Karen has participated in seven volunteer programs in the last year. We asked Karen how and why she does it. This is her answer, a lesson on how to make the greatest service possible:
If you are anything like me you spend a lot of time thinking about how to be of the greatest service possible while gaining new and varied experiences.
It is the wondering about this topic that led me to be in Romania in the middle of January working with nine of the most delightful children imaginable; four other inspiring volunteers (one of whom has been here four times previously!); and being guided by our wise and friendly hosts Mihaela and Dan Cirjontu.
The children that we are working with range in age from seven months to almost ten years of age and have a variety of conditions that respond remarkably well to love and attention including autism and cerebral palsy. During our very first day there, the change in the condition of the children was stunning.
To see a little five-year-old boy with severe cerebral palsy communicating while snuggled close to a volunteer when just a few hours earlier he had been listless and unfocused, is a priceless gift.
To see a tiny three-year-old girl with autism, smiling and laughing with a volunteer that knew just how to engage with her reassures you that love really does conquer all!
And to see the pure joy that was on the face of one of the nurse’s aids when she saw Laura, our volunteer who had been here before, walk in the door made us realize that the work that we are doing here is bringing much more benefit to the staff than simply relieving their work load.
Our team leader, Mihaela had opened the day for us with the story about the starfish:
“A man was walking along a deserted beach at sunset. As he walked he could see a young boy in the distance. As he drew nearer he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. Time and again he kept hurling things into the ocean. As the man approached even closer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water. The man asked the boy what he was doing and the boy replied, “I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen.” “But,” said the man, “You can’t possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach, and this must be happening on hundreds of beaches along the coast. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied “Made a difference to that one.”
During the day, the starfish story kept coming back to me as we each did what we could to bring comfort and joy to each of the children.
And, I knew that we were indeed making a difference to that one.