Learning to Say No

In my short time at site, I have been bombarded with people’s requests for my help. Widowed mothers ask me for money to send their children to secondary school. District officials have approached me to help them find funding for various projects. Several associations want me to help them find a way to sell their goods in America. Students ask to come to my house after school for computer lessons because their schools don’t have any computers.

When I first moved to site, I was worried that I would be bored and that I would have trouble finding things to do all day. Instead, I’m having trouble finding free time for myself. The biggest challenge I’m faced with is saying no, and it’s harder than I would have ever imagined.

When the mothers knock on my door and ask me nearly in tears for a loan so they can pay school fees, it breaks my heart to say that I can’t help them. In my broken Kinyarwanda, I try to explain that giving loans or finding sponsors in America for these students is not part of my job description, and I feel really guilty as they walk away disappointed and deflated.

The leaders of a sector in my district took me to visit a potential worksite for a huge water project. This area is high in the mountains and there is only one source of water for thousands of people. Currently there are pipes and wells in place, but the pipes are too small to withstand the water pressure required to send the water uphill from the source to the villages. This problem has left many people left without water during the dry season, forcing them to walk over an hour to kuvoma amazi, to fetch water. I want to help this project because it is so important for so many people, but I’m not sure where I would ever find the $70,000 worth of funding the sector needs.

Another potential secondary project, there are several associations that make beautiful handcrafts like baskets and cards that have asked me to find them a market in America. They currently sell these handmade grass baskets for 1,000 RWF or less than $2, and they sell the incredibly detailed cards decorated with cut banana leaves for 100 RWF or about $0.15. If sold in America, the baskets would easily cost $30 and the cards $3. As with the water project, I really want to get involved because the project would impact many people, but I’m daunted by such a large undertaking.

Lastly, there is a community library in my village that an earlier PCV created, but I feel like there could be many improvements. Many of the books are high school textbooks and there are few books for small children. It appears that mostly primary school students currently use the library, and there just aren’t appropriate books for them. Also, most people have no idea how to use the textbooks that the library does have, and there is no culture of reading here. I really want to try to bring in new books, teach students how to use the library, and help people to enjoy reading so that the library reaches its full potential.

With so many options, I need to get better about saying no. On the one hand, it’s very exciting to have so many great opportunities to make a difference in my community! On the other hand, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How can I ever hope to make any changes when my neighbors, friends, and counterparts are faced with so many intimidating challenges? How do I decide which project to focus my efforts on when there are so many worthy causes to choose from? I need to narrow my focus so that I can complete one or two projects thoroughly rather than working distractedly on all of the projects.

I’m not sure which projects I’ll ultimately choose or how I’ll handle the projects I don’t. For now, I guess I’ll focus on my school work and continue to assess which projects are the most feasible. And rather than think about all the people I’ll disappoint when I turn down their project, I instead need to direct my attention to the ones I will be able to help.

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7 thoughts on “Learning to Say No

  1. Difficult choices,Lauren! So many people in need, and so many people wasting money on things with no value! You just have to do the best you can! Love you! Grandpa.

  2. Keep up the good work! Big decisions are tough for a reason – you will choose the right one! Let me know what I can do to help. Missing you! Aunt Alison

  3. Lauren: let me know if you want me to guide you to folks in Philly that are creating sales opportunities for artisans from struggling countries. I’ve written about some and have contacts with others. And please don’t lose sight of the fact you are already helping many, many people there. There is no need to feel guilty about not being able to do more! You are making a huge difference in numerous lives.

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