Striving For Progress, Not Perfection

A staff meeting was called on the second day of this brand-new year. We went around the room sharing a brief reflection of the past year and some of our hopes for this year. I guess the thought of a blank slate, a fresh stack of 365 days, and optimism of starting a new year, transcends cultures. Had you asked me on Jan. 1, 2017, where I would be in a year, I would never have guessed India. 2017 was a crazy year for me, but it will always be an important chapter of my life story.

Reflecting honestly on the past few months, I see a lot of struggling, frustration, and trying to figure it out. It was not an easy time, yet there were flashes of clarity and moments of understanding, that I held on to. After much rumination, I concluded that maybe I was being too hard on myself. I had wanted a picture-perfect 10 months of doing development work, you know how you see those cool pictures with the children smiling, and the families having heartwarming success stories, but that was the problem, development isn’t perfect. The hard part is I KNEW this, yet I still expected something that wasn’t what my reality was the first part of my Fellowship.

Working with kids is my “bread and butter”, yet what I got was a spending a lot of time in the office doing research, doing data analysis, working only with adults, and writing up formal reports. I thought my time in India would be spent all day with the kids, hanging out and playing games. However, I must say that writing out documents to help move this project along, and doing the research has informed my project in a substantial way. I put a lot into that ground work, I did as much researching and writing almost as much as I did in graduate school, but most importantly I feel like I set a solid foundation. It was a slow process, but I needed to remind myself of that one quote I saw on Pinterest, “Slow progress is still progress”.

Working as a social worker back home, I needed to make quick decisions, and move on things, or else my client could be affected drastically by my indecision. In international development though, it’s all about the long game. It’s also about knowing when to let others take control of certain aspects of the project, in my case, anything dealing with community engagement. I needed to be okay with this, and I’m still working on my patience, yet still being persistent. After doing the project proposal, fine-tuning my lesson plans, and submitting a situational analysis, I still feel this project is “mine” but also trying to be satisfied with knowing I can’t do it like how I would back home. I didn’t need to be so hard on myself, and I didn’t need to keep that control and expectations of doing this project so rigid (perfection).

On a community visit, I came across this literal brick road, and I look at this as a metaphor for the journey so far. It’s been a bit rough, not what I was used to, and not what I expected. I thought I came into this experience with absolutely no expectations, but these past few months confirmed that deep down, I did. However, much like walking on that uneven ground, it takes some adjusting and changes to approach, and soon the path isn’t as daunting. Once you start to develop your own pattern for knowing where to step and how fast you can go, you start to make progress. It is by no means perfect, but at least you can move forward toward where you need to go.

Metaphor for the journey so far

This Fellowship, from an American perspective, offers the unique situation where I can be actively involved in a culture, but the challenge is figuring out to what degree I can actually make changes, or even determine if change is even necessary. There’s so much that needed and still needs to be processed, especially deconstructing the whole notion of “development” and what my own place, role, and work is in it. What I do know is that development work, was not, is not, and probably never will be easy, and that striving for progress is much more feasible than perfection.

Born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, Janelle is a licensed social worker with a specialty of developing children and families. After receiving her Masters in Social Work from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, she joined the United States Peace Corps as a Youth in Development Volunteer, and was placed in the rural Phayao province of Thailand. Her proudest accomplishment during her service, was running a girls empowerment program that included participants from all over the Northern region of Thailand. Previous work experience include working for the Hawaii State Legislature as a Legislative Aide, Special Activities Coordinator for Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), and a Education Paraprofessional in Hawaii public schools. Janelle has a breadth of experiences abroad, including a semester in London, England, and completing an intensive practicum in Baguio, Philippines. She has a strong interest in empowering the youth and hopes the to apply her skills to help the youth of India.

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