Last week, and which seems to be the trend, our class really got into some deep intellectual life talks. I love these talks because we all bring up so many great points and are learning so much from these people that for some, we just met a couple of weeks ago. One thing that I just could not shake from my mind was the topic of “charity work” versus enhancing experiences. Before last Tuesday I never would have thought twice between the difference but the difference is so grand and poignant it deserves to be bolded, highlighted, starred and glittered in every dictionary around the world.
Let me first start off by describing a couple of ways people may describe volunteer work and charity. Giving back to the community, helping the less fortunate, donating time and money, a resume booster…… So many different things that yes in reality are probably true but then truly what is the meaning of that work you did then. Where is the significance and where is the story? Charity work should not be “a white rich male, female etc;” paying money to do some work in another town, and then come home not being changed whatsoever. Not sharing their story, the stories of the people they help nor not affecting anymore lives. It should not be a 4-6 day retreat yet it should be a lifetime experience.
The way I see it is, we are so fortunate and lucky to have the necessities and also luxuries in life. We wake up each morning, go get a great education, spend time with friends eat some delish Asian Salads and go about each day truly not worrying about our existence in the next day. Yet, miles and miles away (or even close) people are starving for food, not getting an education and for some praying with everything inside of them for their families and themselves to make it through another day. So my big question (yes, I have a lot but I will narrow it down to the most luminous), why them and why us? I think this is one of the hardest questions for my class and myself to answer and it is the hardest because we do not have an answer for it. So, we try to bridge the gap.
These people are given more than their fair share of “who said life was easy” cards that it’s sometimes so hard to find the light that keeps them going. Being the firm believer in optimism and trying to find the good in situations and people, I would like to think that these people that are receiving the “volunteer” work have the most important story to be heard. By these terrible actions happening to all of these people, whether it is from genocides or just pure homelessness, they have stories that need to be shared that will most certainly affect people. So therefore, these “volunteers” that experienced these amazing encounters with these people will feel so empowered that they will share their stories to more and more people which hopefully will in the end bring people together to help find a cause, cure and/or peace.
So this brings me back to my original question. When people do volunteer work does this mean that they are only doing it to better themselves? I hope certainly not, but as much as I am going to hate to admit it one person isn’t going to solve prejudices or poverty in one day (although it is the best way to start). However, even if their impact isn’t earth shattering and changing, it did if went into with the right attitude, change and better themselves. The volunteer gave their time (money?) and energy back to others, yes, that is what all volunteer work is. But what makes it worthwhile and a true experience is not just that one-day. It is forever the way you let the experience change you and the ones around you. That is, if there can ever be any silver lining, the thing that I think keeps these poor innocent victims of genocide or what have you going, it is to tell their story for it to not only be heard but listened to and enacted on. Make the volunteering experience count and mean something to you and those around you. Therefore, yes you do ultimately better yourself but you also better so many more around you that makes your actions not just charity but a step to making the world be the one you choose to see.