Reflections on Service – Choice and Volunteering

December 1st 2011

Work, and working. Choice and choosing. Ncito Yakosa, Ncito Bwino Bwino. Hard work is good work. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” A perfect companion to my current feelings. I am many things; a man, a boy, a curious child, a reasoning adult, a friend, a teacher, a mentor, a facilitator, a listener, a role model, a farmer (woo Zambia!), a fisherman, a carpenter, a mason, an experimenter… but most importantly I’m a family member, a brother, a son, a lover, an eternal student, and a volunteer. I live my life working… working to shape my dreams, to learn, grow, and become a better man.

A OneWorld Futbol Distribution in my catchment - Lifting the youth up to a healthier future through play

I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. For the next 24 months I will be serving my community and my fellow human beings in development. With topics ranging from HIV/AIDS, Opportunistic Infections (OIs), Food Security, Integrated Reproductive Health, Hygiene, Malaria, Nutrition and Child Development, Women and Development (WID/WAD) and Gender and Development (GAD), with Youth Development, Sanitation and water treatment/water source protection, data collection and the aggregation of that data into usable statistics. The development of project proposals and community education, as well as branching into agriculture, water harvesting, and a myriad of other projects including teaching about American culture, and learning about Zambian culture. In essence, we give of our experience to share the blessings of our lives. Our time and our knowledge built from our experiences in a first world nation, our access to resources, opportunity, knowledge, and freedom prepares us to be a bridge and linkage; to support the sustainable development and build capacity within those who were not born into the luxuries and freedoms they deserve.

Working with beautiful, strong people like this traditional birth attendant:

Traditional Birth Attendant and NHC member in Chofwe

Churchill’s sentiment is dead on. I worked in America to get things. To acquire a lifestyle that was suited to luxuries and freedoms, but it wasn’t until I gave everything I had, that I truly discovered my life. It wasn’t until I stepped forth, from my protected world, into the harsh light of reality, that I understood what it meant to be alive, to be an American citizen, and to be so unbelievably lucky. What is our life? How many little things do we allow to slip away unnoticed? When was the last time you asked where your trash went? When did you last consider how amazing and life altering having clean drinking water was? Having that water in your home? Having electricity, cars, phones, internet, books… Knowing how to read? When was the last time you gave thanks for being able to look at a sign and understand what it said? Or being able to go to a library, a storehouse of so much knowledge, and have access to those wonderful tomes?

The blackboard after I built it on the front of my hut that I use to teach about health, development, empowerment and literacy.

The blackboard after i built it on the front of my hut, I use it to teach about Health, Development, Empowerment and Literacy

We make a life of what we give… what a thought! What a feeling! What a universal truth. Our life is nothing but survival, a living, without the relationships, the compromise, the give and the take, that define us. It’s not until we step forward, take responsibility for our lives and develop our own sense of purpose and place… give of ourselves, give freely and without reservation. It’s not until we teach, and are taught, interchange and grow that we make our lives.

Every moment is an informal opportunity to teach and to learn:

Teaching informally and constantly learning in general conversation with community members

I firmly believe that we are who we choose to be, and by that measure, our choices define us, they give us purpose, hope, and future. From the dawn of time choice and freedom have been integral to the defining characteristic of our existence. It’s present in every scripture and every teaching, choice is what makes us unique, special, and powerful. Think on the bible, if you’re the religious type, you know that choice is the gift that god gave us, that makes our lives so special and that allows us to choose right or wrong, to understand, grow, and be forgiven. If you’ve had an adverse reaction to religion, or have rejected dogma in order to accept faith, you know that what gives you power, what makes you human, what creates the reality that you perceive, is choice. The right to choose. No one can ever take it away from you, stripped of all else, you have but one thing left. Choice.

Fear is normal, but conquering it is key, like sneaking up on a resting lion, an opportunity is waiting for us to choose to seize it, and the way to do that is to make choices, and stand firmly behind them:

A cliffside moment of fear - coming close to lions

If our choices define us, why are we often so afraid to choose? What indescribable force is so terrifying that we follow instead of leading? Nothing. To follow, to lead, to live, to die, to give, to forgive, all these things… are choices. We choose to follow, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of ignorance, or perhaps because we agree with the ideas of the leader – perhaps we don’t follow, but step forward together, hand in hand, strengthened by our choice to work together, to stand side by side. We are creatures of choice, beings chained to an unalienable right…a responsibility we can never surrender to another, or transfer from ourselves. The right to choose. Choice is the base freedom; it is, in my mind, the origin of society. Isn’t it time you started taking note of the choices you make? Perhaps it’s time to start making a life, instead of making a living. Maybe it’s time to take stock, gain perspective, become aware of you and your choices, and give.

