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Doing Service to Make a Difference

December, 2010
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“I don’t really believe in doing charity,” international student, Adora Youssefian, said to me one evening.

What?! Adora was one of those kind and caring people who is always volunteering for this project or that organization. So when I heard her say that she doesn’t believe in charity, I was slightly taken aback and a little confused. Wasn’t charity her ‘thing’?

These days, especially around Christmas – the time of giving – people are catching the ‘charity’ bug. Give old toys to the poor. Give money to the needy. Give cans of food to homeless shelters….All these were becoming a part of this month’s pop culture. Therefore, it came as a shock when Adora said she did not really believe in these acts of kindness.

“Oh no! Don’t get me wrong! I think charity is very important and has a significant impact on the world!” Adora said, clearing things up. “But I just don’t feel like charity is enough.”

“When I think of charity, I think of it as something people do because they believe they’re in a superior position. For example, they do something for someone who is less well off than themselves. I think these kinds of acts are too simple - like just giving money to the poor: we are doing it because we don’t want to put in the effort to solve the reason why they are poor. It is the easiest way to feel good about ourselves, but in the long run, it doesn’t really contribute to the betterment of the world.”

So, if not charity, than what really does help to make the world a better place? According to Adora, the most important thing anyone can do is ‘service’. What’s the difference, you ask?

fooddrive-s“Service is not about yourself. It is about simply trying to help people. It is about trying to find ways to make the world a better place. It is not just putting a bandage on the wound. It is trying to find out what is causing that wound, and then doing everything in your power to fix it.”

According to Adora, when you’re doing service, you’re not trying to make yourself feel better. Instead, you see yourself as an equal to others. That way, when you lend a helping hand in anyway you can, you are working in unity to try to do good for your community or society.

“But service does come with its rewards,” Adora says, “In return for service you get experience that helps you grow as a person. With any type of service, it is so easy to not want to do it. Usually, it’s because service is difficult and requires you to give a part of your time and energy to it. But I believe that if you’re not feeling some resistance or friction towards doing service, then it’s not worth doing. You have to feel a force trying to push you back, in order to know that your efforts actually mean something.”

“That’s why I feel like charity doesn’t really count. Usually when we give money or food to the poor, it doesn’t really effect us that much. In order to make a difference, we need to get out there! We need to provide our services to others – whatever it may be.”

Adora has done service all her life. After she graduated high school, Adora even took a gap-year and traveled to Guyana to help in an organization devoted to community development.

Yet, by out there, Adora doesn’t necessarily mean going all the way to places like Guyana to serve. Although traveling to areas that really need help is a great service, Adora says that service opportunities are everywhere.

“You can serve others in a lot of different forms. You can do it in your own community, your own school – even your own home!”

In high school, Adora helped organize and conduct moral development classes for children, junior youth empowerment workshops and even took part in dance performances to raise awareness for social issues. She has volunteered at local hospitals and homes for the aged.

Adora remembers the first time she felt like she made a difference. “I was about 13 and my mother was teaching an art class. However, there was this woman there who absolutely loved art but couldn’t speak any English – only Japanese. So I sat next to her every class and translated everything my mom said during the class. It was the first time I felt really involved, and felt like I was doing something just for someone else – not for my own personal gain.”

After, Adora jumped at any chance to do service. She worked with patients in hospitals with severe medical problems. After a few months, Adora says, you feel their love. As much as you put into serving others, you feel it back. You realize you made a difference in their lives.

Adora says that service is great for personal growth. She says that although it is tough, you learn so much about yourself. For example, when you’re having a bad day, and you don’t feel like doing the service you committed to, you have to force yourself to be active and loving.

“When I was in Guyana, I was put into a foreign environment – so different from my own! The comfortable things I enjoy at home were nowhere to be found over there. But when you do service, you feel different afterwards. You feel the growth. You feel that the people you work with are defining you. Such a different culture over there forced me to adapt and become in awe of that wonderful culture.”

Adora says that way she felt after her year of service was completely different. “I definitely changed! When I look back at myself, I feel like I was a different person. I feel like I did something that actually mattered, and I was making a difference in the world.”

Adora says she realized parts of her character that she did not like during her year of service. “Service helps you get rid of these parts of you,” Adora says. “Service is something that everyone should take part in – there can be no exceptions!”

Adora recommends all youth to take a year off before university and go out into the world to serve. Adora says that it makes life more meaningful.

“I won’t say that a year of service will help you find yourself, only because I think finding yourself is a much longer process. But, I do feel like service cleanses you. Just like when you put gold into fire, service will purify your soul.” 

By Amelia Yan

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