Your Time: Service to Others
In late August of 2005, I watched as Hurricane Katrina caused one of the worst natural disasters in United States history. Although I was emotionally affected about what happened in the Gulf Coast and the slow response to get people in the region help, I was not compelled to volunteer. Like many people, I donated my loose change whenever I came across a fundraiser to help people affected by the hurricanes. As I donated this change, I would always tell myself that I know I would do more if only I had the time and money. Plus I had my own problems and what about my city? The city I was born and raised in had issues with homelessness and poverty, just to name a few. Making the most of my time never really included any hands-on service. I was just too busy to do more than I had already done for the relief efforts.
In the spring of 2006 one of my colleagues approached me with the opportunity to do an Alternative Spring Break (ASB). ASB was an opportunity for college students to give up their typical spring break to do service. The service trip would be in Louisiana for hurricane relief with an organization called Toledo Campus Ministry. The trip would only cost $300 which included all my traveling, food, lodging, and materials we would work with in the area.
I was hesitant about doing the trip because of the Christian affiliation. I was Muslim and as such was fearful I might not be accepted or the group would try to convert me to Christianity. However, I had done some travelling previously and in many instances I was the only Muslim on these trips. As a result, I decided to take a chance and participate in the trip. In this way I could put another star on my map of places I have travelled while fulfilling my need to do hands-on service. I also thought I would gain respect from my peers and family for doing something so generous and selfless. All in all, I decided to volunteer in Louisiana not for the people in need in the region, but to fulfill my own ambitions and desires.
Being the only Muslim and the only person of Arab heritage, I was at first very cautious of my interactions with others. However, with the 24 hour drive down to Louisiana the walls I had put up would crumble. I was surprised to find people from all walks of life and although most of the group was Christian, they welcomed me with open arms. I soon realized the work we would do was more important than a star on my map or the respect I would gain from others. This trip also proved to me that Muslims and Christians could work together in efforts of love and compassion. Furthermore, it was on this service trip that my love for philanthropy and service really took hold of my heart.
Our work down in Louisiana consisted of tearing down a damaged roof of a family in need and completely replacing it. We would have less than a week to do this, however, we were determined to not only complete our task but do so with time to spare. Our group was fortunate enough to hear the stories firsthand from people who were affected by the hurricane. To sit in a room and hear the tragedy firsthand had changed my whole outlook on life. My experience in Louisiana was so profound that I wanted to experience even more.
One year later, along with other volunteers from Louisiana, I was able to do service in Kafakumba, Zambia. While in Africa, I was able to work with children that were in need from all over the continent. This trip affirmed what I already knew was true in my heart, that I wanted to dedicate as much of my free time to service and philanthropy. Not only did I want to dedicate my free time but I also wanted other college students to experience the same joy that I got from service and philanthropy. This is where the idea for my organization called P.E.A.C.E. became a reality. P.E.A.C.E. is another avenue for students to get involved in service and philanthropy and was not created to compete with existing service organizations. It has been a challenge at times but one well worthwhile as I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have the eye-opening experience of service.
Edited by Randa Hassan Awada
Article printed in The CommUnity Journal: Summer 2011 Edition
A Publication of the Muslim Unity Center of Bloomfield Hills