The street girls home where I am living and working has lots of friends. Lots of associations. Lots of people in our network. Which is really good. The director has worked hard to make that happen and CCC has certainly benefited from it. We get lots of donations and lots of people interested and occasionally a volunteer who will stick around for more than a few weeks.
But it does mean that we have a lot of people in and out and around and visiting the compound. Like, all the time. I’m frequently enlisted to give tours. And frequently there are seemingly random people showing up, taking pictures, wandering around, and I need to try and figure out who they are, why they’re here, and if it’s ok if they take pictures, all the while knowing no one really should be taking pictures…but not wanting to offend big dogs, like ambassadors offices or the people who paid to construct the dorm or close personal friends of the director. Pretty much I never really know what I’m doing. This is a pretty common denominator in my life here.
Two Saturdays ago a group of about fifty Japanese folks came. They work as peace-keepers here and some of their engineers fixed our gate, to make our compound more secure, and put up a really nice sign about how our girls are going to help raise up this wonderful nation. They brought toys and games and played with the girls for about two hours. So there is definitely a somewhat uncomfortable aspect of having huge groups of strangers where you live and work. But, silver lining, it is also an excellent opportunity to hide in the dorm for a few hours of solitude while the girls are being entertained. Except when they leave, and leave the compound a hot mess, and the energy you conserved for having a few hours away from them, you spend trying to get them to clean. I’m whining. I digress.
This past weekend a group of 60+ people came for a company volunteer day. They came and did some painting, helped in the garden, played with the girls, provided lunch, donated bedding and shirts. It was well-meaning and nice. Really. But.
You see…I live with these girls. They’re my friends/students/little sisters/foster children/responsibility/pals. They make me laugh and cry and roll my eyes and feel proud and like I wanna scream and give them hugs. They’re the reason I’m in Juba, the reason I don’t get enough sleep, the reason I feel like maybe I could possibly be doing something worthwhile with my life, I hope. Working with them is a dream come true, on the real.
Soooo, because of that, sometimes I feel a little awkward about how things go down. Like, the girls were all made to stand while a staff member spoke and it was videoed about the girls hardships and lives in a general way. We, the rest of the staff stood with them, and one of the girls hid behind me while they were taping. I let her hide. Right? I mean, even though its general, does any kid want to stand there proudly while someone talks about how you were living on the street and abused? Does it make me as uncomfortable as it makes them to have strangers come into, literally, their home all the time?
The girls like people. They especially like male attention. So I don’t think that the constant flow of visitors bother them as much as it does me on their behalf. Which is really good.
The volunteers who came painted the inside of the kitchen (and donated awesome new sturdy tables). To do this they needed to take down the girls bags where they hang some of their personal things. Some clothes, odds, ends, craft supplies. One of the staff took this opportunity to go through the girls things and whittle down some of their belongings. I mean…ok. The compound gets cluttered. The girls are certainly messy. And they have (slightly) more than the bare essentials in life. But, uh, they’re kids (so of course they’re messy) and they used to live on the streets (so of course they don’t take the best care of things) and there are 37 of them living in one place (so of course there is clutter). Anyway, so a few staff and some well-meaning volunteers start dumping the girls bags and putting it altogether into piles. Trash, books, pencils, clothes, knickers, knitting/beading supplies. So the girls are milling about kind of concerned watching strangers go through their things! Um, ah?! The whole thing made me so uncomfortable I went inside to remove myself from the situation. And these volunteers were probably patting themselves one the back for helping us rid the place of some mess and unnecessary garbage.
Later I was given the 2 big boxes of yarn, beads and other supplies. Which means that I was handed over the joy frustrating and unnecessary hassle of redistributing to each girl what was removed from their individual bags and thrown together in a big pile. Ahhh.
Out of the lots of people there we only sold two of the girls handcraft things. I hate to judge. I don’t want to be a person like that. But I couldn’t help but think that maybeeee if they had just hired local painters (and help the local economy, who needs all the help it can get) and bought up a bunch of the girls handiwork (and build up their savings for their futures helping them have some money to build a tukul or go to university one day and therefore helping ensure their futures) instead… I dunno. People mean well. I appreciate their efforts for the day and the good they did. But, I’m certainly somewhat jaded and got annoyed watching them take lots of cute pictures with the girls (which they’re not supposed to do, but its not my place to say or to stop them) and then leaving.
But…I’m gonna leave one day too, eventually. And I shouldn’t hate on the bits of good that people do. I dunno. I just struggle with certain aspects of this. The different approaches to this sort of work and the inevitable tensions and misunderstandings that arise when people from different cultures live and work in community. I don’t think I’m always right. I know that I’m usually not. But I wrestle with things and I have formed some opinions about certain things but its hard to know what to do with that.
So I go on with my best intentions knowing full well that people still screw up, and sometimes royally with the best intentions. But I’m open to criticism and change because I know that I don’t know. And I feel like maybe that’s a good place to be?