Last week I was asked to share some thoughts on volunteering, from my personal experience, at Respect Jamaica’s “This is Respect” Ambassador Awards Breakfast. It was a happy and exciting morning with a large group of extremely bright and focused young volunteers. I am sharing my comments here. I was joined by UNICEF Jamaica’s Allison Hickling and Respect Jamaica Youth Ambassador Tina Renier to talk about “Experiencing the Vision (This is Respect).” I hope I embraced some of Respect Jamaica’s core beliefs and principles in these few words.
When I started volunteering in Jamaica, a whole new world opened up to me. In fact, I thought I must have been walking around with my eyes closed before, shut into my own inner world, with which I was quite satisfied. Now – I realize what I was missing.
As my photos may show (but inadequately, because there are many, many more) – what the volunteering quickly delivered to me, so fast that I could barely take it all in – was the beautiful diversity, the energy, the striving and the sheer courage of the Jamaican people. Somehow, I never saw it before. Talking, walking, sharing, working with people made me realize I was missing out on a whole lot of humanity. Things started to fall into place.
I have to say, too, that it has been an incredibly fulfilling experience for me personally. This always rather concerns me. If I am deriving such joy from volunteering, are those whom I am working for equally fulfilled? Is it perhaps rather selfish of me to get so much pleasure from this (and, by the way, it seems to grow – you don’t get tired of it)? I do believe though that volunteering should not be self-promotion, a kind of photo-op excursion. It is not about YOU. It is about the people you serve. They must be in the front of the picture.
Service is also, in my mind, closely linked to activism. And it can lead to advocacy on behalf of those you are seeking to support. I suppose much of my advocacy takes place online through my blog and social media. It was important to me to discover (or rediscover) what I really cared about, which in my case was human rights in general, and environmental issues. I would recommend those who are not volunteering already (although I may be preaching to the converted here) to find their own passion, join a group of like-minded people who share that passion, and take it from there. Who knows where it may lead.
I would hope that it would be transformational; that it would lead to lasting change.
Dr. Martin Luther King created the concept of The Beloved Community, in which everyone can share the fruits of Mother Earth. The Beloved Community is inclusive – brothers and sisters living together in peace, harmony and justice, without discrimination, prejudice or hatred. It is a global community, founded in love and compassion for all. A Utopia, perhaps – but one that I sometimes feel I have the smallest glimpse of when I work together with groups like Respect Jamaica. It’s a glimpse of the possible, and it is an ideal society that is worth working towards. It is a little similar to the Bantu/South African concept of Ubuntu – that oneness and connectedness.
Dr. King also put this question to us: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Why is it persistent? Well, service is not a “one off.” Not “Oh, I did my good deed for today.” I don’t like this concept, much. It’s like, OK – I have done my good deed, pat myself on the back, sit back and relax. No. That question should be always with us; I think I want to be seeking to fulfill that mission, if you like, every minute of the day, as Dr. King did. To live that mission. Engaging in this kind of service is often hard work, and sometimes you have to dig deep. I have learned to be more patient and understanding – and to listen (something I am not very good at).
Why is this an urgent question? Well, life is short, and there is much work to be done. It’s simple as that, in my view. Why wait?
I mentioned hard work, and the almost immediate realization I had that there is so much more that one could do, if only there was time and resources.
Is there a purpose to all this. Dr. King concludes: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
By giving service to your fellow man, woman and child, I honestly believe…this is achievable, one step after the other. One step at a time.
Thank you so much for listening to my thoughts, congratulations to all the awardees – and I wish you all a peaceful and happy holiday season and a New Year filled with love and light.