ICROSS Volunteers

Lisa Thacker

(14 March 2006)

Lisa

There is so much to say about my time volunteering with ICROSS in Kenya, it’s hard to know where to start! It was something that will stay with me forever because it challenged and shaped my understanding of myself and this world (living outside your comfort zone can do that). My different experiences ranged from infuriating and discouraging to uplifting and incredibly inspiring. I walked away with a few things...

The first was the understanding that people around the world are more similar than I thought. There are some basic things that people all over the world respond to: a genuine smile and greeting, a truly open ear and mind for listening, or an act or gesture from the heart, for example. I saw many of these acts from the heart – in Kenya they seem to replace the hurried, self-serving interactions that I’ve grown accustomed to back home. In any case, it was a joy to live with people so seemingly different, only to find that real connections can be made. I’m happy that I can see past those differences so easily now.

The second thing I walked away with was a different perspective on "aid" and "development". What I found was that people really didn’t need me around to help; they’re surviving with their own struggles just as we Canadians survive with ours. The challenges in Kenya may be more physical and material, whereas in Canada they are probably more psychological and spiritual, but daily life continues with or without outside involvement. This is not to say that I should turn a blind eye to inequalities and injustices, but perhaps that our collective goal of equal enjoyment of personal rights and freedoms around the world may be better served if I directed my efforts in a less intrusive and arrogant way. The story is almost cliché – someone from the West visits another country to make a change, and ultimately realizes that the very same community that this foreigner wanted to help ends up teaching him or her life lessons beyond anything he/she has ever learned.

The third thing I walked away with was a greater appreciation of love and human relationships. I was humbled by how much I learned in this area (and by how much I still have to learn about the world). I made some incredible friendships which I hope will last a long time; but at the same time will graciously appreciate the simple fact that they existed at one point. The generosity and welcoming I experienced still blows me away. I felt privileged for every meeting, from the children chirping “Mzungu! How are you? How are you?” to the elder Mzee whose warmth and dignified presence seemed to imbue the air around him. I also saw how readily people in the community were willing to sacrifice to help others in the community. That kind of selfless love second nature in the communities I visited.

I walked away with a better understanding of some of the challenges brought on by HIV, AIDS, access to clean water, and other health crises. I learned that the best solutions are simple, community-owned and led – something at which ICROSS excels. By no means did my seven months even scratch the surface of all the social, economic, environmental, political, and cultural factors that influence the health and well-being of communities, but seeing some of the effects of these crises first-hand reaffirmed the urgency that I had read about and studied. The side effects of this world’s current modus operandi cannot be disregarded, and we must make sacrifices to work towards change.

The fifth thing I walked away with was a return to the simple pleasures and truths in life. It’s amazing what happens when you’re removed from the western world’s persistent assault of stimuli! Returning to quietness and releasing myself from all the “stuff” that filled up my life in Canada was liberating and very special, and is something I’ve tried to keep with me since I’ve returned. Because of this change, I smile for different reasons and have shed much of what used to clutter and burden my world.

I couldn’t ask for better experiences, lessons, or friendships (especially friendships!) from my time in Kenya. Being with ICROSS truly helped me reaffirm my own values to help define what mark I want to leave in this world.

Links

Documents

PDF Doc
Five Year Plan

PDF Doc
Annual Report 2004

PDF Doc
Strategic Plan 2004-2008