At the Top 30 Under 30 Gala on Monday night, the most common thing shared among all of the recipients in the social mixing after the speeches was a common anxiety about the recognition because of the event – an anxiety that hinged on our understanding that we had all encountered significant failures, stresses, and psychological issues from engaging in our work, that we had all made huge mistakes and encountered enormous obstacles, that we had all learned so much in our naivete about international development and had tried to adapt ourselves and our projects along the way. In this way, most of us felt very uncomfortable with this kind of recognition, especially the kind that shows only the successes of our efforts in a glossy magazine.
What is not in the magazine are the endless nights in a faraway place questioning just what the hell you’re doing there, what right you have or don’t have to be there and just how effective your efforts will or will not be.
Particularly for those who are involved with large international organizations like the United Nations, they expressed some disenchantment with liberalist ideology, especially when it didn’t translate well “on the ground” and how they learned a lot more when they quieted their own beliefs and started forging meaningful trusting relationships with the people they were trying to help, rather than coming with a strategy and implementing it at all costs, successful or not.
It made me think of all of the relationships I developed in Attaouia with all of the local families that benefit/benefitted from education in our school so far. I remember jokes we shared in the doorframe of the school when they came to pick up their kids, I remember cupfuls of tea shared in their living rooms while teenaged siblings of our younger students tried out their English skills on me and I stumbled with my Arabic, resulting in much laughter and countless memories. I was welcomed and accepted into a community not really my own in a way I never thought was possible and might not have been possible if I had come from a big umbrella organization like the UN.
It also made me think of the people I connected with during my time at the American Language Center in Mohammedia, particularly my colleagues and my precious students, where we engaged in cultural exchange and meaningful social activism projects that were developed by them, for them and on their terms. I maintain incredible relationships with most people I met there are cherish them like I do anyone from my side of the world. These are my people as much as people from my home town are. I’ve taken their country and their cause into my heart as much as I have that of Canada.
It also made me think about the bureaucratic problems we have encountered with regards to the school and how these have still not been resolved. We are still waiting for an upgraded authorization to let us teach older students and with an uncertain future, it has led to real worry about our building of the school and what it will mean if we never get the piece of paper. It has also made me wonder if it would have been so difficult if we weren’t going at it alone but were part of a larger development agency.
It’s all very complicated, but one thing that came from interacting after last night’s gala was a clear picture of a group of self-critical, self-reflective individuals who are trying to do the best they can with what they know now. And that, I think, is more important than all of the work we have done combined. Deconstructing ourselves, asking real questions about our identities, learning to listen and respond, finding similarity (but more importantly, respecting difference) – these are the real seeds of change.