So I should start out by saying that the first, second, third world model is suuuuper outdated. In a nutshell, the model was conceived after WWII, during the Cold War era. The “First World” was the US and it’s allies, “Second World” was the Soviet Union, China, and their allies, and the “Third World” was the unaligned states. This is obviously a silly way to classify the world now because allegiances have changed, as well as the relative wealth of countries. For instance, technically Saudi Arabia would be classified as “Third World” under this model. The colloquial use of “Third World” as a descriptor now tends to describe what we in the business call the “Developing World”. This refers more to the need for massive improvements in economy, healthcare, infant mortality rate, poverty level, usage of natural resources etc. Nothing really to do with Cold War alliances. Unfortunately the “Third World” States of that era have largely remained mired in the same issues that they faced 71 years ago, so they are still stuck with the misnomer. It’s especially hard to classify countries this way because even so-called “First World” states, like the U.S. have pockets of poverty and issues resembling those found in developing countries.
Moving right along… So these “Developing Countries” are the countries that Peace Corps gets sent to. These are the countries that have usually been ravaged by colonialism, slavery, extreme tribalism, and other issues that have set them decades, if not centuries behind. Even that is a simplistic explanation for what is going on. Each of those major issues may have been the genesis of their problems, but along the way, more sprout up. Subtler things like attitude, work ethic, treatment of different races, treatment of women, etc. hinder many of these countries in such a way that they find it difficult to interact with the “First World” and its tempos.
So, as a person who has been living and working in a “Developing Country” for the past 10ish months, I feel like I can start making some observations. I believe most people are familiar with the firstworldproblems hashtag. If not, its basically a tongue in cheek recognition of the fact that many of the problems faced by those living in the “First World” are a little ludicrous when compared to those in the developing world. I freely admit, I was the queen of #firstworldproblems. I was the first to get perturbed if the gas pump wasn’t working and I had to move my car to another one, or if my Panera points card hadn’t rewarded me a free cookie in a while, or my favorite treadmill at the gym was occupied. Now I weep at how much I wish I had those problems. I think, “Oh God, I used to have a car, be able to go to Panera, go to the gym!” That was the effing LIFE. Now my problems are things like having my power go out for 2 days, so most of my stuff in the fridge had to be thrown out, so now I have to take a 2 hour trip to town and carry groceries back on my lap on the public van. I have to worry about the fact that a man in my village is a complete sexual predator to little girls and I can’t do much about it except beg the girls not to talk to him. That last one may sound a bit shocking, and trust me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg, but there isn’t the kind of CPS here as is in the States. I almost can’t believe that these and other social issues are the problems myself and other volunteers see and deal with now, violence, underage drinking, underage drug use, child abuse, and more. I’m perfectly aware that things like this happen everywhere, but not ever in my bubble before. It’s one thing to view them as conceptual problems, but when you actually have to listen to your student tell you about the man they saw shot (as the volunteer a village over had to), what do you do? We thought the main development problem we would focus on would be low literacy rates, but the longer we’re here, the more we see that as simply a symptom of some much bigger problems.
Of course, problems are always relative. #firstworldproblems seemed big in my sphere at home, because that’s all I really dealt with. That’s not a bad thing. I want St. Vincent to get there too. I want the biggest problem my students have to be choosing what college to go to, or whether their parents bought their favorite cereal, or whether they got a free cookie fast enough from their Panera points card. #firstworldproblems are the best. I want them for everyone. As for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to care about my #firstworldproblems again.