What volunteering taught me about the value of solidarity

Helen and her dog Sherlock

Helen is a CAFOD volunteer who worked as a translator alongside our communications team for the Latin America and the Caribbean region.

An opportunity as unusual as my personal strengths

Volunteering with CAFOD is one of the most fulfilling things I did in the months I was looking for work after finishing my master’s degree in translation. I knew that I wanted to use what I had learned to help others in the practical ways that Jesus consistently emphasises, but finding an appropriate opportunity wasn’t easy.

I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be someone else, but I often get the impression that, as an autistic person, I struggle with tasks that most people wouldn’t think twice about. I have some specialised skills, yes, but how was I supposed to provide any practical support when some of the most basic skills feel extremely complicated to me? I had to find an opportunity as unusual as my personal set of strengths and weaknesses, and I found this volunteering with CAFOD.

This would not only give me something useful to do, but also develop my understanding of CAFOD, its partner organisations, and God’s solidarity with oppressed communities and individuals, into something much richer than before.

Putting my solidarity into action

My main task as a CAFOD volunteer was to translate interviews with community members and local organisations (partners) CAFOD works alongside. I wasn’t familiar with the partnership model beforehand – I think I imagined that CAFOD representatives were just going to communities and fixing their problems for them.

In reality, it’s the highly qualified experts within these communities that are leading the battle for their rights. Nonetheless, these experts and the organisations they represent benefit immensely from the resources, practical assistance and solidarity of international partners like CAFOD.

All over the world, there are people whose most basic rights are ignored in favour of corporate profit. As a volunteer, I studied and translated the powerful testimonies of people in Latin America who have been denied access to clean water, criminalised for speaking out against injustice, and even lost loved ones who were murdered for defending human rights and the environment.

My first file was an interview with a lawyer who was under house arrest for a false charge because of his advocacy for the landless. As well as his own criminalisation, he spoke about the situation of the communities he represents and the murder of a community leader. Another case concerned a community that has lived with the presence of mining for decades, and whose health is suffering as their drinking water contains toxic metals.

Hope for the future

The human cruelty in these situations is astounding. But what is even more remarkable is the resilience of the interviewees who continue to fight for change. Many spoke not only about the ways in which their rights were being denied and abused, but also about their hope for the future and their faith in God. I developed a great admiration for this, and for their expertise in the fields they work in.

My own contribution was, of course, small in comparison. But translating moving testimonies about the value of solidarity helped me to see the value of all contributions. I also began to explore the theme of God’s own solidarity in my prayers – an exercise that was greatly enriched by the fact that I could no longer view “the oppressed” as a faceless mass, but as human beings with names, faces and voices.

I finally found full time work a year after finishing university, which will sadly leave me with less time for volunteering. I hope I won’t become indifferent to the injustices that I know are continuing. I will take forward what I’ve learned about the value of solidarity – and I will pray that I will be ready the next time I come across an opportunity to put my own solidarity into action!

Author: CAFOD

CAFOD stands for the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development. We are an international development charity and the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. We stand beside people living in poverty – whatever their religion or culture. Through local church partners, we help people directly in their own communities, and campaign for global justice, so that everyone can reach their full potential. How to get involved with CAFOD None of our work is possible without you. Whether you donate, campaign, download prayers or volunteer we are grateful for your support.

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