I wish it weren’t, but it’s easy to forget that people elsewhere see and do things differently. The arrogance is in assuming that our approach is the only way.
When a student asked me how to handle a difference of opinion in a third world country. I responded, “It depends.”
The student described a situation where he was on a work trip to Guatemala and helping a local laborer paint a house. The laborer dipped a large piece of cloth in the paint and threw it up against the house exterior. Standing next to the laborer, the student picked up a roller handle, gently rolled it in the pan of paint, and then meticulously rolled the paint on the wall. The laborer went about his business with the cloth and ignored the roller.
The student grew frustrated and tried again to demonstrate how the roller worked. When he finished telling his story I asked, “Why do you think the laborer kept about his business?” He answered, “Though it may be inefficient to us, it is the way it has been done for many years.” I asked, “Will this scenario put anyone into danger or cause the building to fail?” He’d realized that this was a good example of when to let it go and set our ego aside.
I still struggle with how to handle a difference of opinion when visiting another culture. It is important to remember that we are the guest and to show respect. I reflect on this when preparing for my El Salvador trip, less than a month away. Part of a new sustainability initiative for the established partnership with Habitat for Humanity El Salvador, I wonder what sustainability means to them.
When I asked our trip organizer, “How do I prepare for our meetings on sustainability with the HFH El Salvador staff architect?”, he responded with the outline below.
Meeting to Explore Shared Sustainability Interests under the HFHDC/HFHES Partnership:
– Primary – information exchange
– Determine if there are any areas/topics appropriate for follow up under the partnership
– Respect cultural and economic differences
– Respond to the needs and priorities of our partners at HFH El Salvador; don’t push solutions we may be enamored with but that are not appropriate for them.
– Current and anticipated sustainability practices in new house and lot construction
– Financial implications of sustainability practices
– Designing Habitat houses to accommodate changing uses over time
– Preparations for adapting to climate change and weird weather events
Out of all the items, I think that Approach is the most important. Without a mutual respect, nothing can be accomplished. Sincerely hoping for an exchange where as we can learn how to best provide what they need, not what we think they need.