(* I reserve the right to change these thoughts throughout my Indonesian tour.)
While I know the Peace Corps is extremely worthwhile and I will gain a lot from the experience, I didn’t actually join the Peace Corps to help myself. I came here to help others. However, I am reluctant to think that teaching English actually helps many others.
I am not a doctor. I am not saving lives. I am very aware of that and if I could be a doctor, I would. I wish I could stand the sight of blood. I am a firm believer in education and I do believe that education and awareness is key for social justice and development. However, many of the people I will be teaching will have a lot of difficulty learning English and with no real motivation. Yes, learning English will open many job opportunities to an individual in Indonesia. Economically, the whole country can benefit from many of its citizens becoming proficient in English.
But most people in rural Indonesia are farmers. They have families and they are happy. I do not measure the success of their lives by how much money they have or how many things they can buy. Who am I to imply that by learning English, they would have better opportunities and/or a better life? I don’t think that. These people are efficient. They may not be able to communicate with me, they may not be able to go to college, or work in tourism or travel, but they seem happy. They have large extended families, jobs that are strenuous and provide little money for commodities, but they have what we all need: food, water, roofs over their heads and valuable skills. They can grow their own food. I can write a blog post in English. Big deal.
When I start teaching I’d like to ask my students: Why do you want to study English?
With good reason, most people don’t see the value in it –and in turn hate the subject. Once high school is over, most men will go work in the fields and most women will become mothers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I do not devalue that reality.
We tend to view this life as insufficient, but the majority of people all over the world live in one place for all their life and seldom have the opportunity to leave or even want to. They have their family, their friends, their home.
Perhaps I can hope to inspire one student to want more for his or herself. I am uncomfortable with that phrase: “want more.” Unlike the United States, Indonesia doesn’t have the same problems of gangs, teenage pregnancy or drug abuse. Not in the small rural villages at least. While we’d want these children to get out of reckless environments and habits, people in Indonesia have simple, yet healthy lives.
I really don’t want to be the “American” who makes them think they should want more than that and in turn, have them look down on their lives. Then I will have failed, and done more harm than good.