How Service Work Made Me A Better Person
As a teenager, I had the most incredible opportunity. I was offered the chance to join a group of volunteers in service work in India. We would travel to a small town in rural South India called Thiruvannamalai, to work at a hospice run by a Christian missionary charity that cared for orphans and the terminally ill.
Little did I know how much organizing and preparation would be necessary. The weeks passed in a whirl. There was paperwork to wade through, visa formalities to arrange, and vaccines to be taken. Fortunately the logistics of booking tickets and arranging accommodation in India were handled by our organizers.
Finally, one bright and sunny morning in March, we landed in India and drove around 300 miles to our hamlet which would be home for the next three weeks. That afternoon, we visited the hospice for the first time. It was an experience I will never forget.
We are conditioned to think about our circumstances based on our past and present. Coming from a developed nation meant I had certain preconceived notions about what amenities and facilities are taken for granted, what lifestyle is considered normal, and even the definition of deprivation, poverty and want.
All those things changed in a hurry.
Seeing the squalor and lack of even basic requisites of life that this under-privileged population struggled with every day totally transformed my worldview forever. And at the heart of this change was a young man named Prabhakaran.
Suffering from a serious heart condition, abandoned by his family because he couldn’t work or earn his living, the young man had been crippled and bedridden for a month. Even breathing was difficult, and he gasped as he sat hunched up in bed, the injections and medicines he received daily doing little to alleviate his misery.
I spent hours at the hospice, taking care of the inmates and doing little chores to ease their pain and suffering. Whenever I could grab a spare moment, I would talk to Prabhakaran. We were about the same age, and shared similar dreams, hopes and desires… except that he knew he would never live to see them come true. Still, we enjoyed some good times, even laughing together as I shared anecdotes and stories from my life back home.
All too soon, it was time for us to return. We had an early morning flight. That evening, as I said goodbye to my new friend, he had tears in his eyes. His wasted fingers gripped my hand as he gazed intently into my face, as if to burn every detail in his memory. Then his fingers touched the watch at my wrist, and he looked down at it.
“Can I ask you for a favor, please, Elena?” he said. I nodded. “Will you give me your watch, so I can remember you by it?”
I hesitated for barely a moment. The watch was special, a birthday gift from my mother the year before she died. Along with the bracelet I wore on my other hand, they were constant reminders of her love and affection. But that’s exactly the same reason why Prabhakaran wanted it. And he had little else to look forward to.
On the long flight back home, as I thoughtfully fingered my bracelet, I remembered the young man back in Thiruvannamalai who was fighting to live who now had my watch to remember our friendship. I felt a warm glow inside. I had a newer, deeper perspective on life and love. I felt glad about volunteering for this service mission in India. It made me a better person.
(Article by Elana Williams)
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