In the Summer of 2020 I found myself sitting alone in my room for much of the day, just like the days and weeks before that. As we all know the world was enduring the pandemic, isolating ourselves for the common good. I hadn’t seen friends or extended family in months. This had really bothered me, and I began to really think about the importance of surrounding myself with good, like-minded people. I missed laughing and connecting with people dearly. I expressed my frustration to my mom, telling her that I desperately needed to find something to fill that void. A few days later she sent me a link to Youthlinc’s website. Little did I know, my whole world was about to change.
I joined the Service Year Program that was originally planned for Nepal. I was absolutely ecstatic. Finally I had found something to look forward to. At this point I knew very little about the service year or what was expected of me. For the first few months we met over zoom, and I had the chance to learn a bit more about our trip, local service requirements, and got to introduce myself to the rest of my team. It felt incredible to finally be talking and laughing with people, even if it was on the computer. Due to complications brought on by the pandemic, things had to be switched around a few times and eventually I found myself traveling to Peru in the Summer of 2021.
I participated enthusiastically for the rest of the service year. I spent time every week at various service organizations, attended the monthly team meetings, and eventually embarked on my first international service trip. It was absolutely incredible.
After returning home, I lay in my bed and tried my best to absorb all the beautiful memories, lessons, and experiences that I had over the last year. I was overwhelmed with emotion, but I do remember feeling like I had just learned one very important lesson in particular. The importance of community.
The community that I had created and fostered with my team members lighted a sense of spark and purpose within me that I had been missing for a long time. I was entrusted with responsibility and expectations. I had made new friends from completely different backgrounds than my own. I had given my attention to others who needed it and was given attention from others as well. Together, as a group, we had a goal and purpose to strive for, and that felt incredible.
The community that I had created at my main service site gave me new perspectives and lived experiences that differed from my own. I had become a relied-upon volunteered and met many new friends within my area. I had given back to a community that had given me so much.
I found community on the other side of the world, in strangers that quickly turned to friends. I learned that community truly knows no boundaries. I had learned the importance of close family and friend relationships. I had seen how the locals worked together in business enterprises to be successful and support each other financially. I had seen how they would fish for meals together or cook rice and share it with neighbors. I had seen the camaraderie as both my team and the locals worked together to build a new pathway that would increase access to schools during the rainy season. We all created important bonds with each other and really looked forward to seeing each other every day. We didn’t need to verbally communicate with each other to create an important relationship. All we needed was each other’s laughter, smiles, and sometimes tears.
I learned that we are all part of a global community. Differences do not matter, only our own humanity does. We can help our neighbor in Ethiopia or Nicaragua or Nepal. We can help our neighbor down the street in the same way. I learned that all we need to do is open our hearts to others both in the community where we are planted and in our global village. We are all stronger, and the world is a better place, when we live in community.