The Right to Change

They wear uniforms of white and blue. The walls are white with painted colors of animals that they have yet to see. Traffic noise pour into their classrooms. An orange cloud rises around the playground but never falls. It blows itself around and clings to every sound and object. All is covered in the orange dust.

 Except, for the faces of the children. They run too fast and wait around too little to be caught in dust. Their faces glow with sweat and spread with smiles. We come in, with armpit stains and waterfall faces, and they welcome us. We let them fall behind our steps, as we toured their school. We inspected their world with examining eyes, and point to the cracks in the walls and to every empty light socket. We scribbled notes, drawing out a few problems of the school.

 I look outside at open area in front of the play ground. The playground equipment was broken. I looked at the children huddling around trees and giggling. But I must not spend too much time looking there. I turned to examine some more.

 After one whole hour, we met in groups to talk about the “hot” and “bright” spots of the school. Hot meant bad, and bright meant good. The majority of our observations were hot. Although we were there to identify some serious problems and help make change, I felt like an intruder. How could I look at all these children’s lives and judge them? What gave me the authority as an outsider to change their lives? Each of us are fully adjusted in own lives, adapted to the bad and comfortable in the good. I understand that change is needed, but what makes us the hero to fix their problems?

 But I was once on the other side. As a first grade boarder in China, my school was my home. The daily routine of fleeing dark toilets, slapping mosquitos impregnated with blood, and zig zagging across the broken swing sets was all I knew, and I enjoyed every moment, although at times it was hard. Foreigners came to visit the next year. We loved them immediately and grew to love them even more. They fled from our toilets, holding their noses, and looked down in disgust at our playgrounds. Then, I looked at my home again. It was broken.

 I was angry. The outsiders came in and pointed out our flaws and left. How could have this ever helped us change?

 Now as we work with schools to help improve their surroundings, I have lingering doubts about how we are diving into these projects. We have four days, and as many people have said, we need more time. However, I think our awareness is a good start. We must not try to fix their problems, if we cannot recognize what they already have and what makes it a home.