Not Progress Exactly

After electronically venting my spleen the other day on all of you about the inexcusable state of my life, I then went searching the web, rather nilly-willy, for options. For the most part, this amounted to reading the "What Can YOU do?" page of various organizations. Pathetic, I know.

One of the websites I came upon was that of Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), an organization whose main concern seems to be protesting the UN sanctions placed on Iraq. On one page, there was a rather welcoming invitation to write for more information on volunteering opportunities "abroad," and so, without much thought, I penned a short note explaining my situation. And, miracles of miracles, today I received a reply from a representative in Chicago, who had very kindly sent me some links to peace groups in Japan, as well as inquired as to whether I might be interested in assisting with research on the "odious debt" incurred by Saddam Hussein. I hope you won't judge me too harshly for my initial reaction of simple, blind exhilaration.

Wow, research! I can do that, I thought. One of my biggest obstacles is an uncertainty as to whether I possess even a single skill that could possibly be of use to anyone. But suddenly, someone was offering me the chance to do something that perhaps even I could manage.

But then, amidst all the excitement, my single fiber of common sense started waving about, distracting me. Hello, it said, maybe you should just double check that you're not about to sign on with a friendly, anti-sanction cult or whatnot. I dutifully searched about, and unfortunately came upon a paper written by an ex-member of Voices in the Wilderness, who claimed that those at VitW "were less concerned with the suffering of the Iraqi people than we were in maintaining our moral challenge to US foreign policy." Of course, this being an ex-member, I don't know how much credit I should give Charlie, er, Charles Brown.

Okay, one critical voice. What else? Well, the group seems to have gotten on the bad side of the US Treasury Department quite a bit, and has been fined several times for violating embargoes on Iraq by bringing medicine and other supplies into the country.

I relent. The true reason I'm writing this post: I'm just not sure. If someone could give me proof that VitW and their peace team is truly accomplishing some good in Iraq, then I don't care if they're overly enamored by their own rebellious badness, I'll write back and tell them I'd gladly help them with research. But how can I tell if they're really the good guys? It's so hard these days.

Then there's Oxfam. Thanks to a friend who commented recently, I discovered that not only is there an English branch to Oxfam Japan, they claim to need volunteers. Only, my friend's previous offer to help had been turned down because she wasn't fluent in Japanese. Well, I wrote to them anyway, and will wait to hear from them. Hopefully the grating cheer and enthusiasm in my email will stun them into accepting my forceful offers. Perhaps I can wear them down over time. Don't sneer at this tactic--the father of one of my friends actually won his wife that way (which is kinda sad, but proves that bullish determination can work, if it's all you've got).

I suppose this is one of those "wait and see" moments.

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Hi Rachel, sorry to disappoint but I am female. Yeah the name is misleading I know. Anyhow, glad to see that you're finding out more about how to proceed with your plans. The articles you linked to were interesting, but what I found a little more "incriminating" than what you pointed out about Voices in the Wilderness was that even at the height of their assistance, their "emphasis [was] on symbolic acts" and their use of "dramaturgy" to protest. I'm wondering what "symbolic amounts of medical aid" even means. Maybe that is a code word for a couple syringes or five aspirin or something. And dramaturgy. Wow. So even if you were to overlook the few controversies about the group you came across and contribute your efforts to their work, how much would that be translating into concrete assistance anyway?

Yeah, these things are really challenging, I know of too many people who realised later on that what they were volunteering for turned out to be corrupt, or misguided and so on, though as always, these should not hinder us from contributing our time, efforts or finances to these causes. It seems like you're a few steps ahead by researching the groups before planning to work with them, that's commendable already.

Ah sorry for long post and lack of sense. I tend to type too fast.


from iain

4/27/2005 09:56:00 AM  

Hi Iain,

Oh dear, I'm *so* sorry I made you a guy! I'm laughing but it's a very guilty kind of laughter. I'm not disappointed at all that you're a female.

Thank you, that was definitely an important point you raised: how to know if anything real is actually being accomplished by this group.

Anyhow, my husband sort of pannicked when I described VitW to him last night, and his face sort of had this--oh, crap, so this is how she's going to ruin me. In Japan, being married to a foreigner means that anything your spouse does is your responsibility and is reflected on you.

If I felt sure and strong about this group, I wouldn't back down so easily, but I admit that being a newbie and probably terribly naive, I should perhaps not jump at the first political group I come across.

Thanks for the long comment. I love long comments. Everybody: write long comments any time!

And no, Iain, everything you wrote made perfect sense.  

from Rachel

4/27/2005 01:07:00 PM  

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