Serving in Community as a Global Citizen
Community was a buzzword during my time at Seaver College. I had countless discussions on how to foster community, what community looks like, and how we saw God in community. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, my community looks drastically different from my time at Pepperdine. I'm the only North American living in a village in Lesotho, a country that is 99% homogeneous. I live in a one-room house with a host family nearby. Suffice to say, I'm not walking down Upper Dorm Road with my roommate. I dove headfirst into my life in Lesotho by immersing myself in the community. A lot of people joke that I'm Mosotho because I speak the language, Sesotho, and I have learned about the culture. My community has been the catalyst for my success as both an educator and development practitioner. Pepperdine values service, and coincidentally, volunteer is embedded in my job title. So, I would like to share some reflections about what service in community means to me post-graduation from Pepperdine.
There's certainly an inequality in wealth and opportunities between the US and Lesotho. Consequently, there's a certain expectation about what my presence in Lesotho means. The assumption, albeit flawed and riddled with historical complexities, is that I have a great deal of knowledge to impart and then wealth and opportunity will immediately appear. While I do have a lot to say, I have intentionally closed my mouth and opened my ears. I work with competent and qualified teachers who are passionate about their students and their subject matter. They're not destitute or in the throes of civil war, but life can be hard. In the midst of it all, my colleagues are extremely creative in their approaches and teaching methods. They carry diplomas and degrees in primary education, and we constantly learn from one another and mutually benefit from sharing knowledge. I think we often expect that, as US citizens, we know what's "best" or "right" and passionately work to export our way of doing things. While it is well intentioned, this neglects the contexts that we don't fully comprehend and the pre-existing expertise and qualifications of local partners. But when we take the time to listen to other experiences beyond what we know, it opens us up to understand a fuller picture of what is in front of us and insight into our shared humanity.
I've learned that it is vitally important, especially when working in international developing communities, that we set aside our prideful tendencies and learn to listen. Humility requires that we don't go to another country for a week and post pictures with random children on social media because we would not do that in the US. It is embracing compassion that compels us to recognize the injustice when others, especially government leaders, call these communities unworthy of a chance to immigrate to the US. It's realizing that we are all made in the image of God, and we are not inherently better or more worthy of anything than others.
On a day-to-day basis, I work with local teachers on improving teaching methods and how to teach English phonics. I work with youth on preventing the spread of HIV by understanding how it spreads, the importance of being tested, and information about safe sex. I work with a community-based support group for orphans and vulnerable children to create a sustainable source of income to offer support services. These projects have all developed out of discussions with locals about what they identify as their needs. Then, we craft our interventions together based on the assets we each bring to solutions. I don't do any of that work alone. Youth respond much better to locals who understand the pressures they might face regarding HIV stigma than I ever could. My neighbors know which kids are orphans and under what circumstances these children have lost a parent and other relatives. My teachers were raised in Lesotho's education system and understand it intimately through their lived experiences. There's a Sesotho proverb "Kopano ke matla" that I love because it means "unity is strength." On a practical level, community and collaboration strengthen work. I think it's fitting that from the beginning of Jesus' ministry, he surrounded himself with a community of disciples. I'm not trying to equate myself to Jesus in any way. but I think there must be some reason that Jesus kept intentional friends by his side. So while I don't know all the reasons, I'm inferring that it is important to work in community for reasons beyond just the practical. Relationships matter.
Even with all of the buy-in we've cultivated in our learning community, behavior change
is still difficult. Some things have been successful while many other projects have
failed. Sometimes it feels like I'm trying to do the splits with my left foot moving
forward but my right foot moving backwards. Regardless, what transformation that has
transpired is due to the relationships and trust that we've built. I often imagine
the patience Jesus had. He didn't force people to believe or follow. He understood
their contexts. He even knew he would be betrayed, but he didn't steamroll Judas.
He knew Peter would deny him, but he didn't shame him for it. While Jesus probably
could have known these things without spending time with these men, I'd like to think
that he had empathy for them because they had been living in community together. So
when a project has been stalled for three months because a member has passed away,
I grieve alongside my community rather than chastising them for losing time on our
goals. This serves as a reminder to have compassion with myself when I don't seem
to be "getting it right" and highlights the love and grace that God has for me.
As we seek to be global citizens, embodiments of Pepperdine's values, and reflections of Christ, we can all pursue community that bring about transformation with our neighbors all over the world.
|Jonathan Kwok (Seaver College '17) is a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in the country of Lesotho, Southern Africa. He is a Primary English Teacher. The views expressed are his alone and do not represent the views of the United States government or Peace Corps.|