You may find that your choices will lead you on an unbelievable adventure:

An Elephant came to visit

I’m not talking about money, or things. I’m talking about something much more valuable, something you can’t earn, and can’t sell. I’m talking about time. Using your time to help others. Choosing to give knowledge, and aid of all types to those less fortunate than you.

They’re waiting for you:

Children at Growth Monitoring and Promotion beckoning me to go an play

Perhaps you say to yourself, I have nothing… I have nowhere to go, I’m at the bottom. My life isn’t what I want it to be, I have no choices, I have no power. It’s times like these that you should be reminded, and remember what you already know. That you can always choose, that your life is what you choose to make it. Perhaps some other variables are outside of your control – whether you get the job, if you’re in an accident or are a victim of violence, but those events do not strip you of your choice. You can apply for another job, and another, and another, until you find what you need – you only need to continue choosing to do so. You can recover from an accident, mentally or physically – perhaps you’re incapacitated, you can still live an amazing life sharpening your intellect – if you choose to do so. Perhaps you’ve been attacked or a victim of violence, fear, and hate… you can choose to step forward, accept those events and move on. Choice is the ultimate power. The only catch? You have to accept your decisions.

You have to step forward, choose not to be a victim and experience the world – experience something mindblowing:

Greeting a community child for the first time - I was the first white man he'd ever met

Choose to be yourself, choose to savor every moment, and to share your blessings with those who did not have access to the same resources, choose to stand forward, and give. Even a man with nothing can step forward and choose to give everything. When I worked for the American Red Cross in the Arizona Chapters Emergency Services division, I had the opportunity to volunteer and give aid during Arizona’s largest fire. I saw families and individuals who had lost everything, homes burned, all possessions gone, health threatened… families without a roof over their head. Yet they choose to step forward and give of themselves. Now as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the developing world, I see the same human drive, the same beautiful moments, spirit, and soul. People with nothing, choose to step forward and volunteer. To give the only thing they have, time and love. Instead of wallowing in despair and fear, alone and without hope, they step forward to change their lives and make a difference for those that follow. Churchill had it right, this is the power of making a life.

Standing proud in my choices - happy and working hard with counterparts and children


7 responses to “Reflections on Service – Choice and Volunteering”

  1. Alex Berger Avatar

    This is an incredible post. Very proud of you bro. Profoundly touching. Thank you!

  2. Noah Avatar

    Word. This is something an existentialist could get on board with. Our free will is only stifled if we choose to let it be.

  3. C. Descry Avatar

    Just finished my third read-through. I am even more impressed each time I read and think about what you so beautifully wrote. As a result, I have gone back in my memories and re-visited choices I made and the cascades of adventures that resulted. I think of the lives I touched and the forces I set into motion. Thankfully, I have few regrets.
    David Nathaniel Berger, you are becoming a great American author. What you share makes waves so vast they cover the world.
    Thank you!!

  4. glitcher21 Avatar

    There’s something in my eye. That was beautiful.

  5. Thomas Puleo Avatar
    Thomas Puleo


    Wonderful to hear from you! I found Mansa, Luapula, Zambia on the map – you can’t get much more remote than that. Sounds like you are having the time of your life and I envy you all of your adventures and insights. I remember looking over at you in class one day and you had you head down on the desk, probably wondering when the whole boring session was going to end. I am glad you have, at least for the time being, found your niche in life. Keep grad school in mind, you might enjoy being in school again after such a profound experience. In any case, you will have much to offer your classmates and, dare I say, your professors.

    All the best.


    ps: make sure you keep John Agnew on your list:

  6. David Berger Avatar

    Thanks Tom!! Will do. I draw on your class quite often. Culture, place, and heritage. What we talked about and you taught me help me create culturally appropriate and sensitive trainings. Understanding place and tradition makes my work more sustainable, and effective.

    I must have been in deep contemplation that day… Sorry about that.

  7. […] to me about why I wanted to be a volunteer. That is in another place, you can find it here – Reflections on Service Choice and Volunteering, and it still holds true. I hope that you can return there, read those words, and understand why I […]

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