Making a positive impact in a community that you do not live in can be daunting and overwhelming. Designing a project to fit what the community needs requires research and experience. One of the most important things to consider is what the people want and what they believe they need. We do not live in their society, do not suffer their pain, and therefore cannot fully understand what is best for them.
A main part of my project was interviewing community members in the camps of Delhi, India via translators and body language. (Had I been photographed, there would have been very awkward snapshots of me miming.) My main question was, if there were one thing they could change about their lives or their children’s lives, what would it be?
One common answer was that they wanted their children to get a good education and “be something,” but when asked for more specifics, they didn’t know what to say. They did not know what they would need in order to give their child a good education (besides money) and they did not know exactly why getting a good education got their kids to “be something.” It was almost as if they had memorized that an education was the answer without knowing why.
Overall, one of the greatest barriers seemed to be that people don’t know how to approach the problems that currently exist. The problems are on such a grand scale that they seem impossible to fix. Few of the people that I interviewed — the MIT students, the Indian students, the NGO staff, the community members — seemed to have any concrete solutions or even ideas that could help improve living conditions or quality of life. Even when an idea for a solution arises, you start thinking about how the solution could affect the population and often potential negative affects come to mind.
It is no surprise that many of us, each just one person in a big world, are discouraged by the scope of these problems. We don’t see any way that we could possibly make a significant difference. However, at MIT, we are (theoretically at least) some of the brightest minds in the world. We make lead advances in science and technology every day. We make the impossible a reality.
Solving developmental problems is no different. If everyone avoids the problem because they are not sure how to help, nothing will change. Of course, you should not jump blindly into a potential solution and force it on the culture. But with an open-mind, creativity, and flexibility, you are more than capable of bringing about smiles and making one part of the world into the place that those inhabitants want it to be.
MIT offers many resources to help your idea come to fruition. They can help you flesh out your idea, connect you to team members and companies, provide funding, and even give you a salary. The Public Service Center and the Web site http://web.mit.edu/goglobal are two such resources. Take a spark and make a fire that will change others’ lives. You are more than capable.