As someone who is studying in the field of international development, it is all too easy to become wrapped up in the trials and hurts of those in far-off places. For many, helping out in other countries is as simple as writing a check. But for someone like me, I want to live in the country and get down and do the work with the people making a difference. I have all too often seen people in this field look down upon others in the States for not having a heart or not feeling charity enough. I think that this is the entirely wrong attitude to take. Service is service, no matter where or how it is rendered. It is not uncommon to hear of people who have these sentiments go abroad and end up hurting a community. Many charities and organizations go in thinking they are going to “save” these poor people and they will be better simply because of their exposure to that group.
The question remains, though, what happens when those people leave? If they have not gone about the process of helping the people in a sustainable manner, then they could have made the situation worse by creating a system of dependence or making the locals miserable by taking away what they had for that brief period of time.
So while I do not want to discourage anyone from serving abroad, it should be done with a studied manner and with prudence. I would rather encourage those who want to go abroad to take a deep breath and look around them in their own communities. There are plenty of ways we can help here first. Even at BYU there are plenty of opportunities to serve. Do you like horses? Try volunteering with Horses for Healing, an organization that uses retired horses in equine therapy for disabled children. Do you like kids? Try becoming a mentor or just plain volunteering with disadvantaged kids through Headstart. There you can help kids with homework or simply play with them as a way to help ensure that they have a safe place to be while their parents are working.
Go out and volunteer. There are plenty of opportunities to make a difference and help the world — right in your own neighborhood. Interactions in your own city can help give you experience and understanding that can help when you go out onto the world stage.
-Casey Bahr, Duluth, Ga.