How Volunteering at a 5K Has Meaningful Impact
Children in Conflict and hope across humanity….
It is a warm, humid, drizzly mid-June Saturday morning with a hauntingly beautiful view of the New York City skyline across the river, shrouded in fog and low-hanging clouds.
It’s as if we’ve been transported into a romantically nostalgic poem.
Volunteers are setting up tents and registration tables for a 5K Run/Walk. At one end of the lawn is a children’s station complete with temporary tattoos, a cotton candy machine, a coloring area, and a bounce house.
The DJ has started the music, the thump-thump-thump dancing up and out across the fog.
The event is a fundraiser for Children in Conflict (CIC), a non-profit focused on providing aid and support to children and families living in conflict, war, and crisis-centered areas of the world. They work in tandem with their sister non-profit, War Child UK (WCUK).
When conflict and crisis happen, CIC and WCUK are one of the first NGOs on site and the last to leave, prioritizing the type of aid and the programs they support based on the specific in-country circumstances. They work with local partners and hire field staff so they can deliver aid in a culturally cognizant manner while also providing employment opportunities for local, skilled individuals whose livelihoods were affected by conflict.
In Syria, for example, they arrived soon after the devastating earthquake that struck in February 2023 and remain there today distributing critically needed supplies (food, clothing, blankets, mattresses, heaters), creating and providing safe shelters, helping to rebuild homes, and providing psychosocial first aid for children with signs of trauma.
In Afghanistan, where the humanitarian crisis grew exponentially after the economic collapse of the country (2022) in the wake of the Taliban takeover, over 90% of the population is food insecure and skips meals daily.(1)
Almost 400,000 people have had to flee their homes in search of safety and are living in makeshift shelters with little access to food, water, and hygiene.(2) CIC and WCUK works with local organizations to secure food, hygiene kits and psychological first aid. In one area of the country they also provide a shuttle bus to and from kindergarten for children being held in prison with their mothers so they can safely access school.
In Ukraine, where war continues to claim lives and destroy homes/cities as well as vital infrastructure and services, CIC and WCUK work with partner organizations to provide essential provisions like food, clothes and psychological first aid to displaced families. They work to stop children from being abducted and/or trafficked when crossing borders. They also set up temporary learning centers so children can continue their education and regain a sense of normality.
Their “Can’t Wait to Learn” online learning platform enables 210,000 Ukrainian children to continue their studies. The Ukrainian Ministry of Education has chosen the program to be their primary online education intervention for children from grades 1 to 4 and all Ukrainian children can access the Ukrainian curriculum online from wherever they are in the world so they can learn in their own language.
CIC has also been supporting “Step by Step” – a Ukrainian program which rehabilitates shelters and uses them as kindergartens where children can receive non-formal education as well as socialize, play and feel safe. Parents can also relax and find some respite while their children play in a safe, secure space.
CIC and WCUK also work in Iraq, Yemen, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their model is “Respond, Recover, Rebuild.”
Respond projects deliver critical emergency aid where that is needed first, as primary priority. Recovery projects provide mental health support for children to effectively process their trauma in constructive ways. Rebuild programs are focused on rebuilding infrastructure – schools and learning places, and developing child protection initiatives.
They focus on each of these in different ways depending on the needs and environment in-country. You can read more about their important work in those countries here: https://childreninconflict.org/where
As I set up the registration table for the 5K and read through the CIC’s latest Impact Report, I notice over 150 runners are registered to take part in the event and I feel an existential conflict.
There is a shocking incompatibility between the experience of a 5k in a beautiful location, filled with music, raffle prizes and a bounce house, and the lived experience of children and their families, half a world away, who are desperately in need of the essential aid provided by the non-profit.
I find myself asking, do the funds from this 5k have meaningful impact? Does my volunteering here support meaningful change?
The answer to both is YES – as part of a bigger whole. This local 5k is one small piece of a global aggregate of fundraising to support the organization’s mission and on the ground actions. Together, across a myriad of events at local and national levels, the funds have the momentum to achieve goals. Local events are a chance to be part of something larger.
Most organizations will also tell you that local fundraising events are important for raising awareness which is just as important as raising funds because it opens people up to new information and new ideas and can possibly fuel a previously unknown passion to get involved in the cause. Expanding awareness can lead to greater numbers of supporters which builds momentum to effect change. And at the local level, participants and volunteers can have great impact in spreading awareness by helping the organization get the word out about their cause. That seed of awareness can blossom into other hearts and unfold into actions and contexts never even imagined.
I believe local non-profit fundraising events also nourish hope. They provide a conduit for individuals to live in generosity and share that experience with each other. To build community. To nourish the kindness of the human spirit, which often gets lost in the busy-ness of day to day and the in-the-moment focus of our lives.
Maria Popova, in one of her articles on her blog The Marginalian, writes “nothing broadens the soul more than the touch of kindness, given or received…” (3) Local charity events provide the opportunity for the growth of shared kindness. A pathway for living with a perspective of love and kindness.
Local charity events also let you connect with causes that interest you and touch your heart. If you have a passion about something globally, there are always ways to get involved locally. And to get involved at whatever level you are motivated to be involved. Volunteering is an opportunity to remember that all humanity is tied together, and we can support each other across the globe. Ripples of kindness seeding the world – imagine if we prioritized that perspective first as humans? What would the world look and feel like then?
I am reminded of Carl Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot, where he reflected on the last photo taken by NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft as it left the solar system in February 1990. Just as it left our solar system it turned its cameras back to snap one last photo of Earth, which looked like the tiniest imaginable speck of dust caught in beam of light in a vast, incomprehensible emptiness. In his book Carl Sagan wrote:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam [….] The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet [….] To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” (4)
Imagine the world if everyone, across the globe, decided to deal more kindly with one another. Prioritized kindness. What would we create?
If you have a passion for a specific cause, do a search for a local chapter or supporting organization. You can also check out your local charities or look for volunteer opportunities through such on-line portals as Volunteer Match: https://www.volunteermatch.org/ or EventBrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/. I find many of my volunteer activities on those two sites.
To learn more about Children in Conflict or to make a donation, visit https://childreninconflict.org/
Thank you for joining my journey this week,
- Human Rights Watch (n.d.). World Report 2023. Retrieved June 25, 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2023/country-chapters/afghanistan
- Children in Conflict (n.d.). Children In Conflict: Afghanistan. Retrieved June 25, 2023, from https://childreninconflict.org/afghanistan
- Popova, M. (2023, March 12). 2,000 Years of Kindness. The Marginalian. Retrieved June 25, 2023, from https://www.themarginalian.org/2023/03/12/kindness/
- Sagan, C. (n.d.). A Pale Blue Dot. The Planetary Society. Retrieved June 25, 2023, from https://www.planetary.org/worlds/pale-blue-dot