Why I Volunteer

More often than we would like to admit, we lead curiously monotonous lives. Work, home and the occasional insufficient vacation. We could hardly be blamed for not placing a priority on how those around us are going about their own lives. But this is not about them. It is about us and how their plight affects us.

When I was a moderately religious person, I limited my caring for anyone who was not family to perhaps a few coins, hoping to appease and gain favor of those ever elusive men and women of the sky (I was raised in a Hindu family). Once I was convinced of their nonexistence, logically, one would assume I would find no reason to care for any other human with no economic or familial ties.

But I soon realized, while there were too many of us looking up with hope, there were too few of us looking around. The more I looked, the more I found gaps. Gaps that society had left untouched. Gaps that several organizations were increasingly leaping up to fill. This is a story about some of these organizations that Houston Oasis volunteers, including me, have found.

When I first heard about the reality of food deficit households in this “developed country” or witnessed the joy on the faces of seniors when their Meals on Wheels packages were delivered on Thanksgiving, it made me more determined to come for the next shift.

Working at the Houston Food Bank has given me some stark statistics about my neighbors. At the same time, volunteers there show me, every shift, how communities of varying faiths and social classes can come together to make a difference. Plus, they work in a high energy and fun environment all through the year. I am sure first time volunteers will find it a great place to work as I did a few years ago.

I was floored to know that while kids above poverty line in the United States have at least 3 books per child (a ridiculously low number), kids below the poverty line have 1 book per 300 kids! They just do not have any books to develop their reading skills at home especially during their summer breaks. Organizations like Books Between Kids are essential in improving childhood literacy rates and they depend on our volunteer efforts. We sort, we box and we read our favorite childhood story. That is always a good day!
We also volunteer at Exploration Green in the Clear Lake area close to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The progress on this former golf course turned public park cum nature preserve is something that must been seen in person. Over the last few years, Oasians volunteered for the tree and wetland nursery shifts caring for the plants in the peak Houston summer while helping plant these very trees and plants along the shore line and inside the stream during the rest of the year. This not only prevents erosion and improves flood control but also brings back birds, insects and other wildlife to the area. Today, the concrete lined drainage ditch is being replaced by a true oasis in its own right. Did you know only Phase 1 is complete thus far and the rest of the phases are ongoing?

But the volunteers of Houston Oasis do not just limit our efforts to the Houston area. We volunteer regularly at Project Cure where we sort medical supplies meant for developing countries. Having lived in a developing country for most of my life, I have seen the extent to which hospitals in poorer areas of the country need basic supplies and equipment and how Project Cure and its volunteers’ truly commendable work can save lives.

It's been a year since the floods of Harvey went through the Houston area. While worrying about self-preservation was normal, watching the devastation and the overwhelming of shelters was hard. Oasians took the first safe opportunity to get to the city shelters to volunteer in that massive operation and the subsequent cleanup operations at several homes of our neighbors and friends.

We do not do this out of fear of supernatural retribution but out of a sense of solidarity with our neighbors and friends. We help and rebuild because it makes us stronger as humanity. It is most fitting that two of the Oasis Core values : ”Human Hands Solve Human Problems” and ”Meaning Comes From Making A Difference” directly reflect this purpose we have found in our very real world.

Finally, this is also a call to arms. Find your local volunteer group or come find us. Our world needs you and perhaps one day we can solve some of these very Human Problems.