Archive for the ‘community service’ Tag

Quote of the Day: In Honor of MLK and the National Day of Service

I thought that this quote was particularly important to consider on this day of service. Action is and will be crucial going forward to make the world a better place for everyone. I believe that the great danger of our time is not a hot button issue such as global warming, global health or the economic crisis. The real enemy is indifference. I hope that today’s day of service becomes a wake up call that prompts people to be engaged and get involved.

“The global economy is giving more of our own people and billions around the world the chance to work and live and raise their families with dignity… But the forces of integration that have created these good opportunities also make us more subject to global forces of destruction — to terrorism, organized crime and narco trafficking, the spread of deadly weapons and disease, the degradation of the global environment. The expansion of trade hasn’t fully closed the gap between those of us who live on the cutting edge of the global economy and the billions around the world who live on the knife’s edge of survival. This global gap requires more than compassion; it requires action. Global poverty is a powder keg that could be ignited by our indifference.”

— President Bill Clinton’s Farewell Speech

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The True Meaning of Service

I came across a memo from the Heritage Foundation entitled “How Americans Can Provide Real Public Service.” The memo agrees with Obama’s proposals to expand service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps except the following key differences:

  1. They encourage the wrong motivations for volunteering;
  2. They confuse government work with public service; and
  3. By centralizing control, they reduce the individual and community empowerment that fosters public spiritedness.

I completely disagree with this characterization of service as it perpetuates a romanticized version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand of charity.

1. The author assumes that financial incentive is the only reason why people participate in government service programs. From my personal experience and from others I have met who have participated in these programs, I would have to strongly disagree. The money that AmeriCorps and Peace Corps members receive is technically not considered an income but rather a living stipend. Without this stipend, Corps members would not have the time and resources to fully devote their time to improving the communities that they are serving in. Furthermore, it is faulty logic to assume that altruistic motivation is a necessary quality to volunteer and that financial incentive either eliminates or repels altruistic motivations.

If the author of the memo had read some of the research done regarding the impact of AmeriCorps, he would have seen that the majority of AmeriCorps members increase volunteering the communities they serve in and continue to volunteer after their term of service and often enter into public service and similarly related careers. If that is not an increase in volunteering, they I do not know what you would call it.

2. It is a tragedy that hundreds people are turned away due to lack of funding. This rate of refusal is not an indication that members work for bureaucracies but rather the type of relationship that AmeriCorps members have with the community they serve is not directly exchangable through weekend volunteering. Once again, this is a question of committment, particularly in the case of AmeriCorps VISTA members who are assigned to a specific organization to build capacity within the organization to better serve the community. While short-term volunteering opportunities such as helping in food banks and mentoring children are needed and essential, some of the long-term activities that AmeriCorps members do are not and can not be done in a part-time capacity. Nonprofit organizations may lack the funding, expertise or manpower to complete these activities which are vital to the survival and improvement of the organization. AmeriCorps members help to meet these needs of the organizations that participate.

3. Expansion of service programs will meet the needs of organizations and communities that are currently slipping through the cracks. This expansion is not an intrusion but rather a way of coordinating matches between the needs of organizations and the interests of volunteers. Participation on the organizations’ part has and will remain voluntary. AmeriCorps members will learn to adapt their approach to the needs and ways of the communities that they serve in. It seems to be a rather extreme approach to assume that the ability of a community to better themselves is compromised or even eliminated due to the addition of a so-called “inhabitant.”

AmeriCorps members are not puppets for the federal government to make them do as it pleases. I would think that someone who had faith in “the civic force that is the American citizen” would have enough faith to see that people wanting to serve would put the community’s best interests before their own or anyone else’s.

Blog Action Day 2008 – Poverty

My experiences this past year were as much about learning about challenges in global health as realizing how poverty compounds and exacerbates global health issues. The most important lesson I have learned is that nothing occurs in isolation. It will take a lot more than money to help eliminate poverty; focusing exclusively on economic development ignores many of the issues such as global health that contribute to the entrenched nature of poverty in communities worldwide. Participating in Blog Action Day seems an appropriate bookend to a year of volunteering abroad as an opportunity for your involvement.

Reading Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power really opened my eyes to the need to approach global health from the perspective of the poorest of the poor, reinforcing what I saw in my daily experiences. It’s hard to talk about reproductive rights when women do not have access to their own sources of income to assert those rights. It is hard to reduce childhood mortality due to preventable diseases such as malaria and waterborne diseases when families can not pay for access to clean water and bednets. When a mother can not afford to buy milk, encouraging adherence to HIV treatment seems like a pointless task.

Huge global problems such as global poverty remain invisible to many and seem daunting to those aware of the tremendous human impact. There is no quick fix to the problem of global poverty, but you can and should act now. It’s never too late to start and there is always something that you can do. The most important thing is to do something positive; inaction is truly the worst action to take. So speak up, stand up, show up, pay up…whatever it is that will contribute to the end of poverty.

– Learn more about global poverty issues from the ONE Campaign.

– Donate to the Blog Action Day-supported organizations: The Global Fund (via change.org) and Kiva.

– Look around in your community for volunteering opportunities to fight poverty. Idealist.org and Volunteer Match are good resources to begin your search.

– Use the web to connect to organizations abroad to offer your experience and time. NABUUR and UN Online Volunteering offer good starting points.

Does social media help or hamper social change?

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor called for Millennials to engage in more face-to-face activism in light of an apparent over-reliance on social media as a means of social change. Social media has been a powerful tool that has broken down language and geographic barriers, enabling a teenager to support ending the Darfur genocide from the comfort of their own bedroom. The problem is that the activism can stay right there – behind the bedroom door. Continue reading

Is mandatory service an oxymoron?

During the last week, I have worked on tweaking my project include more community involvement. While talking with my boss, one of the ideas that I proposed was working with students from the national university in La Plata through internship opportunities at the clinic. There is clearly an academic interest for a partnership between the university and the clinic as they are a variety of disciplines that could have something to contribute. The first concern that I had about such a partnership is the the university would compel students to participate as a requirement rather then an opportunity that they could pursue. Continue reading