Last Saturday students from Summer Session were invited to do some service for the Bay Area. Eight buses filled with volunteers headed off in different directions in the early morning. The bus where I sat looking through the darkened window soon left the area of Stanford and started to increase speed on broad roads of California. It was interesting to look at the scenery. So different from what I have seen before. In Russia, I am used to thick forests of birches or fir trees with big fields and small wooden houses, with the grey sky above and rare sunlight pouring through the clouds. Here there are mountains in a far distance and yellow almost empty ground stretching to them. Palm trees stand under bright sun as Robinson Crusoe in breechcloth of big grey leaves. The air is full of summer heat.
We arrived at the service center called Sacred Heart. A low one-story building not so remarkable among other buildings in the town turned out to be extremely valuable. According to a young woman who made a brief introduction, the organization helps five hundred families per day. I was surprised by this number. I did know already that in both San-Francisco and San Jose there are a lot of homeless people and that the service is common, but I did not expect it to be so well organized. I thought about back home. In Russia, it is not so widespread at all, whereas here I can be in any place, for example, in a swimming pool, and people will talk about volunteering. Helping others is an important part of the everyday routine that seems to be great. People give up their weekends after tiring working week to help others!
It made me think in the following way: we are born in the society, so it is inevitable that we meet others. However, we have a choice whether to devote our lives absolutely to ourselves or give some part of them to others. And caring about people, genuinely trying to help them is rewarding and valuable. Sad that I come to such a realization only now, but as a proverb goes “better now, then never”. So, my first experience in social service was eye-opening.
We were given a task to sort canned food for poor families. We lined up near tables with big boxes of canned vegetables, oranges, beans and started to work like a conveyor. Each had his/her own task. Some were responsible for putting pots in bags, some had to add pots into boxes so that the process was fast and smooth. I got a real pleasure from doing this monotonous work for three hours because the realization that it would be helpful was strong and warm.
At the end of the day, I have a strong persuasion that service is something worth developing in Russia. For sure, it will increase the strength of social bonds and open way to the better future.