While speaking with a former colleague of mine last week, our conversation covered many interesting topics of which one in particular, “generosity,” really peaked my interest; mainly because it triggered something that’s been on my radar long before I retired from teaching this past year.

I shared with her that I’ve begun the process of researching possible destinations abroad where I hope to volunteer my time and effort this coming winter. Up until now, those types of experiences have been rather localized for me, focusing much of my attention on food scarcity issues and the like, here on the East End.

Of course there is no shortage of local organizations and groups that I could expand my outreach to, and indeed, that will most certainly happen while I’m stateside. This time around, though, I truly want to take a more “macro” approach to my generosity by traveling to a foreign country where I hope to work with a team of like-minded individuals from around the globe on some type of pre-designated project that might require, let’s say, a one to two-month commitment, for starters.

Maybe it could be helping construct a new schoolhouse for a host community in an underserved region and filling it with the necessary supplies, or possibly assisting with establishing some type of fair-trade exchange or micro-financing program, which has been an area that I’ve always wanted to explore hands on one day. The idea of immersing myself in a cross-cultural experience that has a distinct goal of sustainability is one in which I’m ready to invest both my time and energy. 

Having taught preschool these past dozen years to predominantly Spanish-speaking at-risk children, I feel somewhat comfortable that a foundation has already been established in terms of language, and as I’m looking to embark upon this first adventure in either Central or South America. I also expect to document the experience in some fashion, possibly by posting blog entries with photos or creating a YouTube channel to share videos.

Not surprising, a few that I’ve shared this with have expressed mixed feelings in regards to volunteering abroad. It clearly isn’t something that most folks would ever consider. The reasons I’ve heard up to this point tend to be fear-related, and it reminded me of a piece I had come across in the Buddhist publication Tricycle Magazine that stated: “We live in a time of fear of intimacy, fear of vulnerability, fear of giving, and fear of being caught out there without reciprocity. What can we do to cultivate a spirit that is inclined toward giving, to cultivate a heart that gives freely?”

I’ll be the first to admit that generosity comes in all shapes and sizes, with countless ways in which it can be applied that aren’t always so visible as volunteerism. Regularly donating blood and platelets, periodically checking in on an elderly neighbor, or simply providing some expertise to those in an online forum who are looking for advice on a specific process — all qualify in my book. They also require little time and no financial output whatsoever.

Am I at all hesitant about making such a commitment? Sure, but only just slightly. I truly believe that these types of cultural connections are and will continue to be what brings our species as a whole much closer. Generalizations about persons south of our border have become all-too-familiar. We need each other, and bridging any differences between us, however possible, can only be viewed as a positive step towards a common goal.

Acclaimed mindfulness meditation teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn has a wonderful passage from his book, “Wherever You Go There You Are” that addresses this subject perfectly: “In the mindful cultivation of generosity, it is not necessary to give everything away, or even anything. Above all, generosity is an inward giving, a feeling state, a willingness to share your own being with the world. Most important is to trust and honor your instincts but, at the same time, to walk the edge and take some risks as part of your experiment.” 

Indeed, this is what I hope to accomplish.

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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