Wed | May 27, 2020

In the spirit of serving humanity – Part 3

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2020 | 12:00 AMAmitabh Sharma - Arts and Education Coordinator
Aisha Harris-Parker on left is Peace Corps of Jamaica Language and Cross Cultural Coordinator, she is with Pamela Paniagua, who is receiving an award for scoring high on Patois language assessment.Aisha Harris-Parker on left is Peace Corps of Jamaica Language and Cross Cultural Coordinator, she is with Pamela Paniagua, who is receiving an award for scoring high on Patois language assessment.
Amitabh Sharma
Peace Corps volunteer Kelly King assists students with a project. Peace Corps volunteer Kelly King assists students with a project.

We continue our journey highlighting the journey of Peace Corps volunteers (PCV). In this third and final instalment, the underlying and broad message is that volunteerism is a combination of one’s personal choices, external influences, and a keen sense of giving back in some form or manner.

Again, we would like to reiterate that being a volunteer takes consistency of thought, action, and a plan to see it through.

Humanity will tide over the coronavirus pandemic, but it will leave some very valuable lessons, and life, as we know it, will be ‘rebooted’. Let us acknowledge those on the front line – medical professionals, supporting staff, law-enforcement officers, workers in the supermarkets and pharmacies, and those ensuring that utilities and public transport run smoothly – and everyone else who, in this time of unprecedented challenge, has contributed, with their relentless acts of kindness, to helping others.

‘Helping others’ should not merely be a term; it is imperative, more than ever, that we recalibrate ourselves as individuals and that, collectively, we take time out and help those in need and bring hope and cheer in their lives.

Hope lives, and it makes the world go round … forever.

Motivated to volunteer

Kelly King from Topeka, Kansas.

Why did you gravitate to volunteerism?

“When I originally started volunteering in college, my main motivation was to make friends and try new things. Quickly, I fell in love with volunteering because it is a great way to connect with my new community in a deep and personal way.

“I was able to work with organisations and people whose values are similar to mine. The people that I have had the joy to meet while volunteering have made the experiences worthwhile and keep me coming back.”


Why do you think volunteering is necessary?

“Volunteering gives to the community and to the volunteer. The organisations volunteers work with are able to have their necessities met when they might not have the resources to do it internally. For the volunteer, it relieves stress and builds a sense of self-worth.”


Volunteerism is often perceived as ‘free’ or as work you would do when you’re ‘jobless’. How can this mindset be changed?

“Honestly, when you get out and do it, you will realise that volunteering gives back to you in a profound way. If there is an organisation your values align with and you spend an afternoon helping fulfil their odd jobs, you will leave with new skills, meaningful relationships, and, possibly, a change in values (how you value your time, material things, etc).”


How do you think volunteering can have a long-term impact personally and professionally?

“Volunteering has been a staple in my life for many years. During college, I was a proud member of my university’s Rotaract Club and met many of my current friends through the organisation …. Personally, it can put you in a new/uncomfortable position, and it can help you grow.

“Professionally, you gain a lot of skills and connections you wouldn’t otherwise have. If there is a job/ field you are interested in joining but don’t have the skills for at the current time, picking an organisation who needs a volunteer to do what you are hoping to do can help you build skills and get your foot in the door of a new field.”


Can you give a brief overview of your work in Jamaica? What has been the response of the community?

“Currently, I am serving in the education sector in northern Clarendon. In the morning, I leave for the primary school I teach at and work until three or four in the evening. When I originally got to site, I shadowed the other teachers and tested my students to see what they did and didn’t know. Now, I work with 20 students doing one-on-one and small-group lessons with them in language arts and math. I will be serving at this school for a total of two years.”

Based on your experiences, how can volunteerism be encouraged among Jamaicans?

“Many people feel a strong relationship with their church. Churches need to encourage more collaboration with other churches and organisations in their area. Think of it as a way to build different skill sets and grow professionally.”


What are the key things that you have learnt in your time spent in Jamaica, and how have they impacted you?

“My time in Jamaica has made me more adaptable. Jamaicans are some of the most confident people I have ever met, and in being here, I have become more confident.”


On a global scale, how do you think volunteerism can help an individual learn about, adapt, and appreciate foreign cultures?

“When you’re immersed in a foreign culture, you can’t help but interact with it. It will show you different sides of yourself and the corners of the world you are in that you never thought were there. Find connections, and find joy in the differences. If there’s a job that needs to be done and you can do it, it might change you.”


Volunteering brings joy to life

Pamela Paniagua, education sector Peace Corps volunteer in rural St Elizabeth.

I wanted to serve as a PCV because I wanted to learn more about Jamaican culture and to help my assigned community by sharing my skills as a trained teacher.

Volunteering is necessary because it provides one with the opportunity to do good for one’s community and for the world.

I think that one can begin to change one’s mindset about volunteerism as ‘free’ work or work that one does when one is jobless by thinking about the benefits of donating one’s time to a good cause. Some studies have shown that folk who volunteer for an organisation whose mission they believe in experience increased feelings of happiness, as well as connectedness. Consequently, one should think about volunteering as something one does in order to bring joy into one’s life.

Professionally, I think that volunteering can help one learn to work with others who may not share one’s cultural background in order to accomplish a task. Improving the aforementioned skill can help one work better with others in ones ‘paid’ work. On a personal level, I believe that volunteering helps one develop humility.

Encouraging volunteerism

Here in Jamaica, I team-teach with the grade-four and -five teacher at my school. I also co-teach Spanish with the teachers in grades one to six and work individually with students to help them improve their reading. My community is welcoming and supportive. They are glad that students are getting the help they need in order to do well in school.

Based on my experience as a volunteer, one may be able to encourage volunteerism in Jamaica by making it a part of the curriculum in schools. Teachers can help students come up with a project of importance to their own community, and then students can volunteer their time in order to make the project a reality.

During my time in Jamaica, I have learnt to listen to the needs of my community. After listening, I have tried to match my skills and resources to help the people around me. For example, teachers at my school mentioned in one of our meetings that they would appreciate assistance with teaching Spanish. As a native speaker of the language, I have been able to help them plan and deliver Spanish lessons with correct pronunciation, as well as spelling.

On a global scale, international volunteers working in host communities must be open to learning about other cultures and to adapting their behaviour in ways that are culturally appropriate. So volunteerism can help one understand perspectives that are different from one’s own and realise that one can live as well as work alongside people that are different from oneself.