Understanding Privilege

Today a lawyer came into the clinic to sit down with Katie and Rosa to talk about the process of changing the community zone identification. It was today that I realized that the reason there is no running water 24/7, no paved roads, no street lights and other disparities between this community and other residential ones, is because this community is zoned as farming and agriculture. The smells and flies are evidence of the pig farm that is down the street from the clinic. Katie and Rosa are beginning the process of getting all the papers in order to change the communities zone from farming to residential. Until then, the community can not turn to anyone in government to request basic community privileges.

This is so shocking to me because there are obviously people who have been living in this area for awhile, and yet it is still treated as just a farming area. The social constructs of policy are hindering this community's access to basic necessities. The process to turn this around is basic, and yet it is not possible without speaking to lawyers and other higher officials. Access to these professionals and the necessary resources would also not be possible without the connections that Katie and Rosa have.

One of my favorite things we did this week was have a community meeting. Rosa and Katie got everyone from the community together and explained their mission and their intent of being a vessel to help the people of the community work to change things. They explained that they will not, and cannot, do everything themselves, but they have enough resources to help empower and instill change. One of the most powerful parts of the meeting was hearing the community clap in agreement and raise their hands when questioned whether they wanted changes. At the end, we passed around signup sheets for different committees and I was so excited to see lots of names being added to each committee. The whole meeting was empowering to watch.


I think the most important thing I've gained from this experience is understanding where I fit into all of it. At the end of the day, despite what I am trying to do, my privilege is still present. At the end of the day, no matter how tired, hungry or dirty I am, I go home to eat a warm, nutritious meal fed to me by a loving mother. I go take a warm shower and crawl into a clean bed, in a room only occupied by me. No matter the circumstances of the day, I get to wash the dirt off.

For me, this has been the hardest part. The fact that water, food and education should be a borderless concept, and yet here I am in a community where running water is only available for 5 hours everyday, bread and rice are the most common nutrients given to children and education is available only if families can pay the prices of the uniforms. It's just unfair.

This struck me when Yarita, one of the students I teach, smiled and I realized for the first time that her teeth are black. At just 6 years old, she has already been denied access to basic dental hygiene. The day I saw her teeth I ended class early so that I could grab toothbrushes from the back to teach everyone how to brush their teeth. A couple of days later I asked her what she did last night and she said brushed her teeth. For the next week, every time I asked she'd say just that.

One of the hardest parts of this experience has been my inability to understand why I have been blessed with the things I have, but others haven't. It feels immoral for me not to not notice the differences between us that are solely based on my privilege of being born in a different town and a different country.