“Volunteering” is a deed we often misunderstand. The positive connotations that are conventionally associated with the word can do much good, but they also carry the potential to blind us with a shallow understanding of its meaning. For me, volunteering has always demanded a precarious balance between the idea of changing the world with one good deed at a time, and the realization that what I do alone will never be enough to bring about a visible change for the better. Although the latter provides a hopelessly negative view on the concept of volunteering, I believe that it is also a necessary one that serves to remind us of the importance of the collective desire for change. By this, I mean that the larger the group of people are that stand up against a cause, the more impact and power they have in bringing about visible change. Through my experiences in serving as a volunteer on mission trips, I have come to understand that this kind of transformation for the better can only be brought about from the actions of a community as a whole; a movement beginning from the grassroots of a society whose passion for change has been ignited by unity and compassion.
When I was 13 years old, I went on my first missionary trip to a First Nations reserve in Northern Alberta. Before the trip began, my mind was full of preconceptions that varied from reasonable, to downright outrageously ignorant. Having only learned the history of Canada through the lens of the Canadian school system, I had come to believe that the problems of the past regarding Indigenous rights had now been solved, and that the government was doing “all that it could” to “make up” for the cruelty and exploitation that the Indigenous people had faced during the periods of European colonization. However, what I had failed to understand was that the past could not be buried beneath the weight of time, and that no amount of retribution could ever fill the damage that had already been done. The history of endless exploitation of the Aboriginal people of Canada had left a permanent stain on the nation’s flag, and its unmistakable presence will always remind us that no matter what state our country is in at the moment, its foundation will always be deep-rooted in a history of abuse, terror, and wrongdoings. Having gone to the reserve to preach the love of God, I found myself returning two weeks later with a sore patch in my heart. I knew I had done a good deed and although it was clear that my life was changing for the better as I grew in sharing God’s unconditional love, I felt as though what I had done was hopeless in terms of/in regards to accomplishing visible change in the lives of the young children that I had visited during the mission. This is not to say that mission trips or any other volunteer organizations that seek to aid in development should be discarded, or are hopeless in bringing about progress. What I wish to say instead is that perhaps trying to change or mold things into a shape that is different than they are at the present moment may not always be the best way to development. Through seeing the children and the communities in the reserves that I visited, I noticed that what was needed was not necessarily a “change” but rather a continued progression of the Aboriginal culture as it forms in its own pace and manner, while simultaneously maintaining its essence of pre-colonial, remnant Indigenous ideologies. The communities I had visited seemed to be a fragment of history lost in time, harmonizing neither with the modernized Canada of the present, nor completely with the pre-colonial land of the past. The reserves were often viewed by its inhabitants as a sort of prison rather than a property in which their culture could thrive once more. Through speaking with many families in the Aboriginal community, it was clear to see that many felt as though they were not being listened to, and that the world outside had expected them to carry on living their lives “just as before”, but within the boundaries of the “modernized Western culture”. It seemed as though the government was using faulty systems of retribution such as providing welfare to the Aboriginal people in order to drown out their voices, rather than being truly willing to listen to the ideas of the people in how this money should be distributed. If there is one thing to be noted about this, it is that money (depending on who has control of it) has the power to build, or to destroy a nation. I believe that what is required for true progress to occur, is the willingness to work with the First Nations, rather than to impose our own ideas of development upon them. We ought to understand that the hurt and suffering caused by the past has not nearly been settled but that its wound will only begin to heal once more effective ways of communicating with the Aboriginal people are set in place. For example, a close investigation and a greater unbiased media coverage of the demonstrations led by First Nations groups may allow the issues at hand to become much more deliverable to the public. Once information and knowledge (from all sides of the affair) become more and more accessible to all people, there will be a shift from knowing that something should be done, to actually making change happen. Therefore, I hold the belief that collective willingness for change through respectful means are what will help make a visible difference in the lives of the First Nations people, as well as the lives of all citizens living in Canada.
In conclusion, if I have learned one thing from my experiences in missionary trips to the First Nations reserves, it was of the importance of solidarity and compassion between one group and another. I realized that volunteers must always approach their work with the willingness to learn, and with an open mind that will allow them to understand and respect the culture of those that they are working with. It is necessary to recognize the beauty of each group’s individuality within our culture while still remaining faithful to our own as we learn to work together in harmony and in peace. Only through this, do I believe that we will be able to work together as a global family to alleviate the hauntings of the past and the sufferings of the present, and that a universal collective desire for change will fuel a revolutionary movement towards a more unified human race.