Real Life, Raw Experience
Below you will get an inside look at interviews with Epilogos Charities Inc. board members! The six individuals express their personal experiences and thoughts based off of select questions I chose to shed light on how service work in another country can be both harmful and helpful. This is real life, raw words from individuals who helped shape me into the person I am today! As a reader who is interested in taking part in a service trip I advise you to truly reflect on the stories and advice from these interviews! Enjoy.
- Age 58
- Where did you grow up? Mostly New England with some time in Illinois (Gr 5-8)
- Where do you currently live? Strafford NH
- What is your current occupation? I work on affordable housing issues (last 15 years). Currently, I run the homeownership programs at New Hampshire Housing. We help low- and moderate-income people buy their first home. I am a lawyer and practiced law for about 13 years.
- Did you attend college? If so, where? Yes, Boston College
- Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance
1) I help lead groups to El Salvador where we work with a village on various issues including housing, education, community development. Most importantly, we get volunteers to come to El Salvador and see a new perspective on life.
2) I have volunteered at my local food pantry for years. This has kept me connected to and informed about how economically hard life can be for some of our neighbors.
- At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? Through family and faith, I knew I was supposed to help others. But, frankly, I delayed that and delayed that while I got my education, did sports and enjoyed life, saying someday I would start doing things for others on a more purposeful way. In high school did a few things from CROP Walk to Habitat but nothing in college or law school. Too focused on building my life and career.
- What inspired you to start helping others?
1) the demands of my faith where the key question: “what have you done for the least of my brothers?” was the focus of so many demands;
2) the examples I saw around me—my parents would bring things to poorer families (in a quiet way) or hand money to various groups etc.; same for teachers who modeled kindness and generosity. I would add in the last 12 years seeing the younger folks who are more natural at participating and giving than I was at their age. High schoolers who will travel to El Salvador and help and learn. This inspires me and gives me hope.
3) the people I have had the privilege of encountering and getting to know. I begin to help them and realized I needed them in so many ways. They are the continuing inspirations. They continue to invite me to part of their life, which is humbly and up lifting.
- Give a brief summary of your past experiences with this kind of work
- Over 25 years volunteering at the food pantry in various roles but mostly giving out food.
- 12 years’ experience with El Salvador, including being in leadership on the board and leading groups to El Salvador.
- What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life? Many things motivate me, including a sense of obligation and a realization of the opportunity to do something different, engaging and rewarding. I need both (obligation and opportunity) to make room in life for volunteer work given the demands of life. In the end, I volunteer work adds to the enjoyment in my life.
- What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? Frankly, I wish I could do it full time and not work! But in reality, like all people, I need to work to pay the bills. Also, even though satisfying, volunteer work can be emotionally challenging when you connect and care about the folks you are working with.
- What has been your greatest success?Bringing so many groups to El Salvador and being able to share the experience with travelers, especially with high school students.
- Why do you think providing humanitarian assistance is important?
Macro: Makes the world a little kinder and better.
Micro: It’s makes my life fuller and has introduced me to so many good people.
- Do you think providing aid can be harmful?
Yes providing aid can be harmful. But NOT providing aid can also be harmful.
If someone lives in economic poverty, each day that they live in that economic poverty is harmful. So, the risk of causing harm by providing aid (or better put working with folks who want to improve their lives) must always be considered with the alternative of not doing anything.
Part of me says, we have the luxury of asking this question—are we causing harm—because we live with such economic and educational wealth. Others don’t have that opportunity and just need to get through a day. When you spend so much time getting to work, collecting firewood, preparing food and working for few wages, you sometimes just need a little help.
So, when thinking about working with people or helping people (depending on how one views it), you always want to think about HOW one works with or helps.
The challenge with humans is that we all love free stuff or the easier road. That’s how I view my life, and the folks we work with are no different. The problem can be the thing that is given or received too easily can create an attitude of entitlement. True here and anywhere.
So, in providing aid, one has to be very mindful of respecting independence and dignity. Also, one needs to really ask and then listen to folks who need some kind of aid.
I have heard folks say that we should not help because folks need to stand up for themselves, especially to take on the structures that cause/result in economic poverty. I get that but I cannot just sit by either. Plus, I know that for the families we work with, it matters to that person or family. Meaning, I cannot just say, “let’s leave it alone until they rise up and revolt against the structure.” Yes, the structure needs to change—BUT that does not mean we cannot also work on the individual and community needs today.
Also, for me, I don’t see this work as a one way exchange (our group to them). Once we see all people as our family (todos somos iguales—all are equal), we want to help out our families and friends—there just like here.
Finally, it is harmful to us not to share our abundance with others. We have something in us that is geared to self preservation and accumulation—BUT we also have an orientation towards sharing and expanding out circle of family and friends.
In the end, while I hope for systemic change to make a more just opportunity for all, I still want to work with individual, families and communities on what opportunities are in front of us.
