We’re always grateful for volunteers’ emails and letters expressing sincere gratitude for the opportunity to authentically experience their host culture, and to serve those who live there. Some – as Tenley Zinke expresses here – gain life-changing perspectives. A mother of two daughters, Tenley said she learned about Native American tribes in third grade, and since then, wanted to learn more through more first-hand experiences. “This opportunity seemed like a great way to give back while gaining a broader understanding of the people, culture, history, and present day circumstances of the Blackfeet Nation,” she said. She’s eager to return when the Reservation welcomes volunteers back. Read her message to Global Volunteers as the pandemic has swept the nation and service programs are suspended:
I just want to say that from the moment I heard from an acquaintance about having volunteered with you at the Blackfeet Reservation, I decided I must go. Once I was there myself, with my two daughters, and began meeting members of the community, and experienced the trust that Global Volunteers had engendered with them – that I had the benefit of as a stranger – that they trusted our intentions were good, even if our execution on the task at hand was often less than perfect – I knew this was something so precious that needed to be protected and preserved.
I appreciate that unlike many other programs that target teens by packaging volunteering inside a plush vacation, the mission is very “pure” with Global Volunteers, and it is not just accessible to the affluent. I felt it became imperative to my happiness that I continue to volunteer and meet more people with the intention to serve, with humility, at their request. I cannot begin to describe how grateful I am, also, that I was able to share this experience with my daughters, who continue to talk about their experience to this day, and look forward to volunteering together more in the future.
I helped sort books at the elementary school library, set up computers, and arranged furniture to help prepare for the start of the school year. I assisted at the food distribution center, cleaned up after the Indian Days pow-wow, distributed meals to community homes through Eagle Shield, and interacted with elders at the Blackfeet Care Center.
The dramatically more intimate perspective one has of a place and a people when volunteering along side of them, listening to them, answering questions they have about where you are from, learning about the struggles in their community, the pride they have in their culture, their desire to impart lessons about their people, traditions, medicine, spiritual practices, families, celebrations, communities, schools, healthcare, judicial system, and more (this based on my experience of the extraordinary Blackfeet people I spent time with), cannot ever be experienced simply as a “tourist,” who by definition is just passing through and is not vested in the health of the people and community long term. I love that with Global Volunteers there is the long-term commitment that teams are contributing towards, providing continuity – and even support from a distance when in-person support is interrupted due to a pandemic.
“I knew this was something so precious that needed to be protected and preserved.”Tenley Zinke, Montana volunteer and mother of two teen volunteers
The importance of a strong team leader cannot be more pivotal to the preservation and protection of the mission of Global Volunteers, as each volunteer is representing the organization in their interactions, and the team leader needs to effectively teach the group the safe, respectful, mindful way to approach their volunteering. They need to feel confident that the members of the team will put aside their ego and listen and respect the vast experience Global Volunteers has to draw upon to successfully develop trust in the communities they serve. I saw (our team leader) Dana do this so effectively. She also cultivated the beautiful bonds amidst the team, and did a great job getting each person to actively participate in setting our intentions for the week, with clear parameters about what builds an effective team. She was thoughtful in pairing individuals to their work projects, trying to respect people’s interests, but making decisions effectively – it was clear she was in charge. She struck the perfect balance of being visible and present, but did not take over when the volunteers were meant to be in charge, such as during meal prep.
Because of the relationships Dana had built with members of the community, they went above and beyond for her to introduce more people in the community to us, that was very dynamic. We had a good number of kids (on our team) given that it was summer break, and one teen came to speak to us about his experience having lost his mother to an accident with a drunk driver. The kids had probably never heard such a raw, firsthand account before, and I am sure they, and we, will never forget it.
I could go on and on. Global Volunteers changed my life. I can see how the positive impacts can be viral – putting a twist on a word which has only negative associations at this time. It makes me feel so good to think that the interactions that are forbidden right now will return and will potentially have an even greater poignancy. Thank you for bearing with me with this outpouring of emotion. I am so passionate about the opportunity to contribute more having learned so much, grown so much, and received so much more than I ever expected.
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