Change Yourself…Change The World.

Barrio Jesus Community and the World of Development
September 12, 2009, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Costa Rica


This is originally a reflection paper I did while attending Global College’s Independent Study Semester Program. This post was not originally associated with this blog, but I have put it up here around the estimated date written. I thought readers would find these informational, educational, and entertaining. Please note that these posts are much longer than the usual ones, since they are papers.

One of the first projects that I participated in with the freshmen at the Costa Rica Center was volunteering in the Barrio Jesus community, a town about twenty minutes away from Heredia. We met at the Costa Rica Center in the morning and split into groups; I was in a group of about six people that was assigned to paint a bench at a bus stop in Barrio Jesus. We were given about two hours to complete this project. When we originally started the project, and I saw the colors of paint (light orange for the bench and white for the walls), I envisioned a perfectly painted, bright and spacious area for people to relax and chat while waiting for their bus. I jokingly said that after we were finished, I would feel comfortable enough to feel safe there, as if two bright colors would make it so that I wouldn’t be mugged. But as we started our project and continued it to the end, I came to feel a lot of frustration that I hadn’t anticipated, and I feel as if I can compare the experience I had to the importance of experience in development.

First off, we where a bunch of well-intentioned, passionate, and caring people who came to the situation preparing to make a change, for everything to be done absolutely perfectly, for all of the cracks to be filled, and for the paint job to be flawlessly executed. But the truth is, we WERE inexperienced, and we weren’t professional painters. We may have wanted to help and create hope and difference to those that would be visiting the bus stop that we painted; we may have wanted them to see a cleaner community- but since all of us didn’t have adequate experience as painters, it ended up being much more disastrous than anticipated. We decided to paint the bench first with an orange layer, and then realized later that when we painted the wall white afterwards, the white paint dripped all over the bench, making our previous work unnecessary (a waste of time and paint, which proved to be a problem later because we ran out of orange paint). We didn’t have completely adequate tools to work with; we were given rollers, but the concrete was crumbling, and it was impossible to paint in between the cracks. Even when our supervisor Pablo got us more paint and smaller paintbrushes, we couldn’t fully paint in the cracks, making the wall look strange, as if a layer of whitewash had been applied over a dark color. Then, we had the issue of time. We were going to lunch soon, and this was all of the time we could spend on this project; and we weren’t finished.

It was at this point in time that I started to feel incredibly frustrated, because while the bench may have looked a tad bit cheerier than before, it was sloppy, unorganized, there was paint all over the ground and on the orange bench, and the walls didn’t look finished. At that point I wished that we hadn’t even painted the bench at all, and maybe we had left it even worse off than when we had started. Sure, the bench might have been sherbet and white, but it was impossible to not notice the shoddy work. I felt I was letting down the very people I was trying to help. Many of those from the Barrio Jesus community were coming and going from the bus stop while we were working, and watched our progress. I saw the smiles on their faces, and in the beginning I felt so proud that we were helping their community, even if only painting a bus stop. But as time started to run out, my thoughts turned over. I felt that the smiles these people gave me was deserving of a fine and finished product, one that we had taken time and care over; and I wouldn’t be fulfilling that promise for them. I felt as though I had cheated them with my own expectations.

We came up with a solution to one problem; with the white drops all over the bench, we decided to creatively splatter the rest of the bench with white to make it look more fun and interesting. In the end this proved to be a good idea. We hurried to finish our job as Pablo called us all for lunch. I looked at our finished product. It was not what I had expected it to be, it was not finished or professional looking, and I was not sure if we had left it in a better place than we had before- just different- but it was something.

I feel that the Barrio Jesus experience was a lesson that needed reinforcing right before I start my Independent Research Project. A person can have all of the passion in the world for wanting to alleviate poverty and truly make a difference in other’s lives. And while passion is the key ingredient in that factor, you also need to have experience. Because we weren’t professional painters, we didn’t know how to organize and go about painting the bench; therefore we wasted time, paint, and ended up with something completely different than we originally imagined. In the same sense, I feel that it is incredibly important to analyze, study, and learn as much as possible before going into the field yourself or starting an NGO. Trial and error when trying to help people is very risky business, because if you fail, then you’re also failing the people or the community that you’re trying to help, possibly leaving it in a worse state than before. But another important lesson I learned is if you DO mess up, there are some ways to cover it up. Before we decided to splatter the bench with white paint, I was incredibly frustrated with our substandard work. With the idea of creatively decorating the bench, not only did the students come together to brainstorm a solution, but it ended up looking even better than it probably would have with just a solid coat of orange paint.

In conclusion; just because we are passionate about helping people, does not mean that we had the experience or means to do so; just as we didn’t have enough paint, we don’t always have enough resources; just as we were going to lunch soon, we don’t always have the time we wish to do a project right and correctly; just as painting proved to be a much more difficult concept than we thought, there will be unforeseen challenges in the field; and just as we came up with the solution to splatter the bench with white, it takes creativity, ingenuity, and cooperation to come up with a solution to those unforeseen challenges.

The finished product.

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