Understanding the true meaning of community service:



Dyala Kasim

Growing up, I was always involved in volunteer work. Be it at a veteran’s home, animal shelter, or children’s mentoring program, I’ve tried my hardest to give my time to others, and I want this to be a constant in my life.

So once I went off to college, I knew I wanted to continue to do the work that truly brought me happiness. And our University is a great place to do that. We partner with so many amazing causes and organizations, and I am proud of my community for doing so.

Since my freshman year here, I’ve participated in a lot of volunteer work, both on and off campus. The one group that I have stuck with is Campus Outreach Villanova, or COV, a program in which we go off campus once a week to tutor Spanish speakers in English. I started off as a fellow, and have since become the leader of this group. In participating in this organization, I believe that my eyes have definitely been open to the reality of volunteer work.

I’ve always believed language matters. The way in which we describe something reflects they way we perceive it and will therefore act on it. Prior to joining COV, I had always thought of volunteer work as me “helping” out the community around me. But since I’ve become more involved in this organization, I’ve realized that that is not the sort of language we should be using and that volunteering is so much more than simply “helping” others.

The word that we should be using here is “serving,” instead of “helping.” Through speaking with many other COV members, and through reading “Serving is Different From Helping and Fixing,” by Rachel Naomi Remen, I have seen that there is a vast difference between helping and serving that we normally do not pay attention to.

“Helping is based on inequality,” Remen said. “It is not a relationship between equals.” And she is absolutely right: When we help, there is an implicit understanding that we are above the person we are helping, that we are somehow better than them. There is a hierarchy in between us and them, and by “helping,” we are doing more for ourselves and our egos than for others. 

When we serve one another, we recognize the humanity that is within each person that we are serving. We see them as human beings, like ourselves, rather than as below us in some way. Thus, we act for them with ourselves, for as much as we have to teach others, they have a lot more to teach us. 

And I’ve also learned that service is not defined by the one day we go to a soup kitchen, or tutor, or spend time with children. I am proud of my community for participating in events like Day of Service, but I do not think that is the best way for us to understand what service truly is. Spending one day in our surrounding neighborhood is great, but it isn’t nearly enough. Once again, service is not something we do to post on social media in order show the world how great of a person we are, for then it becomes about us, rather than about others.

No, service is something we participate in entirely, without pity or preconception, but with a completely open mind and open heart.