America Is Not The Answer

September 27, 2017

Land of the free. Land of the people. Land of the solutions? Perhaps I could challenge your first-world perspective on life.


Although our country has many conveniences and luxuries that don't exist on every land mass in the world, we do have our faults. Having traveled to nearly 14 countries in the past 23 years, I can say with confidence that although some people view America as the dream, our answers are not always right or even adequate.


You may find yourself confused. It's not uncommon if you haven't experienced poverty or walked the mud paths in Uganda or traveled the slums of India or hugged a person living in the dump or held a malnourished toddler clinging on for life. My experiences have shaped me and my identity. I see life differently than the common American. And sometimes I even feel more like a foreigner than a citizen in my homeland.


But even people who have visited other countries or know people from other places in the world or have even been on a short-term mission trip, do not often get this reality. The reality that the American way - although it may work for you - is not always the correct or most appropriate answer to the solution.


Let me give you a couple examples . . . 


A nonprofit I've worked with for the past 5 years takes care of abused and neglected children and although it is suppose to be a temporary placement, many times it becomes a more permanent home due to the length of stay and slowness of the government system. One such siblings had been living there for a few of their formidable years because their mother did not have the funds necessary to care for their basic needs. After much work, the mom finally had the financial resources to care for her kids so the agency placed them back in her care. A volunteer at this children's home grew very fond of these siblings over the years and visited their new home. She was astonished to find a small two room dwelling and one bed that the entire family shared. This was not her idea of a flourishing family life. Her American mindset originally thought what was best for these boys would have been being adopted by a family in America with the funds and resources to give them a secure and happy future. But, that day her perspective changed. She realized how she defined "success" and "family" was not the right answer. The boys had a loving family, roof over their head, food to eat, and a school to attend . . . and they were happy. Every child didn't need their own bedroom decked out with Pottery Barn Kids furniture, a closet full of clothing, and a toy box overflowing of non-played-with toys. Their mom didn't need special dishes to celebrate holidays or a microwave to speed up making dinner.


I was working with another nonprofit overseas that worked with kids. The current discussion on the table was over teaching the children about specific big life topics. Some Americans in the group suggested sending over a well-qualified candidate who had lots of experience on the subject. Although extremely well-intentioned, the solution was focused on how America could provide the answer instead of first looking out at resources already on the ground. It was better to find an educated individual that shared the same culture, life-style and knowledge that could quickly gain the trust of the kids rather than start from scratch with a foreigner sharing new information.


On the contrary, there are definitely times that it is more cost-effective or the only option to pull from resources in America, but we must first consider the idea that we don't hold the solution to every problem. Why send a team of construction workers to Africa to build a well when you can pay local professionals to do the work? Why build a house for someone in Guatemala when you can teach and work alongside the family to do it themselves so they can pass on the knowledge to others in the community? Why not encourage local leaders in a country to remain there and build up their own communities? 


Please don't misunderstand my message. I think America has much to offer and I'm thankful to be living in this country, but we need to always do a reality check when we think we have all the solutions to the world's problems. Remember, American is not the answer . . . it's just one option to endless solutions.


Be thankful. Be mindful. Be the change.



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