The thing you change may be yourself

February 1 1969

The thing you change may be yourself

February 1 1969

The thing you change may be yourself


A CUSO assignment is a personal adventure for a young Canadian. It may produce changes in the community he’s working in; it will certainly bring changes in his own life and outlook. In these letters from the field, volunteers in five nations give you a firsthand glimpse of how this happens

IVniA* 1brousht the IO°P IPUIlAi to a hungry village

A few families are smaller and less hopeless in the dusty villages of India’s northern Maharashtra state because of the calls of public-health nurse Joyce Relyea, of Waterloo, Ontario. Joyce Relyea writes:

“Bhuri bai a’lay" (The white lady’s coming), the children chant each day as I walk from my cottage through the bazaar to the homes of the villagers. I am an oddity —tall, white, bespectacled, with loose floppy brown hair; the villagers’ curiosity about this large white stranger gives me easy access to their homes. I carry eye ointment and worm medicine, a few diagrams illustrating human reproduction, a loop kit. I walk along an alley with the local family-planning worker who interprets for me, and we come upon a woman on her porch, picking nits from her child’s head.

I ask how the children are; she says her three girls are always sick. Every year there is a new baby and times are hard: her husband is out in the fields, she is too weak to work.

She has heard of the loop, believes it a “bad thing — like a worm that eats away your insides.” I demonstrate how the loop works.

MOTHER: “No . . . children come.

They will always come. That is the way.”

NURSE: “There are things we can do. Let me come and speak with your husband.”

MOTHER: “No, there is no use.” NURSE: “What will you do if you have another child? There’s little enough food now and you are weak.” MOTHER: “We will manage. We will work harder. God will provide.”

What is she really thinking? Is she holding fast to her only freedom, to produce children? Does she feel a foreign intrusion on her rights as a mother? Would she trust us more if we could offer her some medicine or free milk powder? To gain the trust of the people, family planning needs to be part of a total health and agricultural program to a greater extent than I can provide in this village. Too often the unspoken fear of the death of their children prevents parents wanting to limit families: of 55,000 babies born in India today, only 44,000 will grow to be five. Can we assure parents their children can be healthy through the provision of education, immunization, prenatal, delivery and postnatal service? Does this mother even realize that the fewer children she has, the better care she can provide?

My interpreter’s mother regards “good care” as forbidding her grandson to wear clean clothes because he might attract the one with the “evil eye” and be cursed. But change is creeping in: in the village the postmaster, shopkeepers and government servants are for the most part committed to the idea of a small family. They tend to be leaders of the community, capable of influencing opinions. Change will come.

PflVAlIA* We were their Ut IAHÄ. first “bankers”

Two dozen Amerindian youngsters on the savannah grasslands of Guyana’s remote interior have some understanding of the outside world’s banking system because of Eugene and Eleanor Dextrase, CUSO volunteers from Edmonton. Their job was to set up a government secondary school and revive a student hostel, which would enable the sons and daughters of Amerindian subsistence farmers to attend school. Eugene Dextrase writes:

It’s hard to decide what subjects to teach, when you wish to put the needs of the community first and those needs don’t necessarily coincide with our North American value system.

The people here are no materialists.

For example, a man who had 100 chickens left for two months to get raw rubber from balata trees to sell. On his return, he found a neighbor had killed and eaten half the chickens.

The man promptly killed the remainder. He said the chickens would continue to be a source of trouble with his neighbor, and the neighbor’s friendship was far more important than chickens. Still, we assumed the most important subjects were English (for communication), mathematics (initiation of the monetary system) and agriculture. To develop a banking sense, all students in the hostel were asked to deposit spending money with us, using a homemade deposit slip. When money was required, a withdrawal slip was made out by the student and a careful account kept. D|?||fTt We got a sad message IT from a wrong-way gate

Some of the people CUSO volunteers want to help lack the imagination that welcomes change. Bill and Penny Dampier, of Toronto, learned this by watching a gate in front of the radio station they operated in the Peruvian jungle village of Bellavista. Horses used to nudge open the gate, enter and knock down the radio antenna. The Dampiers made the gate horse-proof by making it open outward instead of inward. Penny Dampier writes:

Some adults and practically all the children are stymied. In all their experience, gates have opened in. The bigger ones use brute strength to make it swing in. Little children wriggle through or crawl under. Big or little, they stand at the gate and whisper among themselves. They know something is different, but what?

It all comes back to what stifles imagination. Few experiences are available in this town. All stores offer the same goods. All women cook and wash the same way. In school, teachers read material to children who copy it down and answer by rote. They’ve never seen any other way of doing things and this lack of imagination keeps them from visualizing the possibilities of other ways. The problem of our gate is the problem of Bellavista, of any area that cannot offer its children diversified experience.

PH AV A* A fertility doll Ullnllil« came to our wedding

Chris and Mary Williams, teachers from Toronto, married in Ghana. They wished to do it without pretence and yet share it with the students and their town of Konongo. They call the result “a happy mixture of traditions.” Chris Williams writes:

What the bride should wear was a bit of a problem. Mary often wears the customary dress — three pieces of the same cloth, a top, a long skirt and a third piece, worn over the shoulder or around the waist. For dressier occasions the third piece is omitted and the blouse made from white lacy material. This is what we chose.

Formal dress for a man in Ghana is the /rente cloth, given to a boy when he becomes a man. But the kente represents a man’s right to take part in the culture, so I wore a suit.

The girls in Mary’s class spent the early morning picking flowers to decorate the church and one made her a bouquet. We invited only a small number of friends, yet there were many people in the church. People were conscious of the fact that we were “European” but not cramped by it. Father Yeboah is an Ashanti and he composed the wedding sermon in his own language, Twi, but delivered it in English. The result was a blend of Ashanti philosophy and Christian ideas we’ll always remember. He told us marriage is not like tapping palm wine. The tapper tastes the wine and takes it only if it is sweet; but when you marry, you marry for ever. One of the presents from our Ghanaian friends was a fertility doll.

]Lf AVID AC* 1 Put clothes on hill-tribe children

A number of children in one of India’s most backward hill tribes have started wearing clothes and going to school. It’s because of Hans-Henning Mündel, of Oliver, British Columbia, and the assignment he took as farm manager of a colony of 25 Paniya tribal families in Madras. Mündel writes:

It was apparent that the chances of success of a land-colonization scheme would be vastly increased if some of its members could read and write. So when an old Paniya named Kaima asked if his son Vellikan could go to school, I had my cue. Shortly, I had 21 of the colony’s children enrolled in the local public school. I had to agree to become their legal guardian to get them in. But the headmaster didn’t like the idea of naked or half-naked Paniya children in his school. I sent an SOS to welfare headquarters at Kotagiri, 80 miles of jungle and mountains away. With clothing came lost buttons, torn shirts, broken zippers. Anthony, my helper, and I took shifts at mending them. Since then friends in Canada have helped raise funds for the colony, and the children of Ranch Park Elementary School in Port Coquitlam, BC, have raised $300 to help start a nursery school for the Paniyas.