Everyone knows I love a good reflection. So yesterday morning, to kick off our wrap-up week for our 8 week group of SECorps students, a offered to lead an interactive group reflection session, in true Berkeley Global Poverty and Practice fashion. I put up four posters on the walls, labelled with four specific prompts – Motivations, Successes, Challenges, and Next Steps – and challenged the students to take some time to write down some words or phrases that represented their motivations for coming to Guatemala as an SECorps intern, the successes and challenges they faced in the field, and the next steps that they intend to take now that their experience is coming to a close. We then came together as a group to discuss and share.
As always, the students’ insights ranged from hilarious to poignant. A highlight of the session was when we began to discuss successes, and the students seemed hesitant to share their own personal success stories from the field. So I then encouraged them to brag about one another, which caught on really quickly. The students shared story after story of how a teammate helped them out in the field, took initiative on a project, or reached out of their comfort zone, and it was wonderful to see them come together as a group and honor each other’s commitments and ability to overcome challenges.
One of our co-founders, Greg van Kirk, is also joining us for our wrap-up week. In Greg’s opening remarks, he highlighted one particular insight that a student shared as a challenge: learning to accept people who are both less fortunate and more privileged than themselves. This was something that really hit home with me, in light of all of the conversations I had at Berkeley as a GPP student about privilege, expertise, and responsibility, and I’m really glad that it was brought up during our reflection. We all have privilege and expertise of some sort – as educated university students/graduates, development practitioners, or simply people with relative wealth – but I think the real challenge in our roles is to respect both what we can contribute and what we can learn from others, and maintain as much of a mutual learning process as possible.
Greg also shared a touching story about Juana, Solola’s regional coordinator, long-term SolCom employee, and one of my closest co-workers. He told the story of Juana’s first eye exams eight years ago in 2005, when SolCom was just getting off the ground. At the beginning of the day, as Juana was just beginning, Greg remembers Juana as being tentative and shy, looking up at him constantly for affirmation that she was doing the eye exams correctly. But by the end of the day, Juana was standing up straight and tall, confidently giving out eye exams with a smile. As Greg explained, this is really what SolCom is all about. Yeah, it’s about selling eyeglasses and other products (at a reduced cost). But it’s also about empowering our local entrepreneurs and creating a sustainable model for long-term economic and community development. These are things that, as I saw very clearly the last time I was in Guatemala, working with Nest and Thirteen Threads, simply cannot be quantified – but are every bit as important as the tangible economic, health, and environmental benefits incurred by the selling and purchasing of our products.