This series of posts documents two ordinary folks attempting to get out there and do good. Over the next few months, we’ll follow them through the setbacks and triumphs of their endeavor to take the inspiration of Mountainfilm and turn it into something tangible. (To catch up. start here.)

One of the main tenants of Mountainfilm is that, while the festival is profoundly inspiring in an immediate sense, it should ultimately provide people with the inspiration to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone to do something good. Because really, that fuzzy feeling generated during Mountainfilm doesn’t mean much unless it’s acted upon. This is my take, anyhow, and this past festival certainly planted the seed for me.

Jenny and I had already planned to travel for a few months after the summer, but we thought, “Why not use that time to work for an organization that is improving the human condition?” And there you have it: the easy part was done. We had decided. We were going to be philanthropists. With our pedigreed backgrounds we would surely have our choice of locations and positions, particularly since we were going to be paying our way.

Wrong.

Finding a nonprofit that would let us help in a way that was constructive for both the organization and ourselves turned out to be pretty tough. It’s not that we were opposed to digging latrines or pounding nails, it’s just that we thought our efforts could be better applied to something more in line with our skills.

We got in touch with several organizations through Mountainfilm and personal contacts. Though everyone with whom we spoke was very enthusiastic and helpful, the common refrain was still a negative response. Turns out, even nonprofits want candidates with foreign experience to work in their foreign operations. Who knew? Upon deeper contemplation, it makes sense. A lot of these organizations are trying to perform miracles on a shoestring budget, and it’s not always helpful for culturally green foreigners to come in and “help.” Hence, organizations typically vet Western staff very closely and tend to prefer local staff for their native expertise. An inexperienced, foreign baboon could turn out to be more of a burden than a boon.

Having come to this realization, Jenny and I nonetheless determined to persevere, and decided that an awareness of our potential to do less good than we envision must prevent that from actually happening.

Our quest continues next Thursday – check back to see how we finally make a connection!

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