Sunday, December 23, 2007

Beyond Numbers

It is the end of the year and this is the perfect opportunity to reflect on a year gone by. I will start by listing down some important numbers indicating the number of people I’ve directly worked with on different projects over the course of the year and the amount of funding for a project I got.

• Domestic Violence Workshop (1 session) - 22 women
• Project Citizen (14 sessions) – 28 high school students
• Cultural Diversity Activities (1 session with 3 different schools) 53 high school students
• Gender Equity Workshops (1 session with about 21 different classes in 3 schools) – 619 high school students
• Ballet and Modern Dance Classes - 46 grade school and high school students
• Micro-Enterprise Workshop (6 sessions) – 12 women
• $10,000 – amount of funding acquired for the Cultural Center project
• Execution of Cultural Center Project – approximately 50 youth and adults (contracted and volunteers)

Why do I have these numbers? Because I had to track them down. In my project area, we volunteers have to turn in biannual reports reflecting the work we’ve done in our respective communities. The first time I had to do mine I was really intimidated (and depressed) because the report format was very numbers-oriented, where we had to list down the number of people that we’ve trained in the different targeted areas by municipal development. Needless to say, I didn’t have much to write on my first report, at least not in terms of numbers. All the work I did on my first six months all seem to have fallen under the “other” category.

On my second report, however, I felt more like that as a volunteer, I had met the minimum basic requirement, by being able to come up with the digits aforementioned. This has led me to reflect a lot, because even though that I knew I was working all the time in my community, somehow I felt that the only way for me to justify that to Peace Corps administration was by coming up with the numbers. Sure, there was plenty of room at the “others” column, but then again, all my work couldn’t be under that one category.

So how does one should really go about measuring the success of one’s work?

I don't have a definitive answer, but an insight I can offer based on experience is this: the numbers don’t always speak the entire truth. For example, in the countless classrooms I’ve been in preaching about gender equality, I remember often wishing to myself that even if just a few of the students got it, then my time spent there would have been worth it. But I’ll never know for sure, really. I have given this workshop to 600+ students and yet, I feel more confident that I got my message across better with the 12 women I worked with on the micro-enterprise workshop. Most people are receptive and thankful in the end, but I can't help but wonder, "What did they really learn from me and will it stick?"

Usually the things that have been more obvious and in my face have been the challenges that came with this role, such as chronic apathy and indolence that are endemic in the culture. The experience of this whole year has been sobering for me in the sense that being a volunteer has stretched me so much further than I would’ve thought. I was pretty confident that I was already a patient, strong and resilient person before coming to Honduras. I was ready for the rough patches and the challenges; but I never expected being “hard-pressed… perplexed… persecuted… and struck-down...” by them the way that I was. For a while, there seemed to be something on every corner waiting to pounce on me and run me out of this country whether they were work-related or “cultural” things that I just have had to accept.

But true to 2Corinthians, despite all the frustrations, I didn’t let myself get “crushed… be in despair… feel abandoned… or get destroyed.” When I didn’t know what to do anymore, I let my faith take control. I’m not the type who quits so the only other alternative left for me was to humble myself and trust that the circumstances I was facing all have their purpose. I’ve also had to a have little more faith in myself and believe that all my good intentions and my labor have amounted to something positive; how much exactly, I will not worry about. If we really have to do the Math, I can offer this figure: for this holiday I’m giving out at least 110 greeting cards to good friends and colleagues in Olanchito alone…the majority of these cards are addressed to families, so let’s say if an average family has at least three members (this is Honduras, after all), that means that I have made a positive connection with at least 330 people. This doesn’t include the participants whom I’ve trained or taught in my various endeavors. Hence, I’d like to think that, sure, I’m making a positive impact on people or at least planting some seeds in their minds, whether through my work or by example. I figure that, if I leave a positive impression whether as an American, a woman, or a volunteer, then that’s something to feel accomplished about.

So how does one should really go about measuring the success of one’s work? It depends on who’s measuring, but for me, when I get to make people smile, get invited to their homes and family gatherings, or get a "Thank you" then it’s a sign that I must have done something right, whether that registers some numbers or not.

For more details on the projects aforementioned, see previous blog entry: Confessions of a Workaholic

1 comment:

Lavonne said...

You write very well.