Thursday, April 23, 2009

Serving our Community: from Obamania to Rwanda

Leave it to Obama. In tough economic times, when citizens are struggling to make ends meet what does the President do? He pushes through bi-partisan legislation embracing free labour. Yeah, I know managers and directors and CEOs can't afford to pay their staff, but, come one! Basically, he's mandating that people work for nothing. That's right. No wages. I don't know what kind of perverted, crazy voodoo socialism this guy is tryi-

What? The bill is about volunteering and community service? It's a good thing? National Service? Encouraging Americans to push aside petty, partisan values and work together to make their communities better places? Passed into law just 22 days after being proposed? Wow. That's pretty cool.

Sorry about that, folks. I got a little carried away there. And, for the record, I like Obama. A lot. Not just because of all the hope, either. Or because of his sincerity. Or because of his amazing oratory skills that inspire millions - nay, billions - of people around the world. Mostly, I like Obama because he collaborates with Spider-man and Abraham Lincoln to create amazing, progressive and world-changing community-service legislation that does so much to make America the leader that so many people around the world want it to be. Or so my sources tell me.

Moving on...

Friends, we're at the end of National Volunteer Week! On Tuesday, April 21 President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which "reauthorizes and expands national service programs administered by the Corporation for National Service...[and seeks to engage] over four million Americans in results-driven service each year." On April 22, the Corporation reported that AmeriCorps received 17,038 online applications in March, nearly triple the number from 2008. From Senior Citizens to students, from NGO management to service learning initiatives, the Serve America Act provides millions of dollars that, according to Corporation Board Chair, Alan Solomont, "...will help unleash a powerful new wave of service and civic action to help tackle our nation's toughest challenges."

From Millennials to Baby Boomers, Obama has people moving. And, clearly, for the patriotic, narcissistic, spiritual, community-minded, and apathetic alike it's the stuff of inspiration.

So what are we up to in Canada? Well, my grandma, Betty, just got invited to a volunteer lunch as a thanks for all the service she does for the Senior community in the Comox Valley. And about 21 of my students here at the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business are volunteering with the Strathcona Business Improvement Association on three service-learning projects that will help expand the community's "Green Zone." And speaking of talented young people, a few weeks ago, whilst in Toronto, I met a young man named Billy Strachan, who has embraced Social Entrepreneurship with his not-for-profit A Day for Africa. Check it out!

Those are some micro-examples. What about pan-Canadian initiatives and our general approach to volunteering as well as giving? According to a 2004 report called, I kid you not, The Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating, 85% of Canadians collectively give annually nearly nine billion dollars (average donation of $400). Religious organizations receive about 45% of these donations. About 45% of Canadians over the age of 15 volunteer for about 168 hours per year, and their total contributions amount to two billion hours, or the equivalent of one million full-time jobs. The top 10% of volunteers, though, contribute to 52% of all volunteering in Canada. We help each other without going through registered charitable organizations, too. About 83% of Canadians reported helping others who did not live in their own household with a variety of tasks and projects (shovelling snow, car repairs, cleaning, gardening, painting, cooking). Needless to say, we're good at getting involved. But we can do better. And should do more.

And, sometimes, you can easily combine volunteering and helping others with spectacular adventures. Speaking of adventures, this one time, I went to Rwanda and helped organize an East African youth employment conference. I also played on a basketball team (can you find me in the photo?). Recently, my Rwandan brother Edouard Umunyarwanda (on my left, your right) let me know about a project the team is launching called Safeball. The program is meant to build community through basketball, dance and song as well as educate youth who are drawn to the celebration about HIV/AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, physical violence, post-genocide reconciliation, and safe, healthy living. When he introduced me to the idea, Edouard said, "we needed something original, big, and new and also something that would always makes youth think about being safe." My friend, you're there and you are about to inspire a lot of people to help you.

So, we've gone on a service-related journey from the Comox Valley to Washington, DC to Vancouver to Kigali and back again. And we've learned a few cool ways to build community through service. And we've heard some stories that are pretty darn inspirational. So, what next? Well, if your from The Gumboot's neighbourhood, start by hitting up and see how you can get involved.

As for who has a better plan to unite its citizens through service, well, readers, I'll leave that to you. Both the Canadian and American models are wide in scope and ambition, but, when it comes to being nationally inspired/motivated, I think Canadians might fall a bit short. Or, hey, maybe we're so good at helping that we don't need to be inspired to go out and do good things.

Whatever the case. There's no better time than right now to get involved. And, while you're helping, remember to have fun with it. After all, smiles are totally contagious!

Thanks for the memories.



Maxwell said...

Incidentally, it's the best Spiderman you'll ever read. Obama is one badass president in comic form.

Theodora Lamb said...

I would like to see one member of every household in Canada participate in volunteer work - it doesn't have to be every week - it can be once a year for a festival serving corn! Or volunteering to do a little clean up in a park during the summer months. One member...every home...everywhere in Canada....doing what makes them feel good....this would be so cool!