- What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved?
- Approach with open mind and heart.
- Approach people as good and striving to take care of and improve their lives.
- Listen their needs and their views; whenever possible go with that; don’t impose.
- Be humble and have fun.
- Connect with people; don’t just do something; be something; be a good partner and friend. Listen, laugh, talk, play, work and eat together.
- Do what you can and acknowledge that while worthwhile, it’s still a small act that we should be proud of but not get full of oneself.
- Don’t judge someone too harshly—we have it economically easy compared to many places in the world.
- We were just lucky to be born here.
- Go in without expectations—other than expect yourself to be respectdful.
The hugs we get show us that our work matters to the family!
- Age 21
- Where did you grow up? New Boston, New Hampshire
- Where do you currently live? New Boston, New Hampshire
- What is your current occupation? Occupational therapy assistant
- Did you attend college? If so, where? Yes, currently as Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science for grad school
- Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance I am a board member for Epilogos charities inc. and annually travel to El Salvador providing humanitarian aid.
- At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? Freshman year of high school went on my first volunteer trip to El Salvador.
- What inspired you to start helping others? I have always enjoyed helping others and being able to give back, it is a value my parents taught me growing up. In my freshman year of high school I saw a presentation on students whom had traveled to El Salvador to volunteer over their February vacation. I had never traveled before and saw this as a really neat opportunity to travel and also help others.
- What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life Knowing that I have already changed the lives of so many and that there are endless amounts more. And also remembering the smiles we are able to put on the faces of Salvadorans and remembering the countless life changing memories that I have.
- What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? The financial aspect of having enough money for trips each year.
- What has been your greatest success? Providing the assistance to get Michelle the medical help needed to save her life.
- Why do you think providing humanitarian assistance is important? It gives people a real life experience of what other people are living through compared to their own lives. It is not only important to help those who are in more need than you but to keep the world from being such a selfish place. Everyone in this world should be giving back and helping others, humanitarian aid is a great way to do so and to also become more cultured yourself.
- Do you think providing aid can be harmful? Yes and no. Yes it can be harmful in the sense that some people go about it in the way of just giving free handouts to people in need and never connecting with them. This is not humanitarian aid, this is simply pretending to help to feel good about yourself, and then leaving. Humanitarian aid is not harmful when it is done right. This is when handouts are not given and the people in need work alongside you to better their lives and futures. A house cannot simply be built for a family and then that be it. The family needs to assist in building their home and then they themselves should
be responsible for giving back within their own community, such as helping build someone else’s house. This is how Epilogos does it and this is truly how I believe humanitarian assistance should be provided. It is not harmful in this way because the family receiving aid is able to still have dignity and pride and also make lifelong connections with those people who assist them.
- What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved? If you want to be involved in international humanitarian aid, start by doing fundraisers at home and learning about the organization you want to help. Only travel to another country to provide aid if you are fully committed and dedicated and prepared to make it a part of your life.
Don’t simply go and volunteer once and never go again, that is not providing beneficial aid because you are not fully committed and therefore will not be able to foster and keep the relationships you make. When you are ready to travel and provide aid, put your whole heart and sole into it and really get to know every person along the way because they will all change your life along with you changing theirs.
1. Age 45
2. Where did you grow up? New Brunswick, Canada & Fitchburg, MA
3. Where do you currently live? New Boston, NH
4. What is your current occupation? Autism Program Coordinator
5. Did you attend college? If so, where? Undergrad at Granite State College then I attended Graduate school at University of Missouri
6. Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance
a. Serve on Epilogos Charities board
b. Volunteer annually in SJV
c. Work on various Epilogos programs and fundraisers throughout the year
7. At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? 40
8. What inspired you to start helping others? My daughter, Arianna, volunteered in SJV as a freshman, with a group of students from area high schools – she was so moved by the experience that
she asked me to go with her the following year. I volunteered as an adult chaperone and fell in love with the people we met, inspiring me to continue to work to improve their opportunities.
10. What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life? Thinking of the kind, generous and hardworking Salvadorans
11. What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? I always want to do more. I sometimes feel that although I am providing opportunities and hope to a small group of people that it isn’t really going to be enough to
change their circumstances. It isn’t possible to change the big problems in an impoverished country which is very frustrating as it is like applying a bandaid to the real problem.
12. What has been your greatest success? Joining the board of Epilogos and having the ability to share my passion for supporting the youth of SJV by starting programs such as the Adopt-A-Classroom and Big Friend/Little Friend program as well as equal opportunities for students with disabilities. If we want to see change, we have to start with the children and build a strong foundation for their education and emotional well-being.
13. Why do you think providing humanitarian assistance is important? To provide support to those less fortunate so they have hope for a brighter future.
14. Do you think providing aid can be harmful? I think it could be harmful if it was not done properly. It is important to involve the recipients in the work. It is also important to provide aid that creates opportunities for the recipients that is sustainable to support them long-term.
