The idea of privilege and understanding one’s true intent when volunteering their time and efforts was one that resonated with me today. Throughout the entire day, I encountered a variety of different people that said things that stuck with me. One of these people was a volunteer here at St. Andre’s who shared her experience about being a previous guest of this organization. At St. Andre’s, the staff and volunteers refer to these people who are homeless who use their facilities as guests in order to give them back their sense of dignity as a human, which they rightfully deserve. She talked about how she had so much gratitude for everything that the organization had done for her and how she wanted to give back to those who were in the unfortunate circumstances she had previously been in. I saw how much this volunteer was genuine about her intentions. Her experience with homelessness had allowed her to empathize fully with these people who are currently homeless using St. Andre’s facilities because this place had touched and helped her during what I would assume was a dark period in her life. It really made me think introspectively more about the intent of me being here and what the purpose of this immersion experience truly was. Yet while I was able to encounter such a wonderful woman like the volunteer here at St. Andre’s, I also encountered a woman who, although probably had pure intentions, seemed to treat her volunteering efforts in a more selfish way. During the Oregon Food Bank packing session, this woman was talking about how she would semi-regularly bring her and her family to volunteer at this facility. But in her response, she kept emphasizing how this “made her feel good about herself”. It was something that stuck with me because I feel like many times, people with a sizeable amount of privilege will discuss certain issues regarding marginalized communities or people who can’t necessarily advocate for themselves in a way that focuses more on themselves. For example, people will talk extensively how they are such good people for being aware of certain social issues, thereby focusing less on the true problem. It comes off as them having a savior-complex and only willing to educate themselves and be aware of certain issues for the sake of their reputation. Yet I know that while although some people who are volunteering may come off as arrogant, they are just unaware about the bigger picture and the complexities about certain situations. I know this for a fact because we all, myself included have been there. But it is important for us to be open-minded and try to understand the experiences and circumstances of others. It is not enough to just volunteer at your local food bank sometimes and then call it day. It is up to us to be more aware of privilege, how we can use it to benefit those that they may need it, and willing to learn so that we can better value the dignity of all humans.
-Andre Jaurigui, Urban Immersion 2019