WHY I CHOSE TO VOLUNTEER AT PRERNA
I have been volunteering for PRERNA for a little over a year now. After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a B.A. degree in English Literature, I began living and working within the Washington D.C. area. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have backpacked throughout many parts of the world including: New Zealand, South America and Europe. Through these experiences, I have ultimately become a more mindful and caring person.
I remember very clearly the first time I ever felt out of place in another country. It’s a feeling that has stayed with me ever since and what drives me to volunteer at PRERNA. Disoriented and tired, my partner and I had recently started our journey through South America. At the time, we were in Medellin, Colombia where we decided to take public transportation to make the most of our funds and experience.
It was on that first ride through the city that my “outsider-ness” became blinding. The metro car was loud and filled with people that didn’t look or sound like me. Looking around the car, I caught everyone’s eyes. They were all asking questions that I could not understand. At that moment, I realized for the first time in my life that I was the different one. My skin was not the same color as theirs; My tongue did not make the same sounds as theirs; This land was not my land. It was my first real taste of being an outsider. I was terrified of that feeling; but as our journey progressed, I grew to welcome it and eventually used this experience as fuel to help others.
When we returned home, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others but had no direction. At the time I found PRERNA, U.S. President Trump had recently declared a travel ban in January 2017 right after his inauguration, which seemed like a war on refugees. He used his executive power to implement the travel ban that affected anyone entering the U.S. from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. I joined PRERNA as a volunteer because I was disillusioned with our current state of politics, and wanted to fight back and make a difference. I wanted to take a stand to help others less fortunate than me and welcome refugee families who had risked, and most of the time lost, everything to get here ~ PRERNA fit the bill for me.
Feeling like an outsider is extremely uncomfortable, as I had found throughout my travels. However, the difference between these families and my experience abroad is that these families don’t get to go back home. The memories they hold of their native countries are just that, memories. The refugee families that we welcome arrive in the U.S. with little more than their hopes and dreams to rebuild their lives in a safe place. They did not choose to come here. This is not a vacation for them. This is their home now. The mission at PRERNA is to welcome refugees across all ethnicities and faiths and help them become independent with essential services and continuum care. PRERNA empowers refugee families to rebuild a sustainable life and become productive citizens as if the U.S. has always been their home.
What I found at PRERNA was more than work or a volunteer opportunity, it was a family. From the top down. it’s clear that each and every person at PRERNA cares about the mission. The single fact that the entire organization is run by volunteers screams that. I have to give a lot of credit of my success and achievements to my manager. Without her guidance and leadership, I would never have thought possible the goals that we have accomplished together. Over the year, I have honed my social media management skills, planned and implemented two fund development campaigns, assisted in PRERNA’s website overhaul and learned more about email marketing than I ever imagined. However, the biggest take away is the fact that at the end of each quarter I know I’m helping refugee families feel safe and more comfortable in their new home. They are thriving in a new country that they can now call their own.