When I was in high school, I wanted to volunteer and do some service for my community. I saw people struggling, including my own family, and a city in depression. A quote stuck with me from one such organization which helped me get started:
“Service Above Self”
While, according to the Education Commission of the States, service-learning, or community service, is not a state requirement for graduation in most states, it ought to be.
Still, some individual schools in Arizona, and other states, may require this altruistic education. There may always be selfishness, with altruism on life support globally, but schools could educate for altruism. Even in the spiritual sense, people need the right service education.
For myself, this education came piecemeal, both spiritually in Buddhist, Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, and Pantheistic senses, or in agnostic/atheist activism and volunteering. To me there’s a coon thread: love each other, be patient and kind, create balance, sometimes all of which means to seek justice. For Christians and others, this isn’t to subvert God’s ultimate judgement, but to intervene so that one may repent. We’re always seeking these balances, but without others it takes a lot more meditation to reflect upon it.
In all of these ways too, we may need more education, more guidance, and a more unified conversation about the world. At least, in the United States, it appears that conversation is in small and marginal amounts. We seem more interested in the self than the us.
Borders by M.I.A
I’d meet ‘em, once you read ‘em
This one needs a brand new rhythm
We done the key
We done them key to life
Let’s beat ‘em
We dem smartphones done beat ‘em….”
The benefits of doing something for others, before something for yourself, is myriad. For those in school, it offers a realistic lens of the world, beyond what the curriculum may say. Post-grads may be seeking work and there may be few opportunities, but those that hold the door for others find that new doors may open for them. Sometimes also, altruism is to atone for past wrongs.
Before I finish this article, I’ll start with this call-to-action for anyone who is in-between jobs, or still in high school, or in college and somehow manages to find free time in a fairly busy schedule:
Volunteering is for you first and foremost.
Especially, if you’re fluent in both English and Spanish, it’s a critical necessity in the shelters housing migrant refugees from Central America.
Yuma has many good, hard-working people, all with families, and they surely know what an opportunity it is to have a positive and lasting optimistic memory in someone’s life after, and during, hardship.
However, the better you are with children, the better you are at psychosocial trauma care, the better you are at practicing what you may preach, the better.
People need your love more than your time.
I saw a quote on the wall in the shelter:
“Volunteers don’t have the time. Volunteers have the heart.”
That’s why I had to leave Yuma. While I had both the time and the heart, I knew that these were opportunities for people with less time and perhaps less heart, in order to find the time and grow their hearts.
Similarly, while low income, I was not going to ask for food from the food bank at all. That was there for someone else. In my heart, I know that I have more than enough of everything that some may believe that I don’t have at all.
I have in my heart, so I always have. Those who believe they don’t have, won’t have. Volunteering, especially with refugees can remind you how much you really do have, and how much more you really have to offer Some people need this epiphany. I did not.
Not only that, but I volunteered with young people who unfortunately needed the experience in customer service and problem-solving. I did not want to be in the way of their challenges.
The Salvation Army may say, “Do the Most Good,” but in the shelter that must mean more than three hots and a cot, and the occasional film.
Volunteers have to open their hearts to vulnerability, and let people know that they’re there not just to help them survive, but to thrive. That’s what I did, as well as ensuring that there was the laughter of children in the shelter, I helped guide older kids through self-education, planning for higher education, and other resources that I’ve found useful in my own life.
I ask anyone in the Yuma area, or anyone planning to make the trip to shelters in Tucson and El Paso, to do the same. Bring resources, share knowledge, and open your hearts to call people in. Besides the basics that we would give any stray, we need to go beyond and cultivate human-to-human caring, communication, and friendship.
During times like these, the most important thing to have is a friend.
I made a lot of friends at the shelter. However, in addition to seeing how much volunteers really needed the opportunity, my sign to leave was the departing of one such friend. She was finally going to see her family, and I had to finally step aside.
Furthermore, having stepped away from that work, I believe that organizations that are finding volunteers could be doing more in terms of caring for these people as humans. This is, as well as fighting back against the racism, xenophobia, and culturalism, is critical.
There has to be a tsunami of positive energy pushing back when the President says things like, “I am a nationalist,” they “hate our country,” they’re “animals,” and, they’re “drug-dealers, criminals, rapists.” Especially when he says things like, he isn’t going to “shoot immigrants but shooting immigrants would be very effective.”
These things don’t happen in a vacuum, but when organizations leave out acting against this rhetoric, and don’t actively discuss a better world separate from these beliefs, they become complicit in creating a vacuum. Within such a vacuum, emboldened by his words, the worst comes to rise. Look no further than mass shootings in America and the “persistent, pervasive threat” of white nationalist, separatist, and supremacist language and acts.
Nonprofits should background check their volunteers and employees. Protect refugees and nurture them, by going above and beyond to serve them. Regardless of how many donors may leave your fundraisers, you have a duty to serve the greater good.
The bare minimum is not the equivalent of “doing the most good.”
“Sobrellavad los unos las cargas de los otros, y cumplid así la ley de Cristo.”