- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
Everyone has heard the adage “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime”.
This is true, of course, but the adage doesn’t question the assets of the man. Nor does it consider what you might be gaining by teaching or just generally interacting with said man.
I spent last summer in a small community in Uganda, working with Global Youth Partnership for Africa (GYPA), through Northwestern University. I lived in a homestay in Namowongo and worked with 4 Northwestern students and about 20 Ugandan teenagers to develop a sports-for-social-change after school program. I had spent the weeks before I left trying to explain to family and friends that I was not going to spend my summer doing “community service”. It wasn’t a trip where my Northwestern companions and I were full of knowledge and coming to help anyone. It was a trip where we were bringing what we had learned in our classrooms, jobs, and family environments to meet with our Ugandan peers and learn from their educational experiences, jobs, and families.
We learned tons of things: how to make matoke (a starchy banana like substance that you mash like potatoes); how to bargain with a special hire; how ride a boda in a skirt; how to get kids to come on time to an event; and what it really means to bring a community to life. I can honestly say I learned more from them than they learned from me. Granted, we did bring our own talents with us: a less than helpful westernized ideology of time; knowledge of how to efficiently run group meetings; ability to promote the organization and gain sponsorships; and somewhat extensive Gmail and Facebook knowledge. (Some of the Facebook pages that we helped set up are significantly more active than our own these days.) Cliché as it may sound, this experience was an exchange of knowledge, values, and experiences on both sides. Throughout the summer we learned from each other and with each other, learning through our shared experiences. We became friends and colleagues and I know it was a great experience for everyone involved. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
But you don’t have to travel across the world to have a meaningful service experience. Entering any volunteering opportunity, mindful of not just how you will be helping others, but how you can learn from them, allows everyone to get the most out of service and volunteering. In my personal opinion, prolonged service can be the most beneficial of all. While most of us don’t have weeks at a time to work with an organization, volunteering one day a week for a few months can really enable you to build relationships with the organization and the people you are working with. No matter where you go or what you do, I truly believe that service and working with others can be some of life’s most rewarding experiences.
Guest blogger Emily Garrett is an intern with the Case Foundation.