The first time I second-guessed myself on our GROW internship was the day ATL explained how we would be involved in SAW’s education efforts. Juliana, Dylan, and I would be teaching a GED class on a variety of topics. Jayla and Akshayaa would be teaching English to third and fourth graders. I had discussed this with ATL several times, attempting to explain that we were interested in learning more about SAW’s education programs but were not entirely comfortable teaching a class on our own. We were not certified teachers and did not to take an opportunity for learning from someone more qualified away from the students. The way the teaching was explained by ATL gave us the impression that everything was already set up and we did not want to cause even more of an inconvenience. A few days later ATL explained that students are typically expected to learn by memorization and he hoped that we would be able to use a different teaching method, giving the students more of an opportunity for critical thinking than they had been given in the past. I also realized that they were lacking anyone to teach American history and government, topics that are on the GED. From what I understood ATL typically covers this class using information he gathered from the internet. Knowing this I began to feel that we could be an asset in the GED class, using a different teaching method that embraces critical thinking and teaching in the subjects where SAW is lacking someone with knowledge.
The second time I felt an inkling of unease was the first day we visited Phop Phra, where most of the Burmese migrant communities that SAW works with are located. We were there to observe a Family Talk workshop and learn more about the communities that SAW works with. I soon learned that ATL had planned for us to visit around 4 or 5 communities and speak with community members to learn about the struggles facing that community. During these visits we would only interact with a few community members who would answer our questions about the community we were visiting and sometimes offer some deeper insight about the situation of that community. I became increasingly aware of how we must look to those in the community with whom we did not speak and whom were not told why we were here. We were a group of American students who visited their community once, talked to a few people, and left. I could not shake the feeling that we were invading their privacy, that we were coming into a space that was only rarely safe and secure and that we were somehow detracting from that feeling of security. This feeling would only worsen when Su later informed us that most Burmese have an innate fear of foreigners. Perhaps these feelings of mine were unfounded as no one else seemed to have the same problems, but even now I cannot shake the feeling that we could have learned about those communities in a less invasive way.
Reflecting on these experiences I have begun to realize the value of the discussions we have in chapter meetings. We gain a more critical eye with which to evaluate the situations we are placed in, understanding that an experience that may appear to have a positive impact may have deeper consequences. I have also realized that it is sometimes possible to become overly cautious when attempting to avoid negative consequences. The GROW internship has helped me to realize that when working in global health it is necessary to understand that every action done by an individual or a group may have unforeseen consequences. The important thing is to ensure that every action taken is done so with the approval, perspective, and consideration of the community and the people in question. That the most important perspective to consider in international aid and development work will always be that of the community.