Monday, March 17, 2008

Seven Letter Words by Roy Pequeño

This is the second part in a series of entries about what it means to be a volunteer. The idea is to generate a diverse gathering of voices who have done or are currently doing service to share with potential future volunteers what we wish we would have known before making the leap to do post-graduate service. It’s my sincere hope that this and other posts throughout this blog might be of service in some way to those thinking of doing service. Stay tuned for more guest editorials in the coming weeks.

Seven Letter Words By Roy Pequeño

As several of my friends prepare for the GRE, I have recently begun to become of aware of vocabulary. Honestly I must say that I am very intrigued by all the words out there. Some words look like someone just put letters together (i.e. syzygy). Some have cool sounds or are fun saying (i.e. cinnamom). Some just look intimidating (i.e. floccinaucinihilipilification). There are so many words that I am slowly becoming aware of and it’s quite frankly overwhelming. How am I suppose understand all these words my friends are teaching me, when I am still having a hard time comprehending a simple seven letter word? Service.

My experience with service – I realize now – had been very limited. Before my experience in Chile, my volunteer experiences varied: helping at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, volunteering at the hospital, and a project at a local park. In each location, I would volunteer a number of hours a week/month and reach a goal. In the soup kitchen, my goal became serving food. In the food pantry, my goal became organizing the donations. In the hospital, my goal became running samples to the lab as quickly as possible. In the park, my goal became building an animal enclosure. Even though, my “service” was done in a variety of areas it was limited to yet another seven letter word. Results.

As I prepared to embark on a two-year service commitment in Chile, I was told time and time again, to arrive without expectations. Since I did not know what, where, or how I would be providing a service to my community, I took the advice of my program mates and arrived to Chile without expectations. Or so I thought.

After about six months of living in Peñalolen and working in various place in Santiago, Chile, I realized a truth in myself. I had arrived in Chile with expectations of service and they were not being met. As mentioned earlier, my experience with this seven-letter word of “service” was related to another seven-letter word, “results.” My “service” in Chile a majority of the time had no physical “results” – something that I was accustomed to seeing after volunteering. I was not building houses, organizing food, running samples or anything like that. My greatest service that I found in Chile is being a person who listens.

Call me naïve – or completely out of sync with people – but I never realized how important listening to people really is. It was not until I began to pack my bags to leave Santiago that I realized the importance that people placed on the time we shared. Not necessarily the conversations – because for the first year or so I stumbled my way around Chilean Spanish – but the time that was taken to listen to people. People who I would talk to for five minutes a week, a child who would tell me her concerns, a student in the middle of a confirmation process talking about his struggles in faith, and several others, expressed their gratitude for my service. For my role as an individual that listens. In this world there are several things that people can always get back; however, time is one thing that passes and cannot be relived.

Mother Theresa once said, “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.” I must agree. By giving a listening ear, we give immeasurable amounts of dignity and respect to people. In my humble opinion, it is the time spent with an individual - listening to their stories, opinions, and concerns – that reveals that someone’s service has a purpose.

I doubt that I will ever learn all the GRE words that my friends are learning, but I am willing to try. And maybe I can teach them a little something about a seven-letter word that can knock the wind out of you. Service.

Roy Pequeño, pictured right, with just two of the many people he lent a listening ear to during his tenure in Chile.

Roy Pequeño graduated from St. Edwards University in 2005. He spent two years with the Holy Cross Associates in Santiago, Chile. He is currently living in Austin, Texas, working at his alma matter as a Resident Director.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well put my friend, well put.