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Get Involved – Volunteers Give the Best Gift, Themselves December 12, 2012

Posted by Jen Habley in Check this out!.
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Posted on behalf of Gerri Fegan, Massachusetts School Librarian and AASL volunteer


About eight years ago, I received this lovely, faded Kanga cloth from a family in Esabalu, Kenya.  It said in Swahili: “Naamini katika roho ya kugawana na naamini sisi ni nini sisi ni kwa sababu ya wale walio karibu nasi.”  Or at least I think that’s what it said because the letters around the outside edge had faded from years of being displayed on their wall.  The translation is supposed to mean: “I believe in the spirit of sharing and I believe we are what we are because of those around us.”  As the school librarian at Amesbury Elementary School, I had just completed working on a United Nations Sister Libraries project of building a school library at Ebussamba Primary School in that village. The family I stayed with offered to share with me everything they had (which, of course, was very little) simply because I was there to help.  It didn’t occur to me then that it would be an adventure that I hope never stops.

You see, up till then, here at home, I would volunteer for various tasks with organizations: blood drives, walkathons, telethons, etc., which would all come to an end when dollar amounts were reached or miles were accrued.  The rewards were bumper stickers and tee shirts and all-around good feelings.  Kenya changed all that.  It made me realize that every little thing I did to help added up to a great big help! The trip to train librarians in the new school library turned into distributing school uniforms, which turned into coaching the village youth theatre troupe, which turned into helping send some students to university, which helped the first girls at a Kenyan private academy to graduate from high school without being mutilated, which became…well, you get the picture.  I learned that volunteering does not have to have a final reward, and rewards are not the reason to volunteer.  Volunteering is one small help after another.

When I learned that my Massachusetts School Library Association needed someone to help with a bookmark project for students, it was easy to say, “I can help with that.”  And, of course, I stayed because I saw places where I could help with other projects.  I love being able to join in activities where it is possible to see the beneficial results, and to inspire others to work as a team to make changes to help others.  It’s infectious!  As a matter of fact, my family and friends are all part of my volunteerism, and they are now volunteering in their own causes by simply doing a good deed for someone who needs it – an hour, maybe once a week, a phone call or food delivery.  It is just a part of life, just a part of the world in which we live.  That’s not to say that some efforts don’t work out as planned, but that’s life too.  Believe me, some efforts are not successful, but working in a busy school, taking care of family illnesses, trying to stay fit, all of it is just one more part of life.  I can’t imagine a day when I can’t offer to help someone with something.  Today, I’m part of seven national organizations where I can give of my time, four regional and state organizations where I can help in some way, and about ten different local civic causes where I share my skills about once a month.  It works out.

I am able to set my own limits about what I can give in time and effort, and yes, I do say no sometimes.  Let’s face it: school librarians are not rich people!  I can spare an hour, an email, a car ride, a piece of clothing, a shoulder to cry on, or even better – an idea!  Volunteering to help whenever and wherever has cost me little financially, and has provided others help, sustenance, emotional strength, piece of mind, or employment opportunities. Kenya was an epiphany. Here were families with only the clothes on their backs and eggs from their hens to eat who shared it without even blinking an eye simply because that’s how they live as a community.  I like to think that volunteerism is the golden thread that keeps the Kanga cloth of humanity together.  I have passed this on to my family who will pass it on to theirs.  My daughter has a tee shirt that says, “Sorry, Yoda.  There is definitely a try.  Volunteer today.”

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