February 4, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 20°F


Guest Commentary: World experiences trump classroom criticisms

Summers can be tricky. Maybe you want an internship, maybe you want to be a camp counselor or maybe you want a break to just be home. As a documentary studies major and politics minor, I have been an intern for the past two summers, because I have always felt pressure to make my summer “count.” While intern life can be glamorous at times, I wasn’t ready to go back to logging footage all day. I wanted an experience vastly different than anything I’d previously done, but something that I could be proud of too.

Here on campus, the World Bank isn’t the most highly regarded institution. It is referred to as a bastion of neocolonialism that continues to hold the developing world hostage. So when I told my friends that I accepted a videographer job with the World Bank this summer, more than a few confused looks and questions came my way. They warned me that I was just going to be another cog in the oppressive structures about which our professors taught us. I cautiously continued, hoping I’d made the right choice.

I travelled to Indonesia for 10 days as a one-man crew and met up with a translator the World Bank provided for me when I got there. My goal was to create a few small videos emphasizing how dignity and self-worth can be integral tools in providing development assistance and transform lives. Our hypothesis was, if people don’t have dignity, then every government assistance will fail. To test this theory, I spoke with marginalized communities in Indonesia: indigenous people, former sex workers, transgendered people and gay activists.

I’ll never forget the strength of those with whom I spoke during my travels. They shared stories of pain, stories of abandonment, but most importantly, stories of strength that illustrated the power of restored dignity through government programs, like the National Program for Community Empowerment (PNPM Peduli). My fears of taking this job seemed to disappear with every passing day.

One woman I spoke with, Eva, shared the experience of her parents forcing her to be a sex worker when she was 14. Through a government program supported by the World Bank, she found a safe haven. Eva now leads the health education and assistance organization that supports current and former sex workers like her. It’s a rare experience going from debating theories and systems in classrooms to be sitting face-to-face with someone in an alleyway and listening to her share a monumental story about her life.

While I disagree with some previous policies of the World Bank, it doesn’t stop me from wanting to be a part of the silver lining. This project was something I could stand behind and say, “Hey, the World Bank is doing something worthy here.” No organization is perfect, but I don’t think all are evil either. Sometimes, when we critique, we dangerously throw organizations into binary categories of either bad or good, when in reality nothing is as black and white as it seems.

Right before I left, I held on to the words that one of my favorite professors told me, “Don’t be afraid. You will never escape criticism, but you cannot let it paralyze you.” Sometimes you have to take the plunge and test the water. Otherwise you’ll never learn how to swim.