Volunteer Pitfalls

Generally, I am a careful person. In social situations, I am reading the room and trying to find my place. I act with reason and understanding; partially to be sensitive, but mostly to avoid any mistakes that would warrant personal ridicule or guilt.

When I arrived in Thailand I did not know my role; where I fit in. Being hard-working, helpful, and capable goes a long way. I remember situational interview questions that I was asked before we were offered this opportunity and I knew how to answer them. Hypotheticals are usually clear cut for me, no messy feelings to get in the way, no expectations, no relationships, and no longing for acceptance.

I know how I got here - my own actions cleared the path, but this was not where I was going.

It really started just after I arrived here: my eagerness to help. With my doubts about my role, I sought every opportunity to prove value. I spent a lot of time with the patients, and working with the patients was what gave me the most joy. It is why I became a nurse, to help those in need. That should have been enough, but it never is. Encouraged to keep finding ways to contribute, I kept doing more. When some people didn’t do their work, I did it. Trying to keep everything flowing smoothly; everyone happy.

I am a doer, I tell myself. I am good at these things and it is quicker for me to help out - Westerners demand efficiency. A constant balance of my ego looking for encouragement and also seeking selflessness. Sometimes the same action satisfies both, but regardless of outcome it is a soft surface for boundaries. I was quickly doing so much work that others had time for side-projects. I justified this. Maybe my role was to watch over the care center so that others could create sustainable change in important ways. Seems reasonable right? Almost no one seemed to take advantage and slack off, almost.

There were times that I was frustrated and felt abandoned or alone. There came a tipping point where I started to feel taken advantage of. Where I was frustrated with the individual and the situation. I mustered up the immense courage it takes me to address my frustrations, things got better for a time, and then worse again. Luckily, I was finding new tools like compassion-building and meditation. Tools that my inexperienced hands clearly did not know how to wield. Tools that helped me calm myself as the situation worsened.

And then it was over, and I found myself the problem. I will never understand the complex socio-cultural dynamics that were at play. I can look back and see places that I clearly erred; frustrating places that have consistently, but infrequently repeated in my life. Infrequent enough that I cannot seem to prevent, avoid, or squelch them, but frequent enough that when they happen it feels like failure.

Stepping forward and stepping up to help out where was necessary when others failed to do their duties. Actions that were always appreciated. Actions that have evolved from being helpful to being at risk of creating long-term harm. Actions that have somehow smoothly created a system change that is likely not sustainable without me. I ended up in the center of the circle when I was never supposed to leave the periphery. It is like being expected to show love, but in the end you are demanding validation for your love. It feels awful, and must be undone. And so I fell into the pitfall, but it shallow enough to climb out, and I think the lasting damage will be minimal.

I am so appreciative of the support of the amazing staff who are incredibly equipped to recognize and counsel the correction of these types of problems. People to give me permission to return to being a Volunteer, which is what this community needs more then depending on a foreign nurse. I am so appreciative, because although I have been a positive influence for many individuals, without the encouragement and time to undo the damage I have done I would feel like I failed this community in a big way.

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