Volunteering can give you many experiences. It offers you an insight into unfamiliar environments, thoughts, and values. But not all of these “experiences” can be fascinating and full of wonder; some can be heavy and painful.
I volunteer at the education department of one of my county’s non-profit organizations every week after school. It is homework help for elementary school students in a community center at a neighborhood known to be the home of many families that have low income.
I help first, second, and third graders do their math homework, and then we all go outside to play. The children are so adorable and very welcoming. They love attention and, apparently, Skittles.
One afternoon, I was outside watching a few girls playing soccer in the parking lot and making sure they didn’t run off to chase the ball when it rolled into the street. I suddenly saw a boy and a girl playing with a chair with wheels on the hill-like road in the neighborhood leading to the big street. I frowned. If they happened to lose control and roll into the street, it would be bad – no, terrible and horrifying.
I went to them and told them to stop, that it was dangerous. The boy looked straight at me and said, “I don’t care. I like pain.” A chill ran up my spine. That was something I would’ve never expected. I was speechless for a moment, and then sternly told them to stop because of the drastic consequences.
Later, I saw them at the top of the hill-like road, near the huge neighborhood trash bin, playing with a shopping cart. As soon as they saw me walking towards them with a stern face, they quickly pushed the cart (which was probably an abandoned one they found) behind the trash bin.
I told them that they could kill themselves playing with things with wheels on the road. The boy came up to me and said, “Then we’ll just die.” Then he proceeded to show me his crooked finger and told me that he had gone through a lot of pain and enjoyed it. He wasn’t afraid of killing himself, much less hurting himself.
He was 12. I was beyond shocked to hear such words come from such a young child’s mouth. I asked for their names (and found their real names from other children) and went to the manager of the neighborhood’s community center. I asked him to dispose of the shopping cart and chair with wheels properly and told him that I was worried about the two kids. He told me he’d go dispose of them right away.
However, I didn’t feel good inside at all. I knew that what I asked for was just a small, meaningless thing. Even if those items are gone, the children’s mindset would be unchanged. They will find more ways to hurt themselves, and I would be helpless to help them. I felt like I was about to cry. They were young – they might’ve grown in the wrong environment that made them care little about their own lives. I had heard from the manager of the organization that I might meet children from abusive families.
I wanted to help. Yet I didn’t know how.