Sunday, August 16, 2009

On to Syria! (almost)

I am writing from the office on my second to last day of work. There is a rare silence at the moment (I may have my ear buds in to block out the occasional interruptions / fits of yelling that do break out) and I am left with a bit of time to write up my last blog post about the internship. It has been nearly 8 weeks and a little over 300 hours of work since I began interning (as a requirement for my minor in social entrepreneurship) at the end of June, and I have definitely learned and experienced a lot during that time. Now that it comes to the end, I realize that I am pretty worn out and need this trip to Syria to just relax and unwind. I might go to a Syrian monastery for a couple days and just take it easy before hitting up Ramadan with some friends in Aleppo and Damascus.

One thing that I am definitely realizing more every day (especially the last week) is the impressive difference between a social entrepreneur and a development worker. There are many dedicated workers in Ruwwad, Jordan, and around the world who work in the development field and are great at doing the job in front of them. However, a social entrepreneur isn't satisfied with just the job they are given, they constantly seek innovation, better practices, and a breaking down of all barriers that stand between them and the desired positive social impact.

At the moment, the organization that I am working with is going through an interesting transition of leadership that has brought this issue and distinction to the surface. One thing that I have seen while observing this transition is the force of the status quo and the constant battle that a social entrepreneur must fight to get people on board with their vision. Even if people are doing their job in an organization like this, unless the entire staff understands the ultimate goals and aims (and can act to achieve that mission), the organization will be caught in a constant struggle to bring everyone on board in a coherent manner.

I saw this same problem in my program implementation: because many of the volunteers didn't understand the goals of the program, they improperly implemented the program in a way that seemed logical (or simple) to them. In the end, we ended up with results that were more telling of how people thought during these exercises than they were actually transformational to either the students or volunteers (although there was hopefully some progress, or at least an idea that these issues are important to talk about and act on).

In addition, I have been feeling the effects of office drama and a work environment which has been very negative at times. It seems that the most accepted way to get your way around the world is to yell about it until someone concedes your point. While I don't agree with this principle, it is hard to escape it when it is the reality in your office. In addition, my style of seeking positive change and constant innovation has driven a wedge between myself and some of the other workers (specifically some of the people I work loosely under). I think that my style has threatened and confused some of the workers and resulted in times at verbal abuse from one individual (presented in a joking manner, but you can only take "you are sooooo stupid and lazy" as a joke for so long) and a fear of my constant note taking from a lot of the volunteers.

Some of the fear may be justified because I do not hold punches to protect people, but report as accurately as possible on everything that I see and how it could be improved and innovated upon, this is how my whole "Changemakers" program came about in the first place. It is interesting that my work which has been seen as valuable to our entrepreneurial director has caused such problems for the majority of the staff.

I could go on for a while, but I'll cut it off there for now. Lots more to come on a whole new phase of my time in Jordan: SIT! My study abroad program starts up two weeks from today after my trip to Syria. It is really strange to think that I am still only half way done with my trip and also that I have gone through all of this before my study abroad program has even begun. More pictures to come on Facebook as I get the time to post them, on this blog entry you can see a cliff top shot from my trip to Ajlun/Irbid, a couple pool party pictures, and one from a dance party with other couchsurfers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Economics of Attraction

I had a realization the other day when I began thinking about the economic explanations for everyday things that I see in Jordan (a la Freakonomics). Here you go: the problem of attraction between those pesky twitterpated youth is treated in different ways around the world by social standards. However, social standards can take opposite approaches to the same problem depending on the understanding of the economic factors causing the problem. In this case, conservative Islamic societies (such as a large part of the population of Jordan) view the problem as a supply-side issue while in my own upbringing in America, I was presented the same issue with a demand-side story. This is by no means scientific, just a couple observations about life and the implications of economic decisions on non-economic problems. Let me explain...

In Jordan (as in the US), it is understood that men have strong feelings of attraction that cannot always be controlled (especially when they see an attractive girl). The response in Jordan is mostly to cover up girls in any situations outside of the home or the company of family or other girls. The problem is thus alleviated by reducing the supply (the amount of skin being shown, and thus the amount of male reaction), while not fully tackling the demand side of the equation. Therefore, men continue to stare down girls (especially westerners) and make rude comments (such as "Hey Barbie," which I overheard directed towards my Dutch friends the other day) when the necessary supply side restraints are not in place (and even when they are, they still like staring).

However, the reaction that I have generally seen in the West to this dilemma is that the amount of clothes to wear is considered up to the woman while the reaction of the man should be controlled and restrained, essentially taking a demand-side approach. The idea is to control the demand (demonstrated by visible or even mental actions taken by the male) while allowing complete (mostly, we still aren't nudists) freedom in the supply-side wardrobe. However, you still run into the problem of men not actually limiting their reaction, just the outward signs of it. So it is deemed inappropriate for a guy to obviously notice a woman's low-cut shirt, but not inappropriate for her to wear it. Therefore he must hide his attraction, in quick glances and such, in order to act in a socially acceptable manner while not actually changing his thoughts and only slightly restraining his behavior.

In both scenarios, the actual problem is neither corrected nor solved, just transferred. In fact, I don't think that any social standards will ever stop the twitterpation of youth (as I saw in the back of the bus today, hehe), but we continue to try. I suppose that in terms of visible results there is some definite impact from the social standards put in place, but that is definitely only in the open, there is always a way around any rule.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hitting the Wall

When attempting to approach even the smallest societal problems in this world, I find myself simultaneously faced with feelings of the pressing needs around me and my desire to create positive change and also the futility of my actions and efforts when there remains so much that will "never" change. This has especially been true during my time in Jordan and in my efforts to get this "Change Makers" program through the pilot phase.

I just hit the final week (3) of implementing my program, and have been faced with a number of successes and a whole lot of observations regarding room for improvement (I try not to say failures). While there have been a number of surface level problems regarding properly translating the instructions and the intent of the activities, I have come into even bigger problems regarding the skills necessary to undertake this kind of work. Unfortunately, it is not just the kids who are unable to think about how to create change, but the university student volunteers and a number of the adults.

The biggest thing that has struck me here (especially in the course of this program) is the overwhelming resignation towards the status quo. Whenever I asked kids what they could do about something they threw their hands up in frustration and said, "That's the way it is, you can't change it!" Problems ranging from excessive trash to rude neighbors to corporal punishment were all acknowledged as problems, but were all seen as impossible to improve or solve. Upon further prodding, the volunteers regularly told me that this was too hard for the kids and we just shouldn't worry about it. However, the whole point of the program was just to discuss these issues and start thinking about answers, they didn't need viable solutions for all the world's problems. So while we ended up with a lot of problems writen down on pieces of paper (or not for the volunteers who decided those instructions weren't important), very little was actually done to help the students begin thinking differently.

BUT, this does give me a lot of information to work with. Now, I better understand the problems related to problem solving in this country. I am hoping to begin putting together a plan for a more detailed program which would first run volunteers through it so that they can actually understand the goals and the tools necessary to address issues and to encourage the kids to think creatively.

I could go on, but I'll just give a quick update on my time here before I post this thing. I have 3 weeks left of my internship, after that I hope to travel to Syria for a week and then will be back in Amman on August 31st to start my study abroad program. I went to the Dead Sea last weekend, which was lovely except for the gash that I managed to procure on some rocks while trying to get all the mud off of myself without getting any water in my mouth (that stuff is nasty!). Unfortunately, a number of my friends from the summer are leaving this week, which means it's party time before they go, but also a bit of an ineresting transitional time as I get ready to shift to the fall and a new location and daily routine.