Thursday, April 23, 2009

JP Volunteer Fair & the idea of GIVING

I dropped in on the Volunteer Fair at JP this morning, organized by the students. Great initiative. Some of the booths: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Pilgrims Hospice, City of Ed Rec, Food Bank... Students could walk around and pick up application forms to volunteer.

It made think about the importance of volunteering and much our society depends upon volunteering. If everyone who works without pay stopped tomorrow, the world would come to a grinding halt. Hospitals, schools, airports, libraries, agencies, societies, organizations would be thrown into chaos. I remember at our District Recognition Event last year, there was a student's quote about a special volunteer: "If she were ever to get sick, we would have to close the school that day."

Whenever I witness giving, it makes my heart sing. Last week, I had the honour of participating in Eastglen School's Aboriginal feast, the first for the school. Food was prepared (by volunteers), drummers and dancers came and an Elder, Trevor Gladue, hosted the event. There were teachings and, as always, I felt enriched by the opportunity to understand more about the Aboriginal culture. This time, I saw the respect manifested in a new way: because the ancestors receive the first offering of food, the cooks were not allowed to taste the food as they prepared it. A sample of everything was placed on a plate for the ancestors before anyone else was allowed to fill their plates.

After the meal, an Aboriginal woman came forward with four branches in her hand and Trevor explained that in his culture, this signifies that she is about to give away some horses. I wondered- real horses or symbolic ones? The woman, in a quiet and humble voice, then explained that a very important thing had happened in her family this week: her daughter had given birth to twin boys. The arrival of the grandchildren was a cause of great celebration and joy. To give thanks for this blessing, she was giving away four much-beloved horses. She then proceeded to give away a horse to people she barely knew, but that held a deep symbolism to her including a young girl who represented all the children and the Principal of Eastglen who took such good care of the Aboriginal children in his school. To each person, she presented a branch. The gym was still, teenagers transfixed and most of the adults had tears in their eyes. It is hard to describe how meaningful the giving was... how unexpected and profound.

I learned later that in the Aboriginal culture is it important to give and give, to give until it hurts, because the belief is it will come back to you. What a different world we would live in, if that was the underlying belief. Instead, we seem built upon the false idea of accumulating wealth for one's own benefit. We shore up our defences and insulate ourselves from others' misery with our sense of entitlement.

The theme for the Volunteer Fair was "Take Action Now." A good motto from a group of students devoted to making the world a better place. Congrats to the organizers and to JP.

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