By Dr. Rhea Zimmerman Komarek
It was the middle of the night, I was exhausted, bent over the toilet bowl, sick, and wondering “did anything I just do make a difference?” After five days of working to provide free or low cost chiropractic care throughout the Sacred Valley, Peru I was finished, exhausted, and finally succumbing to the digestive visitor that had already taken down my entire team of volunteers.
It wasn’t the first time I wondered if my desire to be of difference in a developing country with my skill set was doing anything in the long run.
My first service trip was during the final months of my chiropractic education while I was still a clinic intern. Student interns were paired with field doctors for an annual trip to provide care in El Salvador. After graduation my innate drive to serve as a global citizen had led me to India to set up my own program. India in her wisdom had humbled me and left me at the drawing board asking the questions:
What is the goal of the service? If I can’t provide long term care is it ethical to do it in the short term? Is my work empowering the people I am serving or disempowering them? Do I really know enough clinically to be of service or should I go home and develop myself further?
I have come to understand that this deep questioning really boils down to, “am I really giving anywhere near as much as I am receiving,” is a multi-faceted one.
After that first trip to Peru where our team left both emotionally transformed and physically drained, I had to ask myself whether or not I would return. I wanted to know that I was being more than just selfish by wanting to have the experience of serving. It is so utterly transformational, such an avenue of fulfillment, and so amazing to lose one’s every day troubles into the surrender of service, that I had to know: am I really doing anything? Is offering chiropractic care one time a year going to truly help these people?
Before committing to trip number two, which ultimately is the commitment to taking steps towards committing to care long term for a community, I wrote to the clinic directors who hosted my group and posed the question: given that we can only be there right now once a year, is our work really making an impact? I trusted their perspective as people regularly engaged in the community and therefore those we would care for annually. As Peace Corps veterans of 20+ years they knew what impact was as well as the issues that befall international service. When they came back with the answer of “yes”, well, that was confirmation enough for me.
We returned, and, on year three, filmed the footage that would become the documentary film “Love Bomb.” In filming follow up interviews I also learned of positively life changing, sustained physical healing results for some of the people we cared for, another testament for me to know that the effort is worth it. For me the service results are definitely physical, and also, emotional. It is the premise that when we all play our role of service to life, both at home and abroad, that together we create a positive shift in consciousness. A helping hand is better than an oppressive hand, and is powerful when directed in well thought out ways.
With the film I aim to inspire in people the transformational potential of service. My hope is that people will walk out of the film and think to themselves: how can I be of service in this moment, right here, right now? The question of how can I serve, and how can I love, becoming synonymous. I also know that there will be those who watch the film and think to themselves: I want to go do something like that in another country!
For those people, I offer this Love Bomb guide to responsible service. Ultimately, service is an exchange built on a relationship of trust between the giver and the receiver. These questions can help us to feel in to where we stand and what we will be offering.
In the exchange of giving and receiving we will make an impact on the culture we are serving, and we need to ask ourselves what kind of an impact we want to make, as together we are building the model for what it looks like to become global citizens. Together we can, responsibly, make a profound impact on humanity, at home and abroad. The two are becoming inextricably one.
1. What is my goal?
2. Am I going to serve, or to practice?
3. Will my actions create dependency?
4. Am I going to be empowering the people I am serving?
5. Am I respecting the cultural beliefs and customs I am stepping into, or trying to change them to my own beliefs?
6. Am I hoping to be a savior instead of a server?
7. Am I going as an equal or am I feeling superior to those I am serving?
8. Am I doing something that the people have identified as a need, or am I putting my ideas of what they need on them?
If coordinating with an organization:
1. Do they have successful long-term projects that you will be making an impact with?
2. Are they well respected in the community/communities where they serve?
3. Are they motivated by service or by business profit?
4. Will they provide for you contact information for past volunteers to speak with?
I personally feel that as global citizens we can create beautiful relationships built on responsible service, or, “voluntourism”, when we choose consciously. We are building the future for humanity one responsible relationship at a time. Lets do it together, with great care.
Does Voluntourism Do More Harm Than Good?, Dorinda Elliott
Seven Sins of Humanitarian Medicine, Welling, Ryan, Burris & Rich, World Journal of Surgery
Does “Voluntourism” Do more harm than good?, Richard Stupart
An Insider’s Thoughts On Voluntourism in Orphanages and Schools, Filipa Chatillon
Book: Mountains Beyond Mountains, Dr. Paul Farmer
Resources for Choosing Organizations & Projects (I do not know these organizations personally, they were found through online research, please make sure to do your own work to verify that any of these are right for you, and that they fulfill the questions listed above):