Commentary

August 24, 2012

Volunteers: Extending a Helping Hand, Ear

Commentary by Capt Martha L. Petersante
376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, KYRGYZSTAN – Volunteerism. All of the services define this word slightly different; some incorporate this concept into their core values, but all have this belief intertwined into in their fundamental guiding principles. It’s not uncommon to see service members exhibiting this trait in a myriad of ways, both at home station and in a deployed environment.

But what motivates a person to put something above themselves, be it a cause, a belief or another person? Are we all driven to do this at some level?

I pondered those questions as I boarded our transportation to travel into Bishkek on a trip destined for a local women’s crisis center and shelter. Here, I had the opportunity to see some of the Transit Center at Manas’ volunteers out in full force, forging partnerships within the local community, one smile at a time.

Even though a language barrier existed, that didn’t stop this excited group of Airmen from taking time out of their busy daily schedules to travel to the center and identify ways to help by volunteering.

The group, a melting pot of jobs, ranks and ages, first stopped at a local grocery store to purchase food and other basic supplies for the shelter residents. I learned this is just part of “the routine” and a standard practice when they visit. The group often times calls ahead to see what the residents are in need of – today it was diapers, personal hygiene products, milk and rice.

Bags loaded, the group travels to the crisis center, which is currently under renovation. Experts in the fields of construction (specializing in plumbing and electrical) and contracting quickly take charge and begin to talk to the local contractor and ensure the project is moving along smoothly. Of course, the team identifies that there is more they can do, such as yard work to facilitate an area for children to play outside. When can we start? How quickly can we get a team together? – these common questions fly around the room as the group plans outs its next visit not even half-way through this visit.

This drive to help doesn’t stop at coordinating a group to remove weeds and underbrush, its providing an ear just to listen or a friendly smile to someone who needs it as well. The group members, some with degrees or experience in social work or counseling, sit down with residents at the shelter; the facility manage for the house, which is a temporary home to victims of human trafficking, domestic violence or sexual abuse, welcomes the group into the humble facility. Volunteers are given a tour and are immediately working to see how they can make a difference by either providing blankets, cots or other basic necessities to the residents.

They meet with John,* a victim of human trafficking. Though he does not speak any English, and the group relies on a translator to communicate, a simple nod or gestures allow them to communicate with him. The group proves that even if you only have a smile to offer, it really does open the door to trust and understanding. But what makes this group give up their time to work with someone who has been through such a horrific experience?

The ideal they are working with is to help him better himself and supporting a cause they believe deeply in. Some want to enter this type of work when they leave the military service, while others just want to find a way to make difference, if even for short amount of time. It was clear that no matter what the motivation; volunteerism is engrained in their guiding principles.

To say that volunteerism, something that all of us may do just a little differently, but in the end truly betters everyone around us is an understatement. I have learned that it is the road to much more – to forming connections at the human level, to opening the door to learn about someone, and to improving one’s self as well.

So, look around and find something that you are passionate about. Volunteer and get involved in your local community, at home or deployed. Yes, it may allow for your deployment to pass quicker, but perhaps more importantly, put a smile on the face of someone who may be facing an extremely tough time.

*Name has been withheld to protect the privacy of the individual.




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