Through my experiences with service opportunities, my perspective of service has changed and grown tremendously. “Service is not possible unless it is rooted in love and ahimsa. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” This quote is by Mahatma Gandhi. He believed that by living a life focused beyond your own personal needs, you are able to better serve humanity and make the world a better place. I learned that committing to service means that one is willingly offering something, something that is not required nor an obligation.
I realized that one that truly enjoys engaging in service does not do it for the pursuit of recognition or a reward. They engage in service because they find hope in the situation. They believe that they are capable of making change and inciting progress. Through their actions and involvement, they are benefitting others as well as themselves. With that, my service philosophy is to engage in activities where I can most effectively apply my unique skills, interests, and personal life experiences for the enrichment of others, and challenge my perception of the world, teach myself and others interconnectedness, and create positive change within all communities.
Although all of my service experiences have helped shape my idea of true service, there are three instances I believe were the foundation to my desire of serving others. The first being my involvement with Special Olympics every year. The impact of Special Olympics on the athletes, and on me, has been monumental. I not only became more tolerant, but more appreciative, perceptive, and accepting. I realized how participation in Special Olympics provides for a welcoming and accepting place to train and grow.
My interaction in Special Olympics has dispelled common misconceptions and/or stereotypes. In the place of powerlessness, I now see empowerment and courage. I focus not on the disabilities or differences, but on our everyone’s common humanity. Special Olympics has the potential to change and shape attitudes, impact the day to day acceptance of all people, and to foster social networks within the community. Volunteering with the Special Olympics has allowed me to serve as an advocate of change, fostering respect, dignity, tolerance, compassion, and acceptance.
It taught me that service opportunities have no boundaries. They have the ability to unite the community, and connect the spirit of generosity, inclusion, volunteerism, with advocacy. With no boundaries, service can be as simple as participating in a canned food drive or traveling to a developing country to provide essential resources to the people. Whatever the service may be, the impact is bigger than you could ever imagine it to be.
The second influence that has assisted in the building of my service philosophy is the UNC Global Brigade trip that was taken to Nicaragua. It was undoubtedly one of the most profound highlights of my undergraduate career. It was an incredible learning experience on so many levels, both personal and professional. Just being there, we witnessed disparate living conditions. Lack of sewage systems abounded, and the mechanisms by which diseases could easily spread were obvious.
We cared for polite and well behaved, incredibly thin children and their families in a neighbor church because medical assistance was not accessible. The children and their families smiling faces exuded excitement and pleasure in our presence, providing us with endurance to get through the hot triage days. Prior to the trip, I failed to realize how much I was going to learn through my service about health care delivery and my appreciation for my everyday life.
Not only did I learn that, while many countries have a system of healthcare in place marginalized communities may have difficulties obtaining the health care they need but often resources are limited in these communities, meaning that there is a reduced amount of healthcare professionals available or there is a lack of accessible medication. Little did the members of the community we were serving know that while we were providing them with medical aid, they were helping us with our personal growth. Immersing myself into that new community, I was able to learn about the struggles of others while broadening my perspective and compassion.
The hands-on experience gave me the opportunity to enrich my healthcare skills and helped me develop a more mature understanding of global health which heightened my passion for healthcare. Giving back to the community is valuable in itself, but helping others also offers many benefits. For example, it can help you learn more about yourself and even put an individual on a path to their potential future career. The last pillar that keeps my philosophy of service alive is my yearning motivation and desire to be a medical doctor, specifically a psychiatrist.
To gain more experience in the field, I began volunteering on the Adolescent Unit of the UNC Neuroscience Hospital. My time consist of sharing conversations, playing game, drawing, and watching television with patients. Throughout my time on the unit, I realized the most valuable support you can give someone is simply listening to them when they need friendship and encouragement. My favorite moments were spent sitting with patients as they told me about their fears, hopes, worries, ambitions, concerns, and dreams. I focus on attentively listening to the adolescents on the unit and providing them a space where they feel comfortable to be themselves.
I want to pursue psychiatry because it is a profession which focuses on healing patients by being mindful of their stories. No other profession focuses on the unique individual. As feel as though individuals do the same when engaging in service events. Everyone has their own experiences and opportunities with service and we all volunteer for different reasons, but the outcome of the service is always the same, the people we are there to help end up touching our lives way more than we could ever help them.
Although service can be mutually beneficial, both to the givers and the receivers, I think it is also important to address what is often overlooked during the service of others. One thing is that service is not always necessarily comfortable. It should be evolving, challenging you, and creating opportunity for growth. I think often times some service events deterred individuals because they do not want to feel uncomfortable and then they potentially miss out on one of the greatest opportunities on their life.
It is ok to step out of your comfort zone for the betterment of others. Taking steps to increase an individual’s service involvement does not have to be overwhelming or consuming. It should instead be something you want to do and brings joy into your life. It can be as simple as introducing yourself to someone new so they have someone to talk to or being a resource and sharing knowledge and expertise. Along the same lines, one of the best ways to make new friends and connections is through service. I find this true because you often are drawn closer to people who share common interests with you.
Finding those social ties also helps people practice and develop your social and relationship skills. Engaging in service can not only help you get experience in your area of interest but can also allow you to practice important skills used in any environment such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. Another aspect of service that is often forgotten is that one good thing done for someone else can ripple out in so many different ways. Not only are the effects being felt on those being served, but the effects may also encourage others to serve. Its eye-opening to realize that doing even one small thing can have a big impact on everyone.
Last but not least, the idea I think that is the most overlooked, is letting your community know how they impacted you. I think it is very humbling and important to share your experiences and stories, open up, and be vulnerable because typically if you are engaging in a service event, you have already witnessed the people you are helping be vulnerable. Let them know how the service opportunity means to you because I believe you will reap even deeper rewards interpersonally.
In conclusion, I think service should be looked at from a holistic viewpoint, taking into account all of its various facets. Service encompasses collaboration, learning, knowledge, sharing, and creativity. It is important to have such a wide understanding and learning that takes place through service work and having the ability to make meaningful contributions to a community. Although my time with Buckley Public Service Program is coming to an end, I believe I will keep this philosophy with me for a lifetime. My active involvement in service provides a continuous opportunity to learn, share knowledge, build networks, and relationships. I look forward to continuing my service work and developing even more effort as I leave this university, which has foster such great opportunities for me and all of my peers.