On the Richter scale of challenging feats, I expect our service trip to hover somewhere between upsetting my sister and convincing my brother to rub my back. Our work and routines won’t come naturally, but they also won’t be impossible. The eternal bus rides, draconian curfews*, and scorching temperatures will all be subordinate to our iron wills. Or at least to our air conditioners. The only challenge in Williamson I foresee surpassing the brother back-rub is a different kind of predicament, one concerned with feelings. Specifically, feeling useful. I really want to believe that I will strengthen a community, but when you’re an unskilled worker dwarfed by a sea of peers, what you build can seem almost arbitrary.
An extraordinary number of youth is going on this service trip. So many youth are going, in fact, that I have forgotten the exact number of youth going. For community building, for Appalachian awareness, and for college resumes this is brilliant. But it does prompt a silly sounding question: why is it necessary we work? Our assignments (restoring a playground, installing community gardens, removing dead trees from public areas, and miscellaneous) don’t require myriad unskilled noobs, but a few experienced experts. And considering we have no idea how to do what we’re doing, our numbers may facilitate construction only as often as they inhibit it. We must either be taught the delicacies of construction, or be trusted only to complete the most elementary of projects. Projects that machines could complete with more speed and often higher quality. It doesn’t seem like our monster mass of high schoolers will necessarily benefit Williamson, let alone be an integral part of our trip. If Bob the Builder were a real person he would be rolling in his grave at such inefficiency. He would also be dead for some reason.
These thoughts are what I wish to combat while in Williamson. And I think I know how. Truly, the work we complete in Williamson is quite possibly arbitrary. Playgrounds will be built and dead trees will be removed from public areas regardless of our attendance. Despite our benevolent characters, our work could easily be done by tractors and caterpillars. Our work is kindhearted and helpful, but just a little empty. Our work is a steppingstone. True service won’t culminate in labor and must be followed by something technology and the machine cannot achieve alone: communication and education. These are the pinnacles of our service trip. Do not enter thinking only of what you can accomplish in Williamson, but also of what you can learn in Williamson. And then of what you can teach at home. When you begin to educate others you begin to spread the global awareness necessary to combat injustices and hardships such as Mingo county’s poverty. Anyone can build a park, but only you can educate your friends, and your family, and your neighbors, and your crazy aunts, and start to change the world.
Our work only feels meaningless if you think about it for longer than you’re supposed to. Please do. If you do not look and listen to Williamson’s woes, you only fight half the battle. If you do not educate, you will not win. Remember your service never stops. Remember you are not a tractor.
*Shhh, only if you’re caught
Written by Adam Kaminski