Volunteering as the desire to help and serve

By Karen Tay

Volunteering is an activity that has been increasing in Guatemala, especially among young people, but it is still an under-recognized activity. Over time, young people have shown that citizen participation and political advocacy go beyond political parties, with the execution of conscious actions that demonstrate the leadership of young people in different spaces, obtaining surprising results in a society with such obvious and constant problems.

Engaging in different activities through volunteering encourages the participation and involvement of youth, helps develop individual characteristics such as leadership, responsibility, empathy and teamwork, but above all contributes to a collective awakening of social awareness. 

Being a volunteer represents a series of challenges and difficulties, by the simple fact of being an ad honorem work where valuable resources are invested such as time or economic resources to cover basic needs (transport, food, accommodation). This limits many people to participate, especially those in remote locations, who have no income or who have strict schedules to keep. However, having the opportunity to do so is a satisfying experience in many ways.

From my own experience, I can say that belonging to a group such as the Network of Young Artists for Social Justice (JAxJS), composed of young people who develop analytical, critical and innovative thinking through art, motivates me to express my ideas freely, create alliances and seek strategies of change for the benefit of young people, as a way of demonstrating to society in general the injustices that various sectors of the population live daily.

The Network of Young Artists for Social Justice has just celebrated its fourth anniversary. It has been four years of hard work in which it has been shown that the desire, struggle and work of youth has no limits and that, through union, practice and the development of skills in artistic expressions (music, painting, singing, poetry, theatre, dance, oratory, writing, etc.) it is possible to break the silence and take action before the unfair sociocultural processes that have been imposed on us. 

Taking into account the commitment of more than 500 young people who make up the network, the result has been to establish different offices in the departments of Quetzaltenango, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Totonicapán and Guatemala City, opening spaces for training and creating opportunities for the empowerment of young people.

With the arrival of Covid-19 in our country, many voluntary activities that are carried out on different dates throughout the year were suspended, since face-to-face interaction is the basis of the voluntary organizational processes. However, with the new technological strategies it was necessary to adopt new forms of work; even, in many cases, confinement motivated young people to get involved in these spaces.

Like JAxJS, there are other networks and/or organized groups led by young people that seek the fulfillment of human rights and social justice, addressing issues that allow raising awareness and informing young people and the population in general. I call on all those organizations, institutions, ministries or national and municipal government entities to strengthen support for volunteer groups, providing the necessary resources to implement actions, create alliances and take into account the participation of young volunteers; at the same time I urge all civil society to support the various activities of their communities and motivate young people to be aware of the calls to be part of these excellent processes.

JaxS has made an alliance with Entremundos for some years, which has been vital because through the elaboration of murals, reforestation days and orchards, it has been possible to have a greater impact on the actions proposed and of collective benefit. I thank every volunteer for their work. Remember that in the words of Marianne Williamson, “nothing frees our greatness like the desire to help and serve.”

*Karen Tay is member of the Board of Directors and member of JAxJS in Quetzaltenango.