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Sarah – with her floral, lilac shirts, bluish, clairvoyant gaze and bass-y Southern accent – is a remarkable woman. I met her whilst serving in the Chelsea House Ministry, several years after she was rehabilitated by the program. Inspired by the program’s emphasis on personal value and innate abilities, she overcame her challenges and became a mentor to other women in crisis.
Benevolence in itself is often a poor driver for social progress. Initiatives that make lasting impacts recognize the intrinsic potential of the individual and seek to eliminate the ‘victim mentality’. In other words, people are empowered to regard themselves as the drivers to their own socio-economic advancement. This is not to say that traditional ‘bread-and-butter’ initiatives are wholly ineffective. When harmonized with sustainable objectives, charitable aid can promote personal and social responsibility. Community empowerment is gaining prominence in today’s uncertain world. The treatment of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in my country, for instance, is transforming the concept of service. Members of my church community organize clothing items, soap, and other necessities which Boko Haram victims may find useful,but policy makers argue for initiatives that are independent of limited aid resources. Local organizations such as NHMCR have sponsored training programs that enable refugees to provide income for their families, which, in turn, will yield school-trained children and future income-earners.
Community service that is executed in a perfunctory manner can also lack long-term benefits. I held a desire to improve my community from an early age but found it difficult to garner enthusiasm for school visits to local orphanages. As my education progressed, my identity as an architect for social impact – not buildings – was forged. I believe it is imperative to define one’s service identity, thereby realizing the ideal to harmonize personal skills and interests with community development. For implementing social change will never eliminate the need for community service. The key to sustained development lies in establishing a culture of service which persists through the generations.
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