Changing Perspectives

by Graham Watson, Peace & Conflict and Business Coop Student, University of Waterloo

When Graham inquired if he could come to Hamilton to volunteer full-time with Student Open Circles for his Coop placement, we had no idea how much of a gift his presence would be! Here he reflects on how his involvement has impacted him.

To try and sum up this whole four month experience in few paragraphs seems very overwhelming! I got to see more of Hamilton than I had ever seen before; I got to be a part of some amazing discussions and learning experiences through the on-campus reflection circles. I learned about many of the issues that Hamilton is fac-ing through my work with two different CVA volunteer groups. I have thought about so many different issues and grown more as a person than I ever could have previously imagined!

One memory that sticks out is my interaction with the recent immigrant youth at the downtown YMCA drop in center. I had the chance to hang out with these youth once a week and just get to know them a bit. At the beginning of the term there were not a lot of interactions. The mostly male group was interested in playing video games about soccer or watching other forms of media. This environment does not make for the easiest building of friendships.

As the term went on I was able to grow some rap-port with the boys in the youth center. They would come say hi to me