As independent projects go, I was given the opportunity to choose the community I wanted to work with over the summer. And maybe it was selfish, but I decided to help out a group of people I belonged to. In the state I’m from. With an organization just a town over. I think this intimacy will make all the difference as I progress through the summer internship.
Dissecting this relationship might help explain why I chose to go this route with my Duke Engage experience. I, like so many students, feel a true connection with the people and places I come from. A sense of community. A space where I share experiences, both good and bad, with people so different and so similar to myself. I did more than exist to earn my place, I lived something. Communities mean more to me than ‘groups’ do mostly because a ‘group’ can be very superficial. Groups sort of happen, where as communities develop and evolve. I feel more than membership (a status) with a community. I feel belonging. There is a me-sized hole in these places, with these people.
My bond to my community helped me land on this work. Understanding a population and their struggles, to some extent, allows you to better cater to them. I’ve known some of the challenges immigrant families face in North Carolina, and that history makes my work so much more important to me. Things may even feel personal sometimes, and I can take that energy to help my community. However, I can also see where being an outsider is helpful when striving for change. There are things that some might have become blind to that outsiders may be able to spot. Some issues may be more difficult to fix than others if we feel too connected with it. A blend of those familiar with and foreign to people and problems may be the best formula for enacting change. I can only hope I’m bringing what I think I am to the community I hold so dearly. Time will tell.