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Prayers for Christmas: Volunteering and Human Rights


FMS Executive Director Kim Smolik offers a reflection as today’s prayer for Christmas:

To say I am blessed in the work I do would be an understatement. I think a job like mine is a rare gift — it takes me around the world, to places one does not usually think of visiting, into the homes of people who go from being a stranger to a friend over tea and a biscuit. Genuine exchanges happen through our stories and smiles, and in our hearts that are open to welcoming one another.

Executive Director Kim Smolik in Zambia

In this work, I am also a witness to the deep suffering in the world, manifested through poverty, war, abuse, exclusion, the lack of natural resources, migration, and other such causes. The suffering I see is not represented in statistics, news  features, or fundraising campaigns. It is right in front of me, in the lives of those who offer me one of the few biscuits they have, or their last teaspoon of sugar for my tea.

Through these encounters, I have learned valuable life lessons, albeit lessons I need to keep learning:

  • Everyone has something to give; receive it graciously.
  • Keep the small things small.
  • Practice gratitude.
  • Understand that statistics represent real people.
  • Invest today in what will matter in the last days of our lives: relationships.
  • Know that I cannot fix everything, but I can do something.
  • Recognize the extent of my privilege and respond accordingly: more privilege means more responsibility.
  • To give out of my pocket is necessary and alleviates the suffering of today; to give of myself in service for peace, justice and human rights can alleviate the suffering of tomorrow and of years to come.
December 10th is the United Nations Human Rights Day, when we celebrate the birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human Rights Day 2011

I have come to realize the impact that service and volunteerism have on human rights. Making the opportunity for service available to others is a deep passion of mine, the place where I can do my “something”.

Recently, I spent a day at the UN for the 10th Anniversary of the International Volunteer. Gathered were individuals who represented volunteerism in all three sectors of society (profit firms, government and non-profits), from smaller organizations like FMS to larger organizations such as the Peace Corps and the Red Cross/Red Crescent, and volunteer associations such as Building Bridges Coalition (of which FMS is a member).

Through volunteers, these organizations are able to promote and defend basic human rights: freedom, equality, the right to food, water, education and health care. It is through service to each other that we make human rights possible.

In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Volunteerism is a source of community strength, resilience, solidarity and social cohesion. It can bring positive social change by fostering diversity, equality and the participation of all. It is among society’s most vital assets.”

This Christmas I pray that people are inspired to offer their gifts and talents as volunteers, to serve as frontline defenders of human rights whether in their own community or across the globe

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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