What do you mean when you encounter people you can’t help?

Dear glamorous-fervour,

Yes. All of the above, though I think where it hits me most is the area of justice. For the sake of all my Kyrgyzstani friends, my point isn’t to knock Kyrgyzstan. There are problems in America too, just as in every country. But right now this is my home and I care a lot about it and so I want to speak some truth to help make my little contribution to the momentum of change.

There is a lot of corruption here, and I encounter a lot of situations where things “aren’t fair” for people, whether that is being blackmailed by police officers, or students not being given a fair shot at getting into university, or women who are bride-napped being overlooked by the judicial system. There are problems that are in dire need of being addressed, but I can’t get directly involved in most cases.

For example, as volunteers we are highly discouraged by Peace Corps from getting directly involved in say a bride-napping while it’s taking place for a couple of reasons: 1) It could be personally dangerous and PC is liable (and they just don’t want us to get hurt) 2) We as PCVs don’t understand all the cultural nuances and what we say or do could potentially make things worse.

This makes me feel pretty helpless and awful when stuff like this happens when I can’t directly do something about it, and it applies to things that happen at school or with friends in general too.

That doesn’t mean we as volunteers can’t do anything. I can give trainings about how to get along with people and show ways boys and girls can healthily interact. I can direct people towards the services that can help them. I can volunteer with an NGO that helps women who have been kidnapped or abused. I can love my host siblings and engage in conversations about these issues that face them and have discussions about what can be done within the cultural and legal context.

I have huge respect for volunteers and local workers who fight for justice through their work here, day in and day out. It can be pretty upsetting and gut-wrenching to serve with a tender heart, but, “Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness.” (As Katherine Henson said, I believe.)

I also have my own limits of giving though, and sometimes I get overwhelmed. When it comes to this point I really need to step back, put into perspective my options, and learn to take better care of myself so I can be in better position to help others. It’s one of my constant inner struggles: wanting to help, trying to help, balancing that against my selfishness and then trying to figure out where that line is between selfishness and need to take care of myself.

Are you thinking about volunteering with Peace Corps? What are your thoughts on trying to help those in need when you know you can’t do everything?

Thanks for the note!