Wednesday, August 17, 2011

An American Volunteer at YMP's Soup Kitchen

by Crystal Corman

YMP got to know Crystal through some mutual friends a year ago. She's a graduate student in Washington, DC at American University and Wesley Theological Seminary. She was in Malaysia as a Boren Fellow. In addition to studying bahasa, she conducted research on the participation of Muslim women in Malaysia's various Islamic institutions. She regularly joined us at talks, events and charity projects and the bonds she has formed with YMP will last even though she is now all the way in Nebraska, US. This is her account of volunteering with YMP's Soup Kitchen.

Even though I knew I’d only be living in Kuala Lumpur for less than a year, I was excited to join with YMP’s service to feed the poor and homeless. I’m an American graduate student in Malaysia to do fieldwork for my master’s degree. Though poverty is not part of my research project, I do want to meet a wide variety of Malaysians to gain a broader perspective of the country and society. But at a deeper level, it is my faith as a Christian that compels me to feed the hungry.

Jesus taught that we must not ignore the poor. As he spoke with and ate with people who were normally  reated as outcasts, he gave them dignity; they too are children of God. When I go to Soup Kitchen, I am bold enough to look these hungry people in the eyes, offering a kind word as well as food. The Soup Kitchen  operation runs smoothly with multiple volunteers coordinating efforts, but I most enjoy interacting with the people we’re serving.

In reality, our interaction is minimal as the number of needy grows while we strive to serve quickly and fairly. But I have observed that regular volunteers do form relationships with the regulars in the queue. I’ll admit I didn’t attend regularly but see the value in doing so. As you volunteer you’ll surely meet other YMP youth but try to commit to regular attendance to show those we serve that you haven’t forgotten them. They’ll be just as glad to see you’ve showed up once again.

In addition to my faith, volunteerism has become common for Americans. For example, even my grandmother sews a few simple quilts each year to donate through our church to needy families in Africa. But I would say my generation is different from my grandmother’s. Giving “charity” fulfills a basic and immediate need; certainly it is necessary as a person is cold, sick, thirsty or hungry now. But in addition to filling this need, I am concerned with why the person is hungry. Why don’t they have the money to buy food? Why can’t they find or keep a job?

It is my hope that all those who participate in YMP’s Soup Kitchen efforts will mingle with those most of us try to ignore on the street. As we look them in the eye, we can see they aren’t so different from us. Handing them sustenance to fill their stomach is only a small and temporary fix for their troubles. I hope that YMP volunteers will begin to investigate the complex reasons these people are living in poverty. Each  has his or her unique story. In my own career, I hope to understand root causes to societal injustices. May we all look beyond the act of charity to see how systems could be changed so that operations such as Soup Kitchen are no longer necessary, when fewer - rather than more – joining the queue.



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