Tuesday, January 6, 2009

the incident

So earlier on in the trip Danielle had a terrible incident, but today something happened that at least meant she was not alone. 

So we're a single income family, who spent a huge amount of our savings to volunteer overseas to help refugees. But soon after some initial training, Danielle was given three separate placements, all at different points around the town, which collectively totaled a lot of hours of work a day, not to mention her own paperwork at night. Though she had already committed to all three, she soon felt it was going to be too much. She decided to drop the one place that hadn't started yet and did so amicably, explaining via email that when she said she would do all three, she was not in a position to make an informed decision about the amount of work she could do, as she'd never done that type of thing before. After a week of lesson plans and marking homework she knew three places would be too much. The head of the program was disappointed and felt a bit sick when he read her email, as the place she had dropped was his favourite and its understaffed and underfunded. He felt like he'd promised them something he couldn't deliver and didn't know whether he could work with them again, but ultimately he understood and accepted her position. However, he told her all of this after he'd already informed the place of her turning them down, he didn't even offer to assist her in developing a schedule which might have been accommodating for three places, didn't give her help with lesson plans or how to plan more efficiently - she with no experience. He said he also felt bad because someone else had already pulled out of a school earlier in the week and he thought it was the beginning of things going wrong. The situation then seemed resolved and everyone seemed somewhat happy with the outcome.

But the next day, Danielle was going to the photocopy store to make copies of a test she had written for her students, it was only minutes before her class. Outside the photocopy shop was a fellow NGO worker who was really cold with her, she grudgingly replied hello when greeted but as she was getting on her bike, she turned and unloaded on danielle about dropping the school and went even further to make personal attacks about her character,  she went on and on, screaming a tirade of seething, shaking with anger as she delivered each potent personal word. She even compared her to a former NGO who quit after two weeks, spending the rest of their time in a drunken stupor, someone who led the media to a school, jeopardising its very existence, before going rambo in the jungles of Burma. But Danielle was worse, her assailant said, because he'd had a drinking problem, an excuse. In Thailand it is extremely poor form to lose your temper, especially in public and the locals looked upon the situation with embarassment. What was also bad, is that the NGO attacking her was about to take over as acting head of the program, in the leaders absence. She was the person who Danielle had to report to. All this just minutes before Danielle had to teach a class. She managed to compose herself and work on professionally, though a part of her wanted to leave the country.

Danielle is a junior in the organisation. She didn't understand the gravity of her decision, nor the implications for the program. No one explained this, they just accepted her email without trying to inform or coerce her decision, did not even tell her the decision she made would incite disappointment at all, as far as she knew she had come to volunteer, had saved a long time to do it, knew her limitations and wanted to offer the best that she could. She had no idea the school she chose was one of the most fortunate nor the one she declined one of the poorest - no one told her, they just said they were disappointed, a little sick and then this diatribe of loathing. What hope then, for society, when those who give up their time and money to help people, fight amongst themselves and are so disorganised to not even lead their own. She had a meeting with the program leader that night to discuss her concerns as he was leaving the next day (for holiday in Australia). He confessed that there was a dinner that night, confirming her suspicions, but that she is not invited only because of her family situation and she was definitely not hated by everyone in the program as she feared. But there was nothing really apologetic in his acceptance of her information about the NGO worker, he even said he'd seen her act like that once before, there was no real sense that she would be stepped down or even really reprimanded for her conduct. 

The next day Danielle received an appologetic email from her assailant. It was a complete 180 from her screaming marathon the day before, saying that she respected danielle, knew she was committed to the program and she sited stress as the cause for her hostility. We put her down as just being completely unhinged. Later in the day we went to a coffeeshop, it was the first time we'd been there, it was down the far end of town, it seemed like the most unlikely place we would meet her, not that she had even been a factor in our desicion to go there, but there she was. We all smiled awkwardly at each other at first, then, just before we left, Danielle went to her to acknowledge atleast that she had received her email, she told her she didn't know yet how to respond to it or how she felt about it. The girl said "I'm sorry", shaking her head with a nervous smile, as though apologising for taking a coke out of the fridge that didn't belong to her, or some other minor intrusion into someones personal sphere. Since then things have been amicable when we've met, it's a small town, you run into the same people everywhere, because of course everyone eats out, she's even asked if she could sit at our table one time, how could we refuse ?

Today however, we ran into this australian girl who danielle trained with, she's a really lovely person who we run into often. Danielle asked "How are you?", "Not so good" came the reply. She was leaving on a bus to Bangkok, she had "problems" with the program, trying to remain as diplomatically aloof as she could, but after a bit of mutual digging, they found they shared the same problem. The organisation had booked her at three separate schools, one with an age group she was not qualified to teach, one that was 10km out of town and then, when she pulled out of a school for obvious reasons, a certain worker screamed insults at her down the phone, and not only did she scream at her too, she also made the same 180 degree apology - she's completely toys in the attic crazy. This girl too had no real income, she too had come this great distance at great cost to herself, only to be treated as though she were the most selfish, dispicable person in the world. And suddenly, Danielle wasn't alone, and neither was the other girl, they both found solidarity and were united in knowing it was not their fault - not they ever thought it was. The girl is going to return again, to teach on her own, going directly through the school, without the inept programme interferring, turning what should be a rewarding experience into a drama. The worst part is, Danielle and this other girl are really good teachers, with friendly personalities that would be an asset to this kind of work and this terrible person, who is obviously completely socially retarded, is driving them away.

If you're thinking of volunteering I would suggest doing an ESL course at home and then coming on your own, don't  go through organisations, its very easy to find places in need once you get here.

1 comment:

atmosphrericks said...

drama class!

keep up a good work.