Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Hawaii - A lesson in Giving vs. Taking

As I prepared for my recent trip to Hawaii (yes that's why my blog has been sparse!) I got to pondering the life of a tourist.

Something started to irk me about this as I thought. We as tourists spend a lot of time taking on vacation. We visit the noteworthy sights, we take photos, we eat wonderful food, we go on adventures. It's all about us - and rightly so. It is vacation, after all.

But I found it a little unsettling, especially as I learned about the history of Hawaii. One of the travel books I read shared a brief history of Hawaii, which I found fascinating. There is much to learn there, and I only scratched the surface, but it is a tale similar in some ways to that of the Native Americans. I was also very interested to learn that during his presidency, Bill Clinton signed the Apology Resolution which acknowledged the United States' role in the overthrow of the native government of Hawaii. It didn't right the wrongs done to the Native Hawaiians, but it did acknowledge that the US got the land without the permission of the Native Hawaiian people.

All this to say that I felt like another "typical" American just take-take-taking from someone else. Who was I to go and visit a beautiful island? How do the Native Hawaiians feel about tourism? Do they feel like their land is being prostituted? I don't know. But it sure made me think. How will I handle my trip? How will I acknowledge the gift the citizens are giving me by allowing me to visit? How will I respond?

Then, I had an idea.

I could give instead of take.

I could give time.

I began looking on a website I found called Volunteer Hawaii which lists service opportunities for each of the islands. After a few emails, Zac and I were scheduled to help at the Kauai Independent Food Bank.

We signed up for a 4-hour shift which seemed so small in comparison to the many hours we were spending as carefree tourists. However, it was something.

When we arrived we had no idea what we would be doing. We were introduced to the manager on duty at the warehouse. He was tall and built, with a small, wavy pony tail ball high on his head. I could easily picture him in a football uniform. His manner was quiet and concentrated.

We were also introduced to another worker, who worked far more than he spoke. He was a shorter man, with short, dark hair and was quietly moving food here and there, sorting and inventorying boxes.

We were quickly put to work organizing and sorting food on the shelves. As the morning wore on, we learned more about the food bank. Food banks are different from food shelves in that oftentimes food banks provide food for food shelves. The Kauai Independent Food Bank works with 20+ non-profit organizations to distribute food. Many are local church groups that help the homeless and hungry. The KIFB also works with local farmers to get fresh produce in stock to distribute. They are doing great work for the citizens of Kauai.

We weren't the only volunteers there that day; there was another islander who was helping full-time as part of a welfare/work program. She wanted to find a job, but jobs were hard to come by. She has some children and grandchildren and needs money to provide for them. This program allows her to aggressively job search while also volunteering. From what she shared with me, it seems like a very strong program. I hope she finds a paying job soon.

As with all service opportunities, I think I feel more blessed to have been a part of it than I was a blessing to the people I was helping. I enjoyed talking with the other volunteer (whose name I will withhold out of respect), and learning about her family and her life. She shared food tips with me, shared about what life was like when she was younger, and told me about her kids and grandkids. We talked and laughed as we sorted and stacked, and the work didn't seem like work at all. Just two people, hanging out and getting to know one another. What a treat.

I also felt blessed to be a witness of a different mindset to the people at the food bank. We got asked skeptically a few times, "So...why are you here?" Apparently it's not often that tourists ask to volunteer.

After the experience, my brain got to thinking what it would be like if everyone volunteered a little when they went on a trip. What if we didn't just take when we went somewhere; what if we also gave.

I quickly calculated in my head that there were perhaps 200 people on our flight to Kauai. If even just ONE plane flies in each day (which far more do), that would be 200 people infiltrating the island each day. What if each of them volunteered just two hours? That would be 400 community service hours each day on the island of Kauai. HOLY COW! Can you even fathom that?!? What would that look like? How could it help the food bank? The environment? The schools? The homeless or hungry? Hmmmm....that could be really really cool.

As you plan your next trip, consider if you could and how you could give back. What does that look like for you?

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