Insights Gained and Questions Raised:
Global Justice Volunteers
by Mary Beth Coudal
"Do you have poverty like this in the United States?" Angel, a young Nicaraguan man, asked Nikki. They were walking through an area of Nicaragua where children regularly drink murky water. Nikki began to wonder about access to clean water in the United States and in other parts of the world.
Issues like this one about health, safety, world hunger, and poverty of children were raised by the seven Global Justice Volunteers who, like Nikki, recently returned from two months as international volunteers. They visited the New York mission office last week and shared the questions they've begun to ask themselves, each other, and society at large. In asking big questions about global justice, the young volunteers have begun to see the world from a new perspective.
Nikki Bell, 23, was one of three Global Justice Volunteers to work with the non-profit group, Accion Medica Cristiana in the Alamikamba community of Nicaragua. Born in South Korea, and from Cheektowaga, NY, Nikki recently graduated from Nazareth College in Rochester, NY.
The other two volunteers assigned to the Nicaragua medical clinic were: Nick Basinger, 19, from Charlotte, NC, who attends Furman University; and Brittany Young, 19, from Inwood, WV, who attends Shepherds University.
One insight the volunteers had was that material things do not ensure happiness. For example, the three went down the Rio Prinzapolka. "I realized 'I don't have a TV, running water, or a bed.' And it was okay. It was the most beautiful afternoon." Brittany said. She also learned, "Everything is about relationships. Take the time to make relationships…keep life somewhat slower."
Nick said, "We were always treated with hospitality. Our friend Charlie would take us out in the ambulance for a free afternoon. He would buy us a coke or juice. He only makes about $4,000 a year and he's spending two dollars of that to treat us."
In Nicaragua, the three learned about cultural differences regarding expectations about men's and women's work. Nikki mentioned the sexism she encountered when she was overlooked to lead worship. Nick agreed. While washing his clothes in the stream alongside Nikki and Brittany, people came by and said to Nick, "You're a guy, you shouldn't do that," he reported.
Four Global Justice Volunteers worked with the Asian Rural Institute, ARI, in Tochigi-ken, Japan. At this interfaith and organic community center, the volunteers said they learned about fairness and recycling.
"ARI teaches you about being resourceful, reusing things… Instead of driving up the street, we're walking up the street," said Jamal Williams, 19, from Detroit, MI, who attends Philander Smith College.
Katie Pearce, 21, from Springdale, AR, who attends Hendrix College, found that since returning to the United States, she cannot look at a clothing label the same way. "Made in Indonesia" and "Made in Sri Lanka" labels remind her of new friends. "Eating and shopping remind me of ARI," said Katie.
Katie also described the simplicity and profundity of morning gathering, a daily ritual that brought together the whole ARI community of faith leaders from Asia and Africa. One morning in particular moved Katie when faith leaders from the Philippines, India, and other countries prayed for each other's countries and sang hymns for peace.
"To sing together in such a multicultural and diverse group…Christ's love isn't just for Christians," agreed Heather Burnham, 20, from Rapid City, SD, who is studying at Presentation College.
Rachel Barnhardt, 22, from Owego, NY, who graduated from Geneseo State University in New York, wondered what her purpose was as she worked in the office at ARI. However, as she began to communicate with the people back home through emails about the community life at ARI, she began to realize that ARI had the answers to her questions. "This [ARI] is the biggest thing in the world. This is the solution to world hunger," said Rachel.
During their time together in Japan and Nicaragua, the two teams raised questions, found solutions, and deepened their understanding of justice issues around the world.
Nikki offered one more question to ponder, "If God is merciful, if God is loving, why do people suffer?"
For the answer to this and other questions about global justice, check out Global Justice Volunteers, a program of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission of the General Board of Global Ministries. Global Justice Volunteers gives 18 to 25 year olds an opportunity to serve for two summer months in international justice work.
Global Ministries supports administrative costs and funds the United Methodist-related assignment site. However, volunteers are required to provide their own funding, which is approximately $2,000 per person.
Applications to become a Global Justice Volunteer are accepted year-round, however there are deadlines to be met. For more information or an application, visit www.gjv.info
Date posted: Aug 17, 2007