Saturday, March 10

Further thoughts on volunteering

I'm going to San Antonio for spring break this year. In fact, I leave for the airport in two hours. Stereotypically, this vacation from college is associated with playing hard, blowing off steam and letting loose after an intense week of midterms and grade-making papers. That's not me, though. I'm going to San Antonio as part of Mission: Possible, a university program that places students in some city where they can offer community organizations and projects some help. My group, for example, will be helping out at the Good Samaritan Center, Children's Shelter and a third place that has yet to be determined as far as I know. Not exactly sure what form this help will come in, but those are who we'll be offering our services to.

Why do I do this? I bloody well know that I and my brief presence are not going to affect some great change that ends all poverty and unhappiness in San Antonio. Good grief, I'll be happy if all I manage to do is make someone's life a little more tolerable for a little while. Trips like these almost seem like a placebo, at times, for those of us who realize how materially fortunate we are, feel bad about those who lack our good luck and need to assuage our guilt somehow. On top of all that, it certainly was not cheap to participate. For the price, which I'm not exactly sure of but is several hundred dollars, I could have gone on a decent roadtrip, not that I paid any of it personally. The objects of my letter writing were very generous.

I found my answer earlier tonight, at Mission: Possible's spending-off ceremony. All of the participants gathered in the student chapel where we made bracelets with four beads to symbolize the pillars of this trip (simplicity, spirituality, community and social justice) and received T-shirts which boldly announced our participation. As may be expected, there was a speaker to guide us in reflecting on this trip, and what he said actually meant something to me.

Really, Mission: Possible isn't about our placements and those organizations we volunteer for. If we didn't come, they'd muddle through. No, Mission: Possible is about us, the participants. It looks to make us more aware of ourselves and others and develop our empathy, understanding and desire to offer help where it is needed. Sure, some people in San Antonio may benefit from my time there, but if that's all that comes from my participation in Mission: Possible, it'll have been a failure. I must become a better person as well.

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