Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Heroic Narrative

Past Monday morning I was brewing coffee at the office and came across the following cartoon. It was in the KOICA newsletter, and it reminded me of the Heroic Narrative.

The cartoon is about a KOICA doctor curing meningitis in Niger. Even without the translations, the main idea of the cartoon seems to be obvious. The cartoon depicts the doctor as the main character, who is smart, professional, handsome, and most importantly, a hero that saves lives. At the same time, the Nigerien child is vulnerable, weak, desperate, and in need of Korean help. I don't mean to downplay some of the noble works that KOICA doctors do. But the cartoon seems to go too far in creating a hero.

This cartoon caught my attention as we here in the training center discuss what attitude we should have before we start our volunteer works in our respective countries. Many of us are eager and passionate about our future jobs, but we also know that we should be humble. We know that the field of work that we do (nursing, teaching, computer support to name a few) are not that spectacular. Very few of us have anything more than a Bachelor's degree, and some of us are in fact a couple of semesters away from graduation. A common advice from our predecessors is that it takes 6 months to get used to the area, 1 year to be fluent in the local language, and the last 1 year would be spent packing our bags home. In most cases, the volunteers are sent abroad for cultural exchange, and very little technical support. These somewhat harsh realities counterdict the heroic narrative in the cartoon, and I worry that this reflects the possible existence of a perception gap between the bureaucratic planners and the volunteers on what the volunteer job exactly entails.

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