Mostly I've been trying to get my head around how things work, the whys, all the while making valuable contacts. Also to answer the question of what roles a foreigner can effectively play in the existing framework?
Canada may not be the most efficient country in the world but I don't have to concern myself with stuff like corruption and the mysterious disappearances of millions of dollars with nothing really to show for it and no accountability. Some days, this very real aspect alone is enough to make one want to throw up hands and give up. You can feel so very hopeless and insignificant.
On the flip side, this kind of "anything goes" environment can sometimes enable more direct help, that can be immediately effected. For example, I have been sent a number of cases to collaborate on from Cambodia and have done so without officially being part of an organization. They took a leap of faith that I am who I said I was and have the credentials I said I did. No one asked for proof! They just wanted help, simple as that.
Not sure I contributed much outside of getting my first personal taste of how trying to work with practically nothing feels like -- Awfully hopeless, massively incomplete, shot in the dark, lack of control, much higher reliance on intuition than ever. I found out that in general, the healthcare system lacks what I would consider a basic framework for appropriate follow through.
We wouldn't take such risks here. We don't have to. We have access to science and technology. I've gained an incredible appreciation for front line workers who have to process many situations/cases with barely anything to "prove" and "confirm" prior to decision making. This aspect is especially difficult for me as I agonize over personal responsibility.
Which leads to something else we take very serious here that doesn't seem to matter in a developing country -- Liability. My liability insurance alone is like owning 4 luxury vehicles. So when Naïve Me asks about whether volunteers are protected under an "umbrella" policy etc.. I got some pretty confused looks. Wow, was what I thought. As you can imagine, this has led to some unethical situations involving abuse of orphans and funds.
You just do the best you can "under the circumstances" is what I've been told. And you know what? The people you're trying to help are so grateful, despite you feeling like you have done not even 15% of what you are capable of. You feel woefully inadequate and think people must wonder if that's all you've got to show for that fancy foreign education.
A couple of interesting side things have come out of my trips.
An opportunity to give feedback to an existing corporate donor of the NGO I spent time with in Siem Reap. Man, was I nervous about that. Had horrible visions of messing up future funding. Didn't feel anywhere close to qualified to answer their questions (and told them so) but they wanted a new person's feedback, not someone familiar with the system.
Second involved helping out with a research project for a university student in Hanoi.
It is the first time I really really appreciated the power of the internet. None of the above would have been possible without it.
I did end up finishing both discs of "Nature's Most Amazing Events". Highly recommended for individuals and families. Have seen lots of wildlife documentaries as a kid and beyond. This one ranks as my current favorite. There were a number of "I didn't know that existed!" comments between D and I.