JULY 11, 2018
Why volunteering is not enough
By Marguerite Jill Dye
A family friend of 60 years responded to my open letter to Pope Francis, printed in last week’s Mountain Times. She sent me a beautiful message in response to my comments that “America has lost its compassion for the suffering” and that my hope is “nearly gone.”
She offered a way of regaining my hope: to “Be the difference” through volunteer work to help alleviate suffering. She shared that her volunteer work and that of her family and friends reinvigorates her hope through action.
I agree that volunteer work is important and can fill a role. I, too, am inspired by faith through good work. But, as other Catholic friends have commented, “no matter how much we do to ‘Be the difference,’ if there are those in power (or government) who are working at cross purposes to the good so many people are trying to bring about, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to right the wrongs inflicted on innocent people.”
At times in the past I’ve also felt lifted up while volunteering in various roles. My friend suggested volunteering with children, which I do love to do. I’ve helped and taught children in orphanages, shelters, and schools. I loved serving women and children in Buenos Aires slums and Argentina’s rural indigenous communities, but working under a military dictatorship and living under constant fear did anything but lift us up.
I feel enormously frustrated by the lack of compassion demonstrated in our own government and society of exclusion. At a time like this, feeding the homeless doesn’t make me feel better or more hopeful. What I want is action for change: for the world’s richest nation to eliminate homelessness and hunger. What I can see more and more is that our individual actions, as good as they may be, only meet the tip of the iceberg of needs.
When government services have been cut down to the bone or completely slashed, volunteer work is a drop in the bucket. For example, while Habitat for Humanity may build 100 houses, government-funded affordable housing programs may contribute more than 10,000 units for low income families in need. The amount of needed funding has been significantly cut over the past 20 years. Millions of low income families are on waiting lists.
Studying injustice and educating on behalf of people in need is truly a full time (volunteer) job. Normally I’m happy, enthusiastic, and filled with faith and hope for the future. However, there are many reasons I feel discouraged, along with most of my friends. I chose to share my innermost feelings and fears with the pope because:
Migrant, refugee, and asylum seeking children have been forcibly separated from their parents at our border and held in mass cages on mats on the floor.
The human right to affordable, available healthcare is threatened and lost, and many have suffered, even perished.
Environmental protection laws have been eliminated or compromised.
Public education is being manipulated to cater to rich kids, to the detriment of the poor.
Tax cuts have been orchestrated to benefit the rich and result in cuts to basic human services for the poor.
Cheating and lies have become commonplace to benefit an oligarchy based on power and greed.
My own government’s policies are triggering my fear from living under Argentina’s military dictatorship, along with the fear of our immigrants, and nearly all of my Jewish friends.
I say volunteering is not enough.Our government must honor the values we once shared as a democratic nation and as a beacon of freedom and hope in the world.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.