Oxfam – It’s complicated

Oxfam, it’s complicated…People often said this at Oxfam, and simply put, it meant that the organization was, well, complicated. The inner workings of the organization, the day-to-day business of coordinating thousands of people in hundreds of places, all of whom were trying to do related, but different things – this made for a place that was, for lack of a better word, complicated.

While all of the work of Oxfam was connected, at times different work priorities were often in competition – competition for resources, for time, for promotion. Oxfam is an amazing organization – but it’s also a big, complex organization with a lot of top-level priorities –there was no way it wouldn’t be a bit complicated.

Saying that, in my mind, I always interpreted ‘its complicated’ as something a little more broad. I interpreted it as meaning something closer to this: “Saving the world is complicated, because the world is frigging complicated and messy and complex and totally not simple in any way, shape, or form.” For me, it went beyond Oxfam being complicated – it was really that the world is complicated, and we were trying our best to make sense of it.

I’m saying this because for me, taking this trip is complicated. This trip is one of extreme privilege, and I don’t deny it. I’m insanely lucky to go on a trip like this – but more than that, I’m insanely lucky to be able to have basic agency in general. I’ve spent the last 10 years working at organizations that tried to elevate peoples’ own agency, their own voices, with a particular focus on women. The irony of working at these various organizations and then popping around the world somewhat aimlessly isn’t lost on me.

Its just that, at some point I got to the place where I felt so FAR from all the things I was working on – so removed, so distant – and that distance was coupled with this deep urge to simply feel, for a loss of words, alive—that I didn’t see an alternative any more.

For the last couple of months, I have struggled, a lot, with the idea that doing something entirely for oneself is fundamentally wrong. I’ve talked to most of the people in my life about this, and most have fallen firmly in the camp of “its not wrong to make yourself happy.” But then, lets face it, most of my friends are American, and American’s have this amazing, and incredibly strong, belief in individual identity. It’s one of the deep, core principals that make the U.S. unique – but it’s just that – unique.

Ask someone in Ghana or Bali or Columbia about the individual vs. the community, and no doubt, you would likely get an entirely different answer – and not only that, for a woman to undertake such a fundamentally individualistic self-serving endeavor – well, I’d bet that woman would not be looked on particularly positively.

I’m not saying that what I’m doing is wrong. I’m honestly not sure if it is. I know it’s an act of privilege. I know it’s ultimately self-serving.

I suppose, in the end, our world is a bit complicated – and just as Oxfam worked at figuring out the best ways to leverage its power in the world, I suppose I have to try different things to figure out how to leverage my own power, my own agency – as I’m so incredibly lucky to have it.

But in the end, while I’m extraordinarily excited to undertake this trip – I also feel that it’s complicated.

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