Volunteering at Home

  • Isabella Jordan ’20

Over the summer, my feed consists of many pictures of people somewhere foreign with little kids of color. Yes, we get it, you’re such a good person; you help little African children. Now, there is nothing wrong with volunteering overseas. I am very impressed that people are so willing to help others and I am not condemning them for volunteering. I do believe, however, that many people go for all the wrong reasons.

They go to exotic places to “help,” but they’re also going someplace lavish so they are essentially taking a vacation. Additionally, the point of helping other people is not to boast about it, but to give to those who are in need and try to fix the problem that you’re addressing by volunteering. Posting on Instagram is not fixing any problems. While I’m sure people who go on these trips have the intention of bettering the world and helping others, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated. People pay thousands of dollars to go on these “service” trips to help people in other countries. What about people in our own country? It does not take thousands of dollars to go up to the Tenderloin or to East Palo Alto. Yet, so many people don’t go to these places unless they are being forced to. 

And my question is: “why?” Is it not aesthetically pleasing enough for your Instagram? Is it not exotic enough? Why are you so eager to spend all this money and travel such great distances to help others when there are people suffering in your own community? Even if you want an excuse to travel, you can do that domestically! Head South to restore the coasts or fly East to serve the people who have suffered from hurricanes. Work at a national park. Go help Native Americans who suffer from extreme poverty and alcoholism.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do just that this past summer. I was there with the only organization that volunteers for the entire reservation, meaning there are 50 or less volunteers per week 7 months out of the year serving 20,000 people. I would walk into a home, which had alcohol and drugs at every turn, to deliver a bunk bed to a child who had spent their whole life sleeping on the floor and realize I was all they had. I was in one of the country’s poorest counties, which had an 89% unemployment rate and the highest teenage suicide rate, and all I could do was help improve their homes.

While skirting trailers and building outhouses did improve their quality of living, these people were suffering from extreme poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, and lacked quality education and resources. For most of the people on Pine Ridge reservation, their fate is already determined because they have no option but to stay on the reservation and perpetuate the cycle of poverty and addiction. And that’s the problem. We, as a country and even our smaller community, have so many issues and injustices that we need to address. Yet, we don’t because people are too caught up in fleeing from our own problems to go try to solve a problem thousands of miles away.

People need to stop romanticizing volunteering. Service is not an excuse to travel to a vacation destination or to post cool pictures to receive praise. It’s about helping to better the world and improve the welfare of everyone and the environment. So if you want to actually improve our world, leave your Instagram alone and get your hands dirty.

By Axel de Vernou

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