by Elsa Steiner
Should we volunteer wherever we are needed, even if it isn’t something we enjoy doing, or is it okay to pick and choose what projects we want to be a part of? This was a question I was faced with when I first arrived in Musanze, Rwanda. My wonderful host mother, Louise, had given me a couple of suggestion about where I could volunteer. One of them was St. Vincent’s; a Catholic center for disabled children. I discussed it a little bit in my last blog post. The center started out housing seventy-five children but after the last school term ended, only thirty came back. That number has since dropped to fifteen. It is very disheartening to go there because the children are simply left to their own devices all day, there is a constant stench because they don’t have proper diapers, and the people who work there do very little other than feed the children. From the very first day I knew that I wasn’t going to enjoy spending time there, but did that really matter? Just by being there I was able to give the children some attention and interaction, which was better than nothing.
The same day I went to St. Vincents for the first time I also met Pam, the director of Excel school. I offered to come and volunteer in her school and she told me I could come by anytime. At this point I had two offers; to go to St. Vincents every afternoon, or to go to Excel. I loved working at Excel and getting to know all the kids and teachers there. I ultimately decided to spend my afternoons at Excel. Another girl began working at St. Vincents around that same time. I agree that service should be a selfless act, but I don’t think its is wise to do volunteer work that makes you unhappy either. If you are unhappy, you are probably not going to be doing the best job you possibly could. I also knew I wasn’t going to be able to change anything at St. Vincents in such a short time because the people who run the center are resistant to change. At Excel, on the other hand, I was able to implement an afterschool homework tutoring program using my pervious experiences tutoring kids in Chapel Hill.
I have concluded that there are so many ways we can volunteer in this world that we are always forced to choose. Why not choose one that you enjoy? When you enjoy the work you are doing you are more motivated, engaged, and more likely to do a good job. You aren’t really helping anyone by begrudgingly showing up.