Today, December 5th, marks the International Volunteer Day. In 1985, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated this day to all those individuals who dedicate, altruistically, part of their time and work to actions or knowledge in support of others.
I believe that this day should be welcomed with pride, but also with respect, responsibility and, above all, with care, great care. I think that this clearly heteropatriarchal society in which we live in is wholly founded on Christian morality, which in turn, has drawn, from ancient Greek philosophy, molding Platonic concepts to its doctrine. It is in this way, I believe, that our Western way of understanding the world has developed, and accordingly moulds the way in which we think, act and speak. I think that concepts such as charity, sorrow, guilt, sin, ... are much more rooted in our hearts than we would admit, wouldn’t you say?
These concepts, which originally, I don't think were so punitive and hierarchical, have become increasingly patronising and unhelpful over the centuries, demonstrating that history has an impact on the present. Taking into account what has been said, we can understand common (and dangerous) expressions of superiority such as "I'm going to help the people of Africa", "What pity that refugee gives me!", "Poor indigenous woman", or understand photos of white (rich) people with black (poor) children. Ways of acting that demonstrate an undeniable systematic racism and a superiority of those people who, instead of contributing, can become toxic with respect to the project and final objective.
That is why every time the concept of volunteering comes to light; all the warning bells go off in my head. I believe that volunteering is a vital way to change this ego driven society, by compassionately sharing and accompanying people in need, we in turn receive experiences that can help us be better people. Because, we must not forget that despite whoever we are, we are also full of shit. The people of Europe too have a hard process of deconstruction ahead of us, after so many centuries of systematic acquisition of prejudices.
Therefore, I am in favor of a volunteering service that helps us, through horizontal, empathetic and humane relationships with other people, to evolve as human beings. Be it collecting food for people who are unjustly on the street (even in the middle of a global pandemic), or donating clothes for those human beings who are condemned, by structurally racist laws, to cross seas and / or entire mountain ranges in order to reach to Europe, either by offering free Spanish courses for migrants without financial resources. Hopefully, throughout all these wonderful, voluntary actions, we would check ourselves, at all times: Am I interacting horizontally with these people?
I owe all these thoughts to the many people from Melilla whom I approached with the intention of “helping”, but who through smiles and tears ended up helping me. A huge hug, to all the people, mostly women, who dedicate themselves altruistically and horizontally to accompanying people who are having a terrible time. Many times, I seriously consider what would have happened to me if I had not met so many people worthy of such a "white heart", as the Harraga of Melilla say.
I end with these beautiful words from Eduardo Galeano's book that remind me of another famous phrase from "Many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world":
“A sea of tiny flames
A man from the village of Neguá, in the coast of Colombia, managed to go up the high sky.
And, when he came back, he told the story.
He said he had seen human life
from up there.
And he said we're a sea of tiny flames.
- That's what the world is, - he revealed.
- Lots of people, a sea of tiny flames.
Each person glows with their own light amongst all the others.
No two flames are alike.
There's big flames and small flames,
and flames of each and every color.
There's people with serene flames that aren't even fazed by the wind,
And people with wild flames that fill the air with sparks.
Some flames, foolish flames, don't glow or burn;
but others, others burn through life with so much passion
that you can't even look at them without blinking”.
Eduardo Galeano, The book of Embraces
By Aritz Ibañez Fernandez