Young Adult Volunteers commit to serving a minimum of one year in the U.S. or Internationally at one of our sites. YAVs have the opportunity to volunteer alongside local partners, engaging in work and conversation around issues that address poverty, reconciliation, and what it means to share the hope of Christ through service. This blog is a chance to stay updated on what is happening in the life of the YAV program, whether that is with our current volunteers, our abundance of alum, the YAV office, or our YAV partners. The conversations and tough issues that we spend countless hours talking about as YAV’s don’t end when the year does; welcome to the conversation! If you have more questions, feel free to email.
YAV Stories Published Online:
by David Wigger, YAVA-Kenya 2011-2012
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit”
Before you read, please watch this short New York Times Video by Boniface Mwangi: “An African’s Message for America”, and listen to his message to American service volunteers.
“You don’t know those people, they don’t know you.”
“You are not going there to save anybody, you are going there to save yourself”
“Africa doesn’t need a savior.”
“Why are you doing it?”
These are just a few of the challenges Mwangi gives us. And as an organization that’s sole purpose is to send young volunteers into other communities for “service work”, this challenge is directed at us. Not everyone in our organization goes abroad, but most of our more than a thousand volunteers served in communities other than their own. There are a few exceptions, but the stark reality is that Mwangi is asking the Young Adult Volunteers what we are doing?
“But when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had worked so hard to achieve, I realized that it was pointless—a chasing after wind.”
I don’t have an answer for him. When I went to Kenya with YAV in 2011, I went for me. I went for the stories. I went for the adventure. I went for the self-righteousness. I went so I could become closer to God. And now my resume sticks out. Seminaries love YAVs, making me a better candidate for scholarships. I am typing this reflection at an internship I would not have gotten if I wasn’t a YAV. And I am closer to God because I went to Kenya.
And I don’t know if I left anything for anyone while I was there.
I’d like to think that my students at the secondary school learned from me. I’d like to think the relationships I formed were real and important and part of the one body. I’d like to think that something I did was permanent.
But the truth is my impact on Kenya will be as fleeting as the time I spent there. I did not save Kenya. If anything I further perpetuated stereotypes of Americans. And did I really experience life there? My simple living was not the same as others’ simple living. I called myself “poor” while going out to eat with money from a saving account. I got “exotic” diseases while having free health insurance. I “experienced” the dry season from my privilege as an American, whom the community insured would get clean water.
Mwangi is right to call out volunteers. Mwangi is right to call out the YAV program. Mwangi is right to call out me.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
So what does that mean? Should YAV close up shop? Should we send everyone home except for the very, very few of you who are in your home community? Should you never travel? Should you only ever think about your backyard?
I don’t think that is the answer either. The YAV program changed me, and continues to change me. The relationships I formed, the people I met and loved, the country that was so beautiful that I cried, the suffering that was so painful I cried, the continent that will always occupy a section of my soul, it all has changed the way I see the world. It has changed the way I see my neighbor. It has changed the way I live, I love, I read, I listen, I write, I walk, and I pray. My YAV experience changed the way I see my own community. It changed the way I see myself. It changed how I interact with the world.
My YAV experience made climate change personal; it made gender-oppression real; it made #BlackLivesMatter matter; it made listening more important than talking; it made being more important than doing; it made humility more important than arrogance; it made being God’s child more important than being God’s savior.
I don’t know how to respond to Mwangi. His words are wise and challenging, but my YAV experience was powerful and important to me. I continue to wrestle with how to honor both, but my YAV year taught me it is important to listen to the challenge.
How I read the Mwangi challenge is that it sets a really high bar for when and how we should be involved in mission. For us (the YAV program and World Mission), it always has to be in partnership, with a locally-led partner. It has to be sustainable – not dependent on outside resources to flourish. It has to be relational – building up the local church and partners as its first goal. And we always have to be invited to be there. We aren't perfect, but if we don’t meet those bars, we have look at if we should be engaged at all.
If I put myself in my YAV year, sitting at the church literally having NO idea what to do that day – and this is real – I would have found comfort in the fact that sometimes we just don’t know. But not knowing doesn't mean not acting, not learning, and not continuing to search.
To hear what hippos can tell us about aid work, check out: TED Radio Hour: Ernesto Sirolli, Is There a Right and a Wrong Way to Help Someone?
For a similar, but much funnier, video along the same vein, check out: Daily Show: Trevor Noah, “Spot the Africa”
Louisville Seminary Field Education Intern
Young Adult Volunteers
Presbyterian World Mission
(800) 728-7228, ext. 5323
CPJ Training/Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2015
We're glad you're interested in attending Advocacy Training Day and Ecumenical Advocacy Days through the YAV office. We are offering scholarships to 8 YAV Alum who would like to attend EAD 2015. The YAV office will cover your registration and your housing (location TBA) for this event. You will be responsible for your own travel along with a $20 check to secure your place.
Please fill out all sections of the form below. We will contact you regarding your form within a week of receiving it.
The date for Advocacy Training Day ...
New York City
National YAV Site Coordinator
Implementation of the Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program in New York City and promotion of the YAV program overall. The site coordinator is the point person for all communication and oversight of the volunteers, placements, local partners, and local board relationships.
Hours: 20 hours on average with fluxes in calendar according to need
Essential position tasks and responsibilities: