Questions, and more questions

by Meg Hamilton

We’ve shared a lot about the groups we have done and the things we have been seeing and experiencing here. I think we all agree- this has been a profound experience. One we are immensely grateful for. Our learning has encompassed quite a lot. In addition to the hands on experiences of the art therapy groups with the girls and the self-care groups with the staff we’ve engaged in numerous discussions with each other and with the NGO’s (primarily Transitions and Ragamuffin, although we have met numerous inspiring individuals here) we are so inspired by about what our role here looks like. How can we be most effective and gain the most learning during a period of 3 weeks?

We have realized this learning could not really happen until we were actually here seeing how these organizations operate and gaining a clearer understanding of cultural dynamics. Thus we have asked ourselves a lot of hard questions- many of which have no clear answer. Those of us in the group have stood on opposite sides of a few of these issues, and learned from each other’s perspectives as we’ve held onto our unique beliefs.

While it may take a book or two to really get into these questions and issues I’d like to at least present what some of these things have been.

As westerners in a third world country that values social hierachies in their cultural structure we have faced a number of questions about power and empowerment. What does real empowerment look like? How do we know if we are seeing autonomous choices or if the person we are talking with is being influenced by power dynamics at play? Given the power inherent in our presence here how do we maintain awareness of its impact while continuing to seek authentic relationships with those we encounter?

The relationships brings us to other questions. How are we representing those we have established relationships with- whether they be brief or sustained over the course of our time here? How do we represent them through photographs? Art work? Stories and language? What about the attachments we form- how do we hold an ethical responsibility to care for attachments and also seek to develop short term relationships with those we are working with?

What is of the most benefit to the NGO’s here, and how can we structure the things we are doing so they are sustainable for Transitions? How do we collaborate on these things in the midst of a lack of cultural familiarity on our part?

We are all processing these questions in our own ways- I use photography to do this for myself. The photographs above are part of this process for me. The act of photographing is a complex process for me- multi-faceted and requiring many levels of engagement. When I look through my photographs I see both my questions and my curiosity. I see my struggles and my criticisms. In the faces of those of those I’ve photographed, though, I am reminded that all of this learning and growing happens in relationships. When I relax into who I am and allow the person in front of me to be who they are something happens, and together we achieve some tiny moment of connection. The shutter snaps and I have a reminder of this interaction. So it’s in relationship to ourselves, to each other, to those we are working with, and to those around us that we continue to move forward and engage this work. There is much to learn.

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Photographs from Angkor Wat