When thinking of community service, one thinks of disaster relief after an earthquake, fire, flood, or some other natural disaster. We seldom think of helping displaced persons or those with individual needs that aren’t being met. Yet the downtrodden are those that need our assistance and attention the most.
I lived in New Orleans for five months as part of my residency. I lived with nuns and split my time between helping AIDS hospice patients and working with a home for homeless mothers and their children. I was stunned that a lot of the clients were angry, very angry. Angry that they were dying and no one cared. Angry that they somehow became invisible to the world. Angry that the world had thrown them away. Unfortunately, this is how refugees are seen by many; a burden, an inconvenience. This is wrong, we all have value.
While working in New Orleans, I strove to help my clients find purpose. When they would give me silly excuses (like they were too busy dying) I would say, “Not today, I’m not through with you.” I gave them seemingly unimportant things to do; cleaning, playing in the daycare, buying groceries, flying a kite, writing down their experiences. It helped. I would always say “I can’t fix you medically, but let’s give it a whirl psychologically.”
I remember one young man overheard me while I was in my office arguing with my grandfather on the speaker phone. My grandfather had asked me when I was going to get over this “saving the world garbage”. I’ll never forget that young man storming into my office and telling my Papa. “I’m dying. I have no one. She’s the only one that yells at me and tells me to help someone else.” He responded, “You’re not dead yet. The world doesn’t care that you’re dying, but make a difference and someone might.” My Papa hung up on both of us. We never spoke of my “saving the world” again. I had thought this particular young man was not listening to me, and he never said much. I realized I was wrong. We all have the potential to make a difference in the lives of others.
We all need a purpose and a direction, something to be passionate about. As you see people in need from other countries, as well as your own, I would encourage you to think of them as brothers and sisters. They may need to find a purpose. They are not much different than you or me. They probably had some bad luck. Help them, and by helping them it will help you too.
Article was written by Nadine Milham, Second Vice President Utah Mothers Association. Read Nadine’s Biography.