I’d like to talk to day about the heart of a volunteer. It’s funny: volunteering can either wear you out or improve your outlook on your entire life, for the rest of your life.
Mother Teresa said, “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is so much suffering and pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.”
If you choose to volunteer what is truly most precious, your time, never doubt you touch and change lives.
Volunteering isn’t always glamorous or exciting. It’s truly the ones who don’t necessarily have the credentials, but have the concern, that make the world a better place.
Many of you wonder where you’d find the TIME to do more. I understand. It’s a commitment like no other. The consequence for not showing up when you say you will is to those you serve. There’s no paycheck to dock, no stock that will be affected, no advertising that needs your name. But your commitment, which must come from passion to be sustained, is worth all of the blood, sweat and tears you give to those whom you are called to serve.
In 2005 I began my work in Rwanda and co-founded the Itafari Foundation. I have visited 10 times since. Each time, I’m more comforted, more inspired, more focused because of the people I meet and the stories I’ve heard. It is truly life changing to meet people who refuse to be defined by their losses, but instead chose to be defined by their hopes and dreams.
In 2006 we began the dream of helping to build a high school in Rwanda. What I thought would be one of our easier projects turned out to be much more challenging than I imagined. But I couldn’t give up. And we persevered through the economic downturn in 2008, through an all-volunteer foundation that attracted many donors but few large donations. Yet, in spite of the slowness, we never gave up. How could we? The people of Rwanda never gave up. And we were there to support THEIR hopes; THEIR dreams. We were just a part (a brick – an itafari) of their goal.
There were times I considered giving up. But I couldn’t. I had to believe in myself and what we could accomplish more than I believed in the reality of the difficulty of the goal and competing important issues in the United States and around the world. And so we continued to support the Kigali Parents Primary School in their dream to build the Kigali Parents Secondary (or High) School.
And I’m thrilled to report that the school is almost complete! I plan to go to Rwanda in the first quarter of 2015 to be there when the doors open to accept hundreds of students eager and willing to be educated. It’s thrilling, to put it mildly.
And may I emphasize again, the Itafari Foundation was just a small part of this great project. The people of Rwanda built it, raised money for it and accepted our donations gratefully and with grace.
The Library will be dedicated to Jeanne Carmichael, a woman who has passed but was a teacher in Oregon. She loved books and with her donation we will be dedicating the library in her honor, with a beautiful photo we took of her in her last year. When I told her about our plan was she was thrilled!
Many of our donors bought BRICKS (itafari) that will be dedicated in honor or memory of loved ones. For $75 they made a commitment to children 10,000 miles away that says, “I believe in you. I believe in the power of education. And I believe in the power of your dreams.”
When I go to Rwanda in 2015 we’ll be installing a wall with the hundreds of names of the donors. And there’s more work to be done. But we’ll get it done. And we’ll know that although we played a small part in the overall progress, we played a part.
And that’s the power of volunteering. You do not know the ripple affect your kindness, your attention; your focus will have on someone who didn’t even directly receive your act of generosity. But the act will live on long after you have given of your time.
So what do you want to accomplish? You may not have the opportunity to go to Rwanda, but you have an opportunity. If something came to your heart or mind you read this, act on it. Believe it matters. Believe YOU matter. And know that no act, no matter how small will change a life. And the first life it changes will be yours.
If you’d like to know more about the Itafari Foundation please go to www.itafari.org and buy a brick for $75! We will prepare a beautiful certificate for you, suitable for framing to remember or honor a loved one. I’ll place a plaque in the wall in the school with your name on it that will be there forever as the students pass by it every day and know that a stranger cared for you. Remember, your kindness will inspire and change a country’s young people forever.