Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Yes, I know, it’s completely cheesy to open up a column about volunteerism with a quote from Ghandi, but it’s true. Community service can help us find empathy, education and community. We come to understand that despite our various hardships and societal factions, we’re all just people: equally powerful, equally powerless.
Still, we often forget that fulfilling volunteer work does not always have to be far from home.
Over the past four days, I travelled from Albuquerque to my hometown, Santa Fe, to assist children and families affected by HIV at Camp Corazones. As the assistant camp director, I’ve come to understand the goal of the camp firsthand — to be a supportive space for children to learn, grow and just be kids without stigma.
Campers affected directly or indirectly (i.e. a family member carries the virus) by HIV also face additional hardships, such as poverty, the aftereffects of drug abuse and the world’s judging eyes and actions. Some still believe the myth that HIV can be spread by a simple hug.
Throughout camp, we worked to help the children forget about those hardships by offering horseback riding, swimming, storytelling, a trip to the La Cienega wetlands and more, along with three healthy meals each day — all free of charge.
For the past five years, the National Guard in Santa Fe has worked closely with the camp by offering spaces for the children to participate in many of the activities as well as sleep over at the FOB tents on base.
Through team building and conflict resolution that comes with living with a group of children around their own age, Camp Corazones teaches the campers lifelong values by showing them that maybe we aren’t so different at all.
None of that would happen without the volunteers. Some, including a friend of mine from high school, have been hooked on participating at our camp since the first year they were introduced to our work and have been returning for five or more summer sessions. They treat the children with compassion yet establish strong guidance/rules to help them recognize structure and self-confidence within themselves.
Despite their hardships, the campers generally do not show their pain. They power through. They march on. They have taught me that no matter how bad life gets, there’s still a reason to smile, to dream, to move forward.
That’s why community service is important. That’s what all of those hours of hard work and stressful planning add up to — moments of joy, moments of give and take, moments where you can inspire and be inspired. Volunteering has taught me that I’m not alone and that no one else has to be either.
There are opportunities to explore community service close to home through organizations like the Rotary Club or Kiwanis. More options are available at: https://www.cabq.gov/abq-volunteers.
Elizabeth Sanchez is the Editor-in-Chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.