After a year of service in Philadelphia, I find myself preparing for another year of service – only this time it will be in Thailand. I guess some might call me a glutton for punishment, others might call me an adventurer, and still others might call me a servant. I would say that I am a woman who has a sense of what she wants to do with her life, but feels she needs a few more life experiences before she gets on with the ultimate goal and calling. After all, God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called, right?
I am going to Thailand through an organization called “Good Shepherd Volunteers.” I stumbled upon their website one day when I was filling out my hours for AmeriCorps. I accidentally clicked on a link that led me to Catholic Volunteers Network inquiry page that featured a form that matches service programs to your skills and preferred living situation. After filling out all of the necessary information, Good Shepherd Volunteers international program was one of two programs that matched my desires. They advertised a position working in Malaysia working in a residential facility for young women who have faced trauma. It has been my dream since I was 15 years old to become an aftercare counselor for girls who have faced sexual trauma, so it seemed like the exact kind of experience I was looking to get before going back to school. I immediately began the application process, and over the next few weeks poured myself into 16 pages of essays. Good Shepherd does not mess around with it’s application process!
About three weeks later, Good Shepherd contacted me about an interview. I was a mess of excitement and nerves when the interview rolled around, but it went well. We made good connections and left off on a very positive note. I was almost certain I was going to get it. About two weeks later, I received a call in which Good Shepherd informed me they would no longer be offering positions in Malaysia, but that I was still a very good international candidate. They told me that they thought I might do well in their Thailand placement, but that they couldn’t tell me too much about it for another few weeks. At this point, I was feeling like Good Shepherd was not going to work out. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, so I told myself not to worry about it and to think about what other options I have for the coming year.
Servant Year previously offered me a different position for the coming year, so this seemed like a viable option. I would be able to stay in this city which I have grown to love and call home, I would be near family and friends, and to top it all off, I would have a really cool job working as a church outreach coordinator in a difficult part of the city. It seemed like a great option and with Malaysia out, I began to get excited about what the coming year would hold.
That is, until I spoke to Good Shepherd again. They were able to tell me more specifically about what the job would hold in Thailand to work with the Hands of Hope Project. This is an income-generating project that began in 2005 for those living with HIV/AIDS. Due to their illness, the workers at Hands of Hope find it very difficult to find work and have often faced discrimination in their village communities. Hands of Hope provides a place for these people to work together to produce beautiful handmade crafts. These fair trade crafts are sold locally and to international partners in Australia, Europe, and the United States. They said it would be my job to connect these producers with companies that will buy their products. More than anything though, they said my job would be about making relationships and being present with those who have been disdained by so many before. This is not at all what I was looking for, but exactly what I’ve wanted all along. I didn’t know that right then and there though. The opportunity made me giddy, but terrified me at the same time.
It seemed too big a decision to just say yes, so I worried. I worried some more and whined a lot. I wrote a pros and cons list. I prayed. I talked to everyone about it. And then something flipped in me, I didn’t really think it, I just spoke it out loud. I was sitting at my desk at work and I simply said, “I’m going to Thailand? I’m… going to… Thailand. I’m GOING TO THAILAND.” As soon as I just exhaled and said it out loud, I felt an incredible sense of peace.
So, as of now, the plan is that I will finish Servant Year at the end of July and then just two weeks later head off for ten days of orientation before I fly to my new home in Thailand. Again, I am a mess of excitement and nerves, but I feel at peace about this decision... Who knows what adventures this coming year will hold?!
Tamarah's Ministry Placement is as Case Manager at Diversified Community Services.
If there is one thing that Servant Year does well, it is the amount of support we have in our placements, in our house and just in life in general. Between prayer partners, the wonderful people with whom we get to live in intentional community, the loving and always available Mother Erika (our chaplain and the Assistant Rector at Saint Mark’s), and our ever-faithful leader, Lindsay, we are surrounded by people who desire the best for us and would come running at the drop of a hat.
To top it all off, Servant Year also requires that its members meet regularly with a mentor; someone who is older and wiser than us. Several weeks ago I met with mine for the first time. She asked me what some of my goals were for the year and I mentioned one of them was getting better at working with and engaging teenage boys.
A large part of my job is interacting with at-risk youth who have come from a variety of difficult homes and have varying struggles such as mental illness, substance abuse and truancy. I have found working with the boys particularly difficult because some of them remind me a lot of some other boys I encountered when I was younger. I won’t go into detail, but those other boys hurt me very deeply and I am finding it hard not transferring my feelings towards those boys onto these new boys.
After having explained this to my mentor, she wasted no time. Earlier I mentioned to her that I find writing very therapeutic, so she asked me to write down my story. She wanted me to verbalize what happened and to work on forgiving the past, so I could move forward and work with these boys in the present. Writing about the past hurt more than I expected. In fact, I still don’t feel completely satisfied with what I have written, but I am thankful. It is a wonderful thing to have someone come alongside me in this struggle and push me to do the hard things that will make me better.
Hm… “Push me to do the hard that things that will make me better,” that is what this year is all about, isn’t it? A year of servanthood. A year of humility. A year of coming up against the dirt inside ourselves. A year of learning to turn that weakness into strength as we lean into God and the support with which he provides us. I am so thankful for all of the support that is intentionally built into this program.
I love y’all, for real.
Tamarah's ministry placement is as a Case Manager at Diversified Community Services.