Volunteering: a learning process. Part II.

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Let's deepen on the reflections about volunteering as a learning process from the perspective of Critical Pedagogy with Abi, our coordinator.

To learn during the praxis: an essential concept from Critical Pedagogy. To know, we must do. According to Paulo Freire (Brazil, 1921 - 1997), the founder of the Pedagogy of Freedom, we teach and learn from our intimate and unique relation to the world. Our vital impulse to know comes from understanding ourselves as incomplete, unfinished beings always looking for being more. From my perspective, far from proposing that we are empty beings (in the style of traditional education, where preset knowledge is imposed on us, with the purpose of “filling” our “ignorant” minds) what this concept brings to us is to acknowledge ourselves as collective beings. It invites us to think about ourselves as part of something that’s beyond our individuality. Are we unique and unrepeatable beings? Of course, we are. But we are allowed to be ourselves because there are others to be with us. We are links in a collectivities and affections chain, where every one of us exists both in relation and in contraposition to others. I am because others also are. The other ones are the difference, what I am not, but at the same time they allow and create the space for me to be. The summon of all of this otherness, of all of these differences, is what we call a community. And inside the community, knowledge is translated into experience. In Freire’s words: “we all know something, we all ignore something. That’s why we are always learning”.


This basic concept from Freirean Pedagogy it’s just so wonderful for me because it implies the fact that for me to be okay I need the community to be okay as well. If I’m allowed to be me because others also are, I’ll be okay when everyone is. Social Justice takes on its own identity, enveloping us under the same mantle and pushing us to the same horizon. And from this same perspective, knowledge is no longer “content”, it becomes experiences. Experiences that we inevitably share with others. 

So… How does volunteering as a learning process fit this idea about education (and I would dare to say about the world)? To illustrate this thought, I will share with you a fragment of one of our most recent volunteers' feedback during his final meeting. About his experience in a soup kitchen, he said that at first, he came without knowing what to expect because he neither was sure about what volunteering was. He knew he wanted to do something different, with more significance than meaning. This difference he stated was a little bit confusing at first, but found clarity along with the reflections made on his feedback. Besides the short time he spent working in the kitchen, he felt that he comprehended what being a volunteer meant: When leaving the project, after a full of work morning, he would leave with this uncomfortable feeling that he was just passing through. It was so obvious to him that his contribution was very limited in comparison to the work that they were already doing before he came, and the work they would continue to do after he left… It was clear that the work was already being done and would continue to be so, with or without him there. This uncomfortable feeling he was describing, for him was proof that if you try to volunteer for personal gratification, to feel important, or to make a difference, then it’s pointless. His presence was ephemeral, but that didn’t take the value out of the experience: he opened up to share and receive what his time there allowed and learned things that he wouldn’t have been able to learn in another context. And he was transformed with a bigger and renewed view of the world. In his own beautiful words: he learned to be a volunteer by volunteering. To learn, he had to do. And thanks to all of this, the difference in meaning and significance made more sense than ever: meaning is related to personal gratification, something has meaning to me regardless of others. On the other hand, when something provides significance is related to collectiveness, it necessarily implies others. It states that the meaning of something has found a value beyond itself. 

Can we change the world by volunteering? Well… I don’t think so. But we can change. We can amplify our vision of the world, we can meet and commit to other realities, and hear other voices and other stories than the ones we get to know where we came from. And we can learn. We can be transformed, and let ourselves be affected. And step by step we can strengthen each link of the chain. That’s why I invite you, and invite us all, to keep looking to being more. To keep building community.

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