Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

a lesson for life

This has been a week of growing and learning for me.

The incident
The school week began early Monday morning when Dick and I taxied our way into St. Andrews and found ourselves bombarded with over 40 adult refugees who game looking for money. Apparently word got out that St. Andrew's was giving out $300 is US bills and a blanket to anyone who showed up. Not true. As the hour went on, more and more people were showing up and in the end Dick shooed everyone away and no one got help. For the rest of the day (and most of Tuesday) Dick, John, and a couple others stayed at the closed gate to make sure only students and staff were allowed inside the compound. I went out for lunch at one point and saw a good hundred refugees just hanging around, waiting, even though Atia at the gate told them they must leave.

My Reaction
At first I was really upset. I mean, these people need HELP, and they need help NOW! We have the means to help, so why don't we? But, as the day went on I could understand Dick's wisdom in making everyone leave. Let me back up. See, last Wednesday I held a teacher's meeting, and I told the staff we have some money from AMERA so they should invite people to come in for financial help. The next morning a good 30 people came in, so Dick and Matthew spent the majority of the day interviewing most of them and handing out aid. Also, one of my teachers brought a list of his tribal members who were just let out of jail and have nothing because they lost it all at the park. Dick agreed to help the people on the list. Thing is, news travels fast in Sudanese circles, so when one person comes to get help, 10 more will show up the next day, so on and so forth. Hense the situation Monday morning. It's such a disaster, because we need to help people, but once we help one we need to help literally thousands. (Another example; after the demonstration breakup, one refugee school opened their doors to 200 people, but a couple thousand showed up and eventually they had to shut it all down.) There are problems with mob mentality and security and desperation and everything. We can't just open our doors, because it would be absolute chaos, and we have a school and church to take care of. Also, we have to be careful with the police, because they can shut down the school if they want. So, we have to keep a low profile.

What did I learn?
First of all, I'm a people-pleaser. I've always known this, and I've managed to find a good balance in life where I want to serve others while also not sacrificing myself. But, so often I come up with grandiose ideas and jump right into something with passion and energy. I don’t always look to the future to see what the outcomes might be. In my personal life I have really improved on this, but I need to think about it in this job as well. I think part of me just wants it all to “just work” since we are here to help people and we can do just that. So, we should do it! But, like anything else, it isn’t immediate, even when I want it to be. There is a system to it, and order, and organization. This experience is helping me appreciate so many NGOs, with their red-tape and hoops and all. There is a good reason for such categorizing, ordering, classifying, and regulation.

One thing to think about: good intentions do not always lead to good outcomes. It’s unfortunate, but it happens so often in missionary work and humanitarian aid work. Those of us with better educations, more resources, a lot of drive, etc. come into situations wanting to do everything in our capacity to help others, and sometimes we just mess it up. Sometimes we try to change things too fast. Sometimes we change things people don’t want to be changed. Sometimes what we are doing divides peoples more than it keeps them together.

For one thing, sometimes we are getting to a point where we are contributing to other’s dependability on a system. So many of us continue to give, give, give. What should we really be doing for others? Think of the classic story of a man who is one day given a fish, so he continues to visit every day to receive a fish. However, had the man learned how to fish himself he would be self-sufficient and reap loads of fish himself. Regarding the refugee situation, we need to find a way to the balance the immediate needs of people while also providing them with the skills for future self-sufficiency.

Our Role?
My mind whirls thinking about this. For the past couple weeks all I can think about is what we should or should not be doing at St. Andrews. How can we really develop people so they can rebuild their country one day? The more I think about it, the more I feel St. Andrews had a HUGE responsibility. We are training the people who will one day be running the wealthiest countries in Africa. (South Sudan has enough fertile farm land to feed all of Africa, tons of gold and oil, the Nile, etc. Once it’s rebuilt it will be an extremely wealthy place.) Because of the war(s), generations have been skipped. The Sudanese youth are not prepared to be teachers, doctors, engineers, peace-makers, cooks, lawyers, politicians, etc. It is essential to concentrate on what is happening now, because it will be the foundation of the future. Sudan is, for the most part, literally starting from ground zero. One thing we have to realize we’re not dealing with ‘institutions’ that existed in the past and were suddenly/continually destroyed from decades of war and famine. They didn’t exist to begin with. We are truly on the ground level in building a nation, and the only people who can really do it are the Sudanese themselves. Therefore, what they know and believe is of vital importance.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m spreading myself too thin. There are so many things I want to work on, develop, change, improve, etc. and I’m running around and hitting dead-ends. I’m coming to a point where I think I need to just sit down, make a list of these ideas, prioritize, and start crossing out a bunch. Frankly, not everything is going to work out ‘just as I see it.’ As Brice said, my position at St. Andrew’s is probably changing me more than I’m changing the organization. Organizations have a certain elasticity and a long memory. I’m going to get burnt out if I expect too much from it. So, we have to start somewhere. It begins this weekend, with the first day of teacher training. Insha ‘allah this will get somewhere….


  • At 1/27/2006, Anonymous Sarah said…

    Really good thoughts you're having about prioritizing and not spreading yourself thin! Our generation is king of multitasking and "doing it all." However, the real world doesn't allow for this unless stress, heartache, sickness, no time with people, and mediocre quality work is ok for everyone. I applaud you for seeing that you have to make priorities. That's what a good business does, focuses on the mission/vision and then the strategy to live out the vision. This allows one to not be spread so thin.


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