“Have you been helped yet?”
What? A number of people have an extensive resume about how many places they’ve volunteered for and we often think that philanthropy is something corporations want to see on our resume. Colleges look for extra curricular activities on applications, volunteering being one of them, and so students/applicants will go out and serve at organizations that they believe other people want to see on their paperwork. Highschools encourage us to serve our community and help out in our impoverished areas. Even in middle schools they talk about serving at food kitchens or volunteering in clothes closets with your friends to display that you have a history of being generous and giving back to your community. But when you stop and think about all the things I just mentioned, all that sounds pretty selfish, right? Not once did I mention reasons like empathy or drive for wanting to help others, but essentially “volunteering looks good on your resumes and applications”. So where do the people that we are actually serving come in to play?
We, as Americans, want to fix what we see is broken. I myself can even admit that I am a “fixer” and want to help everyone I can that I see as “broken” or “damaged”, but although I possess this characteristic, does that mean that these “damaged” people even want my help? Of course not and it would be selfish of me to even think so. Illich views volunteering in this light as well; not all people that we want to help need our help and not all people that we deem as helpless are unfit to take care of themselves. He states”
“If you insist on working with the poor, if this is your vocation, then at least work among the poor who can tell you to go to hell. It is incredibly unfair for you to impose yourselves on a village where you are so linguistically deaf and dumb that you don’t even understand what you are doing, or what people think of you. And it is profoundly damaging to yourselves when you define something that you want to do as “good,” a “sacrifice” and “help.”
We impose an American way of life on people who weren’t raised as “Americans” and, therefore, we should stop trying to take their culture away from them and turn them into “Americans”. Not everyone wants help and that is okay, but it is something a lot of us (myself included) fail to recognize. Our hearts are in the right place but that doesn’t mean that our generosity is always wanted.
I believe that the author Remen also shares the same viewpoint on wanting to “fix” people. He states, “Fixing and helping create a distance between people, an experience of difference. We cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch”. Fixing and helping are invasive where as serving sounds like “I am here to serve you. In what way would you like me to do that?” I believe that we all need to be a little more open minded about this topic. That although it is called “community service” we need to make sure that we are doing it for our community and not for our selfish reasons of wanting to “fix” people.
So What? My role at my community partner I define as being a supporter. I am not there to fix anyone or help where my help is not wanted, but to offer guidance when asked or to give advice when I see fit. Being that we are in college, these kids look up to us. They aspire to be us one day and I feel that the best thing I can do for them is to be a good role model. Talk about my struggles at their age and how I overcame them. Discuss how college has been for me and how nothing is unreachable. I want to encourage and tell them how possible it is for them to be in my position one day. I feel this quote from Remen, “Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others”, really describes how I feel about my role at Venetia Valley. Although these students are much younger than me, I view them as my equals. I will not talk down to them or act as if I am better because of the stage I am at in my life, but serve as someone who is open to discussion and a friendly face if they need someone to talk to. I want to inspire.
Now What? Perspective is huge and sometimes we fail to see another person’s perspective. And this is not necessarily our fault. We discussed in class the other day that a lot of classes our like ours but without the service learning component. Where they fail is that the service learning part is the biggest part. How can you teach empathy and compassion without actually going and seeing what it’s like to see someone else that doesn’t have what you do, who isn’t as fortunate as you are and potentially never will be?
Calderon states, “Through perspective-taking, we can better comprehend and appreciate each other’s differences in order to find our commonalities”. By actively going and seeing just how different we all think, act, and live, that alone can broaden a person’s horizon of knowledge. The act of just trying to understand where another person is coming from is a step in the right direction. It’s not about what I can do for you, but about what we can do for each other.