15. What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved? Try it no matter how hesitant or fearful you might be as there is a high probability that you will have an experience that will change you and make you a better person while you are providing hope to others that are less fortunate.
- Age 64
- Where did you grow up? Houston, Tx
- Where do you currently live? Hollis, NH
- What is your current occupation? psychotherapist
- Did you attend college? If so, where? Bennington, VT U. of Tx for graduate school
- Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance. Board member for Epilogos Charities
- At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? In my 20s
- What inspired you to start helping others? My father
- Give a brief summary of your past experiences with this kind of work. I have volunteered at a rape crisis center, provided therapy at homeless shelter and provided scholarships to El Salvadoran students
- What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life? It give my life meaning
- What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? Being disappointed when projects fail
- What has been your greatest success? Being part of a “start up” NGO (Epilogos)
- Why do you think providing humanitarian assistance is important? We humans must feel compelled to help one another.
- Do you think providing aid can be harmful? If the aid is done in a disrespectful way or engenders dependency rather than self reliance.
- What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved? Find a project that inspires and excites you.
Edward C. Warren Jr
- Age 70
- Where did you grow up? Chappaqua, NY (suburbs of NYC)
- Where do you currently live? West Lebanon, NH
- What is your current occupation? Optometrist
- Did you attend college? If so, where? Clarkson University, Potsdam, NY
- Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance I support with time and money through Epilogos Charities, Inc. This includes time as a board member and time as an optometrist doing eye exams in San Jose Villanueva. Financially I have supported SJV scholarship students since 2003. There have been other projects that I have financially supported.
- At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? 60
- What inspired you to start helping others? Meeting former Peace Corp volunteers, Mike and Susie Jenkins. Also meeting my first scholarship student and seeing her living conditions had a profound effect on me.
- Give a brief summary of your past experiences with this kind of work. I first began with a group called Team Sight and Bite from Brattleboro, VT. My first trip was in 2005. On that trip I met my first Epilogos scholarship student, Wendy. After that trip I soon joined Epilogos as a board member. In later years I joined trips organized by Epilogos for house building.
- What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life? There is an intense feeling that I am making a difference in the life of someone less fortunate.
- What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? Indifference to man’s fellow man. There is an extreme gap in wealth in the same village, from extreme wealth to extreme poverty. In El Salvador, generally speaking, all social welfare is international.
- What has been your greatest success? Keeping the previous answer in mind – having a resident of SJV “fill the shoes” of Mike and Susie Jenkins has been extremely gratifying. Her name is Graciela Martinez. Icing on the cake is her assistant Keily Lopez
- Why do you think providing humanitarian assistance is important? There is moral imperative to contribute to those less fortunate than ourselves. To do nothing is to collude with those that would take advantage of the weak.
- Do you think providing aid can be harmful? Yes, when it given from a “We-know-what-is-best-for-you” attitude. Shallow wells in India had arsenic in the water.
- What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved? “Get your hands dirty!” The personal connection is irreplaceable. Words and videos do not convey the need that can be seen with one’s own eyes.
- Age 53
- Where did you grow up? Dartmouth, Nova Scotia Canada
- Where do you currently live? Concord NH
- What is your current occupation? Senior VP Sales for BittWare.
- Did you attend college? If so, where? Yes, Saint Mary’s University Halifax Nova Scotia Canada (Undergraduate and Graduate Studies)
- Give a brief summary of what you currently do in regards to humanitarian assistance Board Member of Epilogos and make annual financial contributions to numerous charities
- At what age did you begin your interest in humanitarian assistance? Not until my 40s.
- What inspired you to start helping others? Having my own child and family and realizing that I could make a difference for other families.
- Give a brief summary of your past experiences with this kind of work. Participated in several Epilogos trips to El Salvador, participation in board activities guiding the work done by Epilogos and financially contributing to the charity organizations to support their activities.
- What motivates you to volunteer while balancing your everyday life? Realizing how fortunate my family and I have been largely because of birth location. It’s important to realize that people in developing countries love their children no less than we do and strive to better their lives as we do. We need to have a check in balance in life… when we think our problems are difficult, remember others would gladly change their problems for ours.
- What has been your biggest struggle working as a humanitarian? Finding the time to dedicate to the causes.
- What has been your greatest success? My family… the fact that I have been able to achieve enough in life to provide for them and give them the opportunity to achieve their own goals.
- Do you think providing aid can be harmful? Harmful no. But aid should not always be just a hand-out. Aid should be viewed as a means to assist the recipients in building a better life for themselves. We want to assist and provide effort side-by-side. This is one of the main reasons I support Epilogos.
- What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to become involved? Start early and make it a part of your life. I personally waited till I was later in life (and financially) more stable before participating. In hindsight, I had much to offer at a younger age.