“We could go through every dictionary in the world and each one would tell us the same thing, so I’m just [going to] define [volunteerism] according to how I lived it, how I became one. It’s owning up to the opportunity one was given to serve those who need service the most.”
– Taylor Menchavez
If the world functioned like the fictional society of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games,” with the countries as the different Districts, Sillimanians Taylor and Lera are among the Katniss Everdeens of the Philippines. As the Reaping is underway and the announcer calls on the names of the country’s unfortunate, of the health deficient, or plainly of those in need, they step up and break through barricades to offer their lives in service. In a society run by material incentives and rewards, as members of the health-advocating organization Volunteer Youth Leaders for Health – Philippines (VYLH-Philippines), Taylor and Lera have the selfless blood of a volunteer surging through their veins.
As Nutrition Month—along with its various volunteer health programs—comes to its last few bites off time’s plate, it pays to listen to the voices of the people who echo the message of service this month proclaims. Being members of an organization of volunteers, master of nursing student Taylor Menchavez and Institute of Clinical Laboratory Sciences faculty member Lera Almendral speak the language of volunteerism fluently—and are two of the best people who can enlighten us on the way of becoming a volunteer.
“Volunteerism is the ability to help others without expecting something in return. It’s being passionate about the good things you want for the people you care about,” Lera said.
As a person rummages through their quiver of arrows, they are volunteers if, according to Taylor, they have two basic principles in their bag: purpose and willingness. It must start within the person to foresee what their purpose of volunteering is, and the willingness to believe in what it can achieve. Taking part of a cause is a tough task, and one needs these basic principles to “sustain [their] soul with the spirit of volunteerism.”
But being a volunteer doesn’t just end in helping others; it also aids in establishing bonds between individuals fighting for the same cause. Aside from the fulfillment of advocating, Lera remains committed to being a volunteer despite her busy schedule due to the kind of friendship she has established with other members of VYLH-Philippines.
A volunteer finds satisfaction in their work for various reasons. It can be in seeing the genuine smiles of the people. It can be in making new friends. For most volunteers like Taylor, it is a basic human necessity. “It’s like food,” he said, “I need it to survive.”
To some, volunteerism rewards people with experience. It teaches them how to juggle responsibilities, and at the same time, be a catalyst for the betterment of others. For Lera, being a volunteer taught her the value of believing in one’s self. “You have to trust in your capacity to convince others in what you believe in, especially in the advocacies that you fight for. I always [had] a fear of talking in front of the crowd, and VYLH taught me to man up, be brave, and speak my thoughts with confidence.”
But in a society where apathy is rampant, how exactly does one convince others to take up the fiery apparel of a volunteer? According to Taylor, that is a point for consideration. “We can’t force people to become volunteers. They need to realize that this is a world filled with problems, that we are part of the problem—but that we can also be part of a solution. For as long as they have the heart of a volunteer, only then can they become one.”
Our own Katniss Everdeens of the campus also share in the struggles of students. They also have different roles with different responsibilities. But in making a difference, it is not enough to be academically competitive. Making a difference means stepping out, breaking through barriers, and taking a risk in saying, “I volunteer!”