For many, 2020 was a year of misfortune and hardship. Losing loved ones due to COVID-19, business foreclosures due to prolonged lockdowns (and the concomitant increase in unemployment), as well as the sudden shift to online learning have all contributed to ongoing struggles. However, throughout it all, there have been people helping others in their communities.
At Punahou, there are a variety of clubs focused on community service. One notable club is Helping Oncology Patients Everywhere (HOPE) which is run by Noah Chung.
In regards to the work his club does, Noah Chung said, “Since all of our normal activities have been cancelled due to COVID-19, we decided to work with Mrs. Bender to crochet hats for newborn babies. They are not accepting donations at this time, but they did before the pandemic. We’re planning on collecting and saving them until they reopen for donations.”
Chung believes that volunteering is important because it broadens perspective. “Oftentimes people who are more privileged than others cannot see outside of their own upbringing, something that even I can attest to. Glimpsing the true nature of things such as poverty and climate change fosters a desire in people to bring change. A broader perspective is especially important in those who will grow to become those who represent us,” he said.
Natalie Kaku has been spending her free time volunteering for the Bishop Museum and Honolulu Humane Society. She said, “I have a huge passion for helping others. I volunteer at the Humane Society and when an animal finds a home, it’s a really exciting experience to be involved with.”
Other students are starting community service projects of their own. Melia Nikolai is attempting to receive her gold award from the Girl Scouts of the USA. To complete this goal, she must organize a service project in her community. She recognized that Hawaii relies too much on imports. Nikolai’s focus is on helping the people of Hawaii learn to grow their own food in order to promote agricultural self-reliance. She is sending people seeds to learn how to grow their own food in any living situation. She aims to “make videos teaching people how to [grow] things like avocado and papaya where you don’t have to buy the seeds because you can just use the seeds that are given to you with the fruit.”
Aiya Bettinger is also involved in public service. She is currently working with the Ana Aqra Association. The Ana Aqra Project focuses on reading and providing books for underprivileged Lebanese children in public schools. Bettinger is the Hawaii Chapter coordinator. She believes public service is important.
She said, “It’s always been a pretty important issue to me. I recognize that I have more than other people and that inequality makes me uncomfortable.” She also thinks community service is humanising. Bettinger said, “Immanuel Kant said that we should treat each person as an end in themself rather than a means, and I think community service really helps you see the individuality and the ‘end’ in everyone. When you see the Arab world on television, especially refugees, it just consists of this group of homogenised people that don’t really exist. You don’t feel anything when you hear about the explosion in Beirut, or see another human rights violation in Palestine because here in the west, we’ve accepted that people in the Middle East are going to die. But when I go [to Lebanon], I see each of the children and I teach them things. I met a young girl named Aya who ran up to me when I was leaving [her] school and she hugged me and told me that she loved me. This really affected me because we have the same name and are both Lebanese, but I know she would never be able to reach the level of success I could because of my privileges. But why shouldn’t she be afforded everything that I was?”
This is just a small group of people who are doing all they can to make a difference in their community. In a world where everything is uncertain, it’s important to use one’s privileges to help others. These students are doing just that- realizing that others need help, and that not only is it beneficial to our community, it feels good to help.