Perils and Pitfalls

Open your journal and take a few moments to answer these questions:

  • What non-governmental organizations do you know about that offer aid in communities in the Global South?
    What are some positive impacts these organizations have had that you’ve seen or heard about?
  • Are there negative impacts you’ve seen or heard about?
  • Do you have expectations about what your own immersion-learning journey can accomplish for the people you will be working with and among?
To Hell with Good Intentions” by Monsignor Ivan Illich (1968)
The Middle Way

The central mission of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice is to help UUs and others catalyze and sustain justice work in their own communities. Our justice trainings, summer internships, and short-term service-learning journeys are all focused on that long term goal.

We believe the best approach to immersion learning journeys is to stay alert to the pitfalls. These are real, and are not easily resolved. The extreme responses to critiques like those offered by Illich are either to ignore the challenge and plow ahead, on the one hand; or to resign from the effort and abandon such journeys, on the other.

The “middle way” is to act with care, open to new learning at every step and conscious of the contradictions.

We support this middle way through three dimensions of our immersion-learning journeys:

  • The UUCSJ Study Guide, which helps us study not only a specific justice issue and context but also our own place in relation to race, culture, privilege and power.
  • The partnership model of the UUA and UUSC, which guides our choice of partner on the ground and connects us to justice work that springs from the grassroots of a host location, rather than from well-intentioned outsiders.
  • The notion of “reverse mission trips”: though some of our journeys include service work as well as justice education, we know that the most important “service” we render is our work for justice on our return home.
Open your journal and record your answers to these questions.

  • How do you respond to Illich’s critique of international volunteer programs?
  • In addition to the orientation outlined above, are there other ways you can imagine for participants in a UUCSJ journey to avoid some of the inequities and mistakes Illich identifies?
  • Begin considering ways you hope your journey will deepen and sustain your work for justice in your own home community. Create a list for yourself that you can reflect on while engaged in your journey.
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