“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
On my flight home for Christmas I sat next to a young man completing his undergrad at Cornell University who shared a similar passion for education. I shared with him my work being a year long volunteer as a literacy program coordinator through Lutheran Volunteer Corps and he responded with something like "Well I'd like to thank you for your work on the behalf of the children of America." I took the thank you with grace, but it was my first time ever hearing this type of response for the work I do and honestly it caught me completely off guard.
Since then I have encountered many people who have similar responses. "I'm glad there are people like you in the world willing to give your time" or "I'm really proud of you for the work you do" or "I didn't know there was so much poverty in the Port Huron area and you've really opened my eyes to that and I admire the work you do" to name a few. All of these remarks make me majorly uncomfortable.... partly because I've never been good at receiving compliments/praise (I think that's a German/Hochstatter thing), but also because my work is just normal life for me.
My housemates have also had similar experiences and although we all handle it a little bit differently we all agree that for us being a volunteer is just another day in life. In some ways the way people perceive what it means to be a 'volunteer'' can be challenging because sometimes people have this tendency to think "oh you're such a good person" and that definitely makes me uncomfortable. I'm just a person... like everyone else, that's all. I didn't decide to do a year of service to 'get ahead' in my field, to delay 'real' life for awhile, or to have others praise me. I did it because I wanted build skills while simultaneously learning how to see things with different eyes and to let these experiences reshape and challenge my worldview and career path.... and they have. Significantly.
For me, being a volunteer means being involved in a community. The more I'm involved with a community the more I feel part of it and my being becomes united with the being of others. There's a brilliant quote by Lila Watson that has been stressed by LVC at all our retreats, which has been a critical part of my LVC year-- “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
There's so much to learn from each other. Always.