On Wednesday, our group split into two sections for the day's site visits and activities. One half of the students visited the Naguru remand home in the morning and the Sanyu Babies Home (SBH) in the afternoon, while the other half did the opposite. When the group came back together for the reflection session in the evening, it quickly became apparent that each group had very different experiences. The dialogue that resulted from evaluating the different experiences yielded some of the most emotional, profound, and meaningful reflections thus far.
In the first part of the reflection session, we asked the students to describe the day's experiences in one word. While students from group 1 used words such as "touching, interesting, and interactive," students from group 2 said, "deceit, misery, reality, and sad."
Next, we asked one person in each group to summarize their group's activities as objectively as possible. A member of group 1 described how his group participated in a debate with youth at the remand home. At SBH, group 1 held, fed, and played with nearly all 50 babies. In contrast, a member of group 2 described that her group was told not to hold children at SBH and instead made beds and washed windows. At the remand home group 2 held a question-and-answer session with all 180 youth. Upon leaving, they witnessed a boy being caned as punishment.
As we moved into the final part of the reflection session we asked students to compare and contrast experiences. The caning incident became a starting point for discussion, and students were visibly shaken by the occurrence. As facilitators, it was interesting to hear comments of guilt voiced by group 1 members who seemed to have a more positive experience overall.
In the end, the group engaged in a group discussion and came to two conclusions. First, we concluded that for as hellish as the circumstances may have appeared at the remand home and at SBH, very similar circumstances exist in US orphanages and juvenile detention centers. This realization made us consider why Americans feel that they must visit these sites abroad but often do not bother to explore similar places in their own communities.
Second, some students raised concerns about the orphanage "marketing" its babies to international visitors. Some expressed that they felt uncomfortable playing with the babies because they did not think it was fair to favor their own pleasure over the attachment the babies so often feel when visitors only briefly pass through their doors. This led to a larger discussion about our motives and the purpose of our site visits. When someone mentioned "selfishness" as a motive, another student asked us to consider how much international aid workers' might really be motivated by self-interest. As she said, someone once argued, "the third world is the playground for the first world."
We ultimately concluded that trying to discern the purity of our motives and those underlying all international aid efforts is a very complex task. However torn or confused we felt after this reflection session, we appreciated the opportunity to step back and really examine our experiences.