STC Values: Courage

by Jay Benfante

When you think of what it means to be courageous certain stories may come to your mind: Stories of great warriors in battle or superhuman heroes fighting against the odds to save the world. You may even think of someone whom you know that overcame a great challenge, maybe an academic effort, a difficult relationship, or a time of illness. You may be thinking of yourself in a moment of trial when you had to rise to the occasion. I am thinking of a time when I ignored everything that my body and mind were telling me to jump off an 8-meter-high rock into a river. These days I have become interested in a different kind of courage that comes from unexpected places and from unexpected people. Let me tell you about some special people that we might not expect courage from at all, perhaps courage was there the whole time, but we simply couldn’t see because of our limited perspectives.

When I first met Edin, co-director of Sa Bashku which is one of the main centers for resources and community for people with disabilities in the city. I asked him how volunteers could work to make his organization a better place to be for those who benefited from their work. It’s an obvious question, and there were some obvious answers. We began working to improve the center; we painted walls, we fixed lights, and we emptied old garbage from rooms that had been left by previous occupants of the building. We even rebuilt their wheelchair ramp so that beneficiaries could use it more effectively on their own. But something else very surprising was happening besides all of the good deeds that our volunteers were accomplishing. It was the beneficiaries of Sa Bashku themselves who jumped in to work with us. Sometimes when no one else showed up, they said, “No worries, we are here to help”.  Wow, I never even thought to ask them. It’s one thing to raise your hand when someone asks for help, but it’s entirely another thing to raise your hand when no one is asking.

I met Astrit through our engagement with Sa Bashku. Astrit has spent his life in a wheelchair and much of his life without proper accessibility to even leave his apartment. Even so, he takes the challenges in stride. Many of our projects in Mitrovica have practical goals; cleaning up a garden, painting a fence – simple ways that we can express that we value those we serve. These tasks which seem simple to me, become more complex in the hands of Astrit.  However, like the many obstacles he faces in life, he will not be held back. Courageously, in the face of great obstacles, Astrit says, “Count on me!” When I saw Astrit at the Center for Down Syndrome in Mitrovica, pulling weeds from a raised garden bed so that new vegetables could be grown in their place, I knew something else was growing, Astrid was growing into a courageous volunteer.

Gazmend (or Gazi as he is known) is another friend and volunteer of ours at Serve the City Kosovo that I met through Sa Bashku. Gazmend has many challenges he faces, but instead of letting them define him, he flips the script and advocates for serving others and caring for the environment. Gazmend is twenty-eight and has had trouble finding employment even though he is physically capable and full of energy. Instead of letting these difficulties get in the way, he spends his time showing people just how capable he is, he’s one of our most active volunteers and we are thankful for all that he brings to our community.

We met Leonita early on at our work with Sa Bashku. She jumped in on our first project at Sa Bashku helping to paint the walls upstairs at the center. Though she struggles to use her arms and hands the way I would, she found creative ways to paint and to help. Leonita is working hard to secure herself a job in the Kosovo National Court and works hard to make that dream a reality. Despite her heavy workload she now acts as one of our interpreters at events as we often operate bilingual or trilingual depending on the needs of our volunteers as well as acting as one of our main photographers during activities. She also is a leader among her peers at Sa Bashku and works to make it easier for volunteers like Astrit and Gazi to be involved.

We know that courage is not just a value in our movement because it is something that we should aspire to be. Courage is a value that is a necessary ingredient just to begin, to leave our comfort zones, to do something different. I still have a lot to learn about stepping out and being courageous. I see it even more clearly when I see the way that Astrit, Gazi, and Leonita do. With courage, our limitations can become opportunities.

In the STC movement, we say our dream is “Everyone serving,” not because we want more work to do, but because  we all have something to give, and we all have something to receive. At the end of our last Big Volunteer Weekend, Gazmend asked the group of local volunteers and some visiting volunteers sitting around tables what it was like working with him and the others with disabilities. I told him, and with pride, that when I first visited their center, I only saw what we could do to help them, but now my perspective had totally changed. Though they experience many real challenges daily, because of their courage I now know that they can also serve in powerful and inspiring ways. Indeed our partnership with them in serving has changed for the better and this new way of our partnership is just beginning.

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