Responsibility Hidden Behind Community Service

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My best friend had an unfortunate tendency to separate people into “us” and “them.” In community service, the dividing line was class. What made me a social worker helping underprivileged children putting food on a plate rather than being one of them who needed to depend on us such social workers was nothing more than the circumstances of my birth.

Because my friend had never been on both sides of the social class, the distinction between “us” and “them” had started to become quite sharp in our high school years. He felt this same self-consciousness during my social welfare project at the slums in Johar Town, in Pakistan. He had started out in July just trying to finish his community-service hours but ended up staying on until the end of the summer.

Distraught. Suffering. Misery.

None of those were felt in those days. While most of my friends were all too familiar with these feelings, he was unable to even comprehend them as he looked at the little angels as filthy creatures that stood before him. He hadn’t a single shred of empathy for them. Throughout my project, he wouldn’t even dare touch them, much less hug them while I and other project members out of what they called “sympathy” went as far as smothering them with love. I couldn’t. He just couldn’t. It didn’t feel right. Neither did that feel right as well.

The days were numbered as well as long and harsh for him. For him, the first day was especially bad when his olfactory was introduced to such a wide variety of new smells. To put it simply, they were bad. What kind of smells, though? One of many was as a smell which was as if someone had killed a dog, mixed its remains with raw eggs and hung that carcass in sewer water, squeezed the juices out and then sprayed it all over the empty plot. His sense of smell tingled with disgust and he was scared to even sneeze to only obtain more bacteria. Even his first step wasn’t so nice. Straight into dog poop. He hadn’t dared to move his foot even a single more as it meant allowing the sticky substance to mold with his shoes further. Disgusting, really.

Though I was there to mark their day special, it just wasn’t real. Most of us were doing this project for them but he wasn’t doing it to make them happy. He was doing it just for the club. When one of boys, named the same as him, came close to him and tried to touch him, he shooed him away in horror. To him they were aliens on our planet and I did not like that prospect. He felt like a God among them and they should respect him that way he believed.

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Separating people into “us” and “them” can lead to a sense of entitlement. It is human nature to think of the people around you as “us.” If all of your friends have personal cell phones, cars, and the opportunity for a good education, then those who do not fit that profile soon become “them.” They are out of sight and out of mind. The children in the slums are not someone who should be helped, but just another child in ragged attire who wasn’t so lucky to whom he was born to. By identifying with “us,” you dehumanize “them.” It makes it easier to justify unfairly concentrated resources. This vicious cycle perpetuates in equality. What is community service to you…really? Is it art, enjoyment, catharsis or just a hobby? Something to amuse you in your spare moments. Something that helps your brain exercise itself, lets it step outside the boundaries of the ever-circling coursework, debating, school, friends, dangling conversations, your first love?

My name is Haider and for me community service is a mercurial concept that has changed over time.

The desire to serve motivates me to be involved in community service, to aid the underprivileged and the disabled. It is compassion that empowers me to do my part in serving the community and encourage others to play their role too. Charity compels me to save my allowance in order to donate several hundred rupees to needy people in Lahore, Pakistan. The awareness that I am imperfect and that life is fleeting keeps me humble. No matter how life changes, my values remain the same. They give me the motivation to improve myself and others. It is the love and care that I have for everyone. Spread love as there is already much hatred.

It is this state of idealization in which I feel completely content, for it is a place that gives birth to invigorating, edifying and elating ideas that help explain, enhance and romanticize my world and reality. To support another Haider, not just for the name sake, but because I can. The soft gravel crunched beneath our feet as we walked along the long, winding road, fanned by trees on both sides, the waning moon illuminating our path and a light breeze blowing the leaves around. I was walking alongside my school mates, our blue blazers billowing lightly, our eyes staring at the ground, each of us lost in our own thoughts. I gave a weary sigh as the events of the last two days played in my mind.

The badge I wore had never felt heavier and the words engraved upon it: “Community Service Representative”, never did they feel more satisfying to read. I had accomplished what I had set out for – a sense of responsibility. I had rendered the most successful edition of JTSTC (Johar Town Serving the Community) – an event where we called upon differently abled children to come and show their talents while volunteers from all over Lahore came to indulge in various activities with them and show the true love and trust that we as humans hold towards each other’s, compete other high schools in documentaries, presentations and social awareness campaigns.

While it is fine to have try and pursue multiple passions, I need to know how to juggle all these various aspects of my life, to best result in what at least appears to have the semblance of a normal life. Only by knowing how to manage my time, engage in activities that not only captivate me but also allow me to tackle them at my own pace, in short, by knowing my own strengths and weaknesses and learning from my mistakes while serving my duty, can I truly live my life to its fullest. No goal can be achieved if you do not care about it to the fullest, are willing to give it all and respect every individual involved in it. This is one of the most important lesson that one of the most important events of my life has taught me.

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