This morning we began by reading "To Hell With Good Intentions," a critique of US voluntourism by Ivan Ilych. I simultaneously loved and hated this article. This topic is especially pertinent to my life right now because I just got back from a 3 week trip to Nicaragua, where the focus of the trip was service learning and cultural immersion. While I agreed with Ivan Ilych in many respects and acknowledge that the US's entire system for providing aid to foreign countries is staggeringly flawed, I was troubled by some of the implications of the article as well. Ivan deservingly mocked privileged do-gooders from the US who travel to foreign countries in a misguided attempt to improve the lives of people living in poverty. I agree that the armies of fresh-faced, naive, idealistic youth burning with a desire to help the picturesquely poor and who arrive in flocks in the developing world every year, where they end up inflicting their presence on the local economies and communities, but only briefly, before fleeing back to their suburban homes in the US is a problem. Not only does this system display the hubris and complacency of rich Americans, it can be very detrimental to the people who are supposed to be receiving "help." On the other hand, I also think that the only way for the privileged class to understand the struggles of others is to live and work with them. (I myself have read many, many books and articles about poverty but meeting and working with people in Nicaragua who live on less than a dollar a day has given me a much deeper understanding of what living in extreme poverty is like than any book I've read.)
I think that the difference is that cultural exchange and service work in foreign countries should be an equitable partnership between both parties, not a paternalistic attempt to bring American values to other cultures by distributing SWEDOW and painting a few murals. In my own experience in Nicaragua, our program coordinators were very conscientious of the issues brought up by Ivan Ilych's speech, and we were always aware that we were the guests of generous hosts. When we did community service it was in partnership with the people there and calculated to address their expressed need. So, while I agree with Ivan in many respects, I still think cultural exchange programs done right can be valuable to everyone involved.
The artist who created the Magic Gardens is Isaiah Zagar. He told us all about his life and how the Magic Gardens came to be. He began his career wanting to paint and do conventional art, the kind that is framed and hung in museums. However, after going through a difficult time in his life he turned to mosaics, and they have been his prefered medium ever since.
|a brief history of the future|
After our tour of the Magic Gardens, we took a tour of graffiti in the nearby neighborhood with the guidance of two local graffiti artists. There is so much to say about this part of our class, but it is currently three in the morning and I have to get up at 8 tomorrow for a grueling day at the beach, so I must heartlessly leave you all in suspense about the rest of the day, until I have time to update this post tomorrow. Sorry guys, but I've gotta sleep!