In April 2009 I was traveling in Paraguay and wanted to visit a slum in its capital Asuncion. There is a narrow strip of land between the city center and the river Paraguay where people live in shanties.I wanted to see with my own eyes how they live there. A police officer was standing watch right outside the slum, and I heard later that they never go inside. As I walked into the slum, the cop hold me back. Now I really wanted to get in. I spoke to a guy who was living in the slum and he was glad to show me around. He protected me against the screaming woman who thought I was a tourist turned on by their poverty. I sat at their concrete hut for a while and then they told me they wanted to play soccer and they were saving money for a ball. Ten euros. I said come, and we bought the ball. Then we played football, and I remember the young child Camilo having so much fun. They called him as he bounced the ball on the ground and scored a goal between the strong trees were the laundry was drying. Camilo, Camilo. That's how I was called in Latin America, too.
About a week later, in Santa Cruz de Bolivia, I spoke to a man sitting on a bench and he told me about his life. We went to have some tea but he was not welcome in the tea house. Not on my watch, I thought, and so I bought him soap and clothes and went to eat ice-cream and went back to have some tea with him. He showed me where he lived: some cardboard boxes against a wall. He will be dirty again in a week, and his new clothes will be torn apart, I thought. And so what? I thought. Haven't we given each other a good time? I couldn't overcome the sweet illusion that something meaningful has been done. Those events were the spark that lit something, something that must have been inside me for years.
I remember a story my father told me. Both my parents were competent young doctors contemplating the idea of volunteering somewhere in Africa. The organization they contacted told them they couldn't be placed in the same region. Understandably, my parents decided against it. Silly, mindless bureaucracy withhold them. This is only one of many instances that can make me sad. A Norwegian girl told me she volunteered for an organization she found somewhere on the Internet. When she visited the orphanage it turned out the staff was using the money to live in luxury while the orphans were kept on a rice diet. I know of some people who've spent thousands of euros plus expenses to organizations to do on a project in Nepal or Bolivia. All this was enough for me to decide: I can do this better.
And I found out I can. Because the Internet facilitates establishing good and reliable contacts to charities. It seemed that my idea was very well realizable and that I would be among the first doing it. This has been an exciting feeling of course. The months of planning the trip in the summer and fall of 2009 have been great. I had the essential feeling that this is what I am 'supposed' to do.
A friend told me that the deeper psychological reason why I go is after all not very important, and I was glad to hear that. Is it because i don't see meaning in our society, or maybe because i simply like to make people happy, or because i think i am somebody special with a special mission, or i want to. Let the result count, not the motives, the resulting human beauty, not the possible ugliness of the motives.