Starting last Wednesday, myself and the other 53 VISTA’S of Montana, met in Helena for our pre-service orientation. Besides the discrimination and harassment training I’ve had for what seems like the 15,000 time, we also discussed ways to integrate into our communities and how to communicate with people from different backgrounds.
The main part of our discussions however had to do with our mission as VISTAS. To work to end poverty. We were warned against having unrealistic expectations, and that many of our projects would not make changes until most of the way through our year of service or later. Many of our VISTA leaders who had served previously affirmed this fact, that many of them didn’t start seeing any result until 9 months into their service.
The fact is that people are hard to mobilize for change. During a scenario where our town was trying to increase test scores for the local high school, the intricacies of pooling resources became readily apparent. With every group having their own wants and needs, it quickly became a game of exchange. We’ll give you our space if you will educate your teens about this………so to speak. And while we found resources in places I would not have thought (church group), the “plan for action” became quickly convoluted as every group tried to get what they wanted. And while I want to believe that the human race isn’t that self centered, this scenario proved how competitive some of these self interests become when there is money on the line. When a grant came up in our scenario, almost every group wrote about how they could use the money, and not how the whole community could use it.
However, during our discussion of poverty it quickly became apparent how wrong I was. I listened to many other VISTA’S stories of growing up impoverished, homeless, or being kicked out of their house for admitting to their parents they were homosexual. They used these stories to show how poverty made them invisible to others, and made them want to create change in a system that is lacking. To me the selfishness I had seen earlier now seemed more like purpose. People were selfish in our scenario because they wanted to change in a way that would benefit their group the most. If they represent the impoverished, and misfortuned than maybe this stubbornness I had seen isn’t so bad after all.
But it sure creates a heck of a lot of headaches.
So after 2 and a half days of training I am now a sworn VISTA. I got to make the same oath that all congressmen, army recruits, and presidents say, which I thought was kinda cool. Next week I begin my work with the Jefferson County Health Department. I will have to remember to be stubborn, yet work well with others.