to people who ask, I follow the argument that it is better to give to aid organizations or soup kitchens. I also believe that a lot of us  go into this field because we want to re-structure the international system – to put it broadly – we want to make the world a more just place, we believe that we can create justice through systematic change, not through putting some money into the hands of a few people. I don’t just want to “give a man a fish for the day”, but then, something else became quite clear to me. Giving a dollar to a woman won’t change anything, she will need another dollar tomorrow, but right now, today, she has something concrete in her hands. She might live her whole life never seeing the justice of structural change happen. She might take that money and pay her water bill or take it and do something much worse.  We can’t change the world in three months; we will only affect the people we meet in the three months. We are here, today I met her. The dollar does not mean much to me, but what is one dollar to her? She has a concrete, immediate need.

I haven’t come to any conclusions now that my internship is over – I don’t know whether I think that it is right or wrong to give money to a beggar, but instead of simply thinking about the hypothetical situations presented to us at university, I have been placed squarely into many of the quandaries of living in a third world country and those experiences have been as educating as any time spent thinking, discussing, or sitting in the classroom.  

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