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The following is a guest blog from AUA Mosaic Scholarship recepient Morgan Faulkner. She volunteered with the Middle East Fellowship organization in the West Bank. To find an opportunity like this one, search the AUA Directory of Recommended Organizations©.
In America, how many times do we toss around the ideas of “service” and “volunteering” as just one of those things you do when you have enough material goods that they start to make you feel vaguely guilty? I know that for many of us, volunteering means taking an hour or two to take some clothes to a donation point, some food to a food pantry, maybe even spending some time with local kids or elderly neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, these are all important things that we should be proud to do as part of a community. But that’s not the only concept of service that exists in the world. This summer, I experienced a pretty different way of looking at things as I spent some time being a member of our global community.
If you’ve never tried volunteering with an international organization, you’re definitely missing out. Now I don’t mean going with a U.S. project to a foreign country. You need to work with a group organized by people who actually live in the country you’re in. While I was in Palestine, I had the good fortune to work with one such organization called Holy Land Trust. Founders and employees all live in either Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, or Beit Jala and are for the most part native Palestinians. As such, they are in a unique position to place volunteers because they are personally aware of the needs of the community. Their awareness and constant contact with civil society partners provide an incredibly rich volunteer experience because they are able to place volunteers with particular skills in the places they are most needed. The result is that the people you work with are always thrilled to have you there. Often it feels more like you are a temporary employee because your tasks may be essential to the function of the organization – there’s simply not enough time or money for someone else to do them. The ensuing sense of fulfillment is immense. Knowing that you made a real difference somewhere outside your own head is a feeling that these days can be fairly hard to come by. At the same time, you discover that the people you thought you had been serving have possibly been giving more back to you in return.
While I worked at al-Malath Charitable Society in Beit Sahour, I was given gifts that turned out to be something quite spectacular. The Center was a pre-vocational school for teens and young adults with developmental and mental disabilities. Founded by a driven mother, every day spent there was full of patience, excitement, and discovery for all present. The goal in founding the organization came out of a lack in the community that was felt by a frustrated mother. Although she was the wife of a well-off restaurant owner, this woman struggled daily with her son. In his twenties, Hassan needed constant care and supervision, but is family wanted something better for him than an adult daycare or a sitter at home. Despite having the money to place him in a program where he could make as many developmental gains as possible, no such place existed in the Bethlehem area. And so with typical Palestinian determination, a group of women got together and started one themselves. At work I met Saana, a female Muslim occupational therapist and social worker, and Wa’el, a male Christian special education teacher. Our summer team was completed with another volunteer, Kelly from Colorado, who did a lot of work on the website, and myself. My greatest contribution, I think, was helping to edit and compose progress and donor reports for the organization that provided their funding. Since the audience of the reports would be other Americans, I wanted the writing to be as perfect as possible for my temporary colleagues. Their hard work kept the organization up and running – it was the least I could do to make sure that the description of all that effort said exactly all the great things they were doing.
In comparison to all the things I was given, that short statement of my contribution, no matter how important it may have been, seems kind of small. Lunch and tea each day became an awesome part of my week as Saana and Wa’el taught me more words than I ever learned in Arabic class and Kelly and I traded stories of the kinds of adventures that come when you try and live somewhere like the Middle East. I learned how to count to ten while I was helping Rami, a young man with Downs Syndrome, make finger rosaries to sell and help raise money. Dance time and household teaching tasks were always an adventure and the passion that everyone working there brought to their jobs was inspiring. I loved watching their patience and gentleness and the amount of time they spent at the Center had to have been far more extensive than what their salaries covered. Essentially, I miss my time there every day and I think everyone should have the same kind of wonderful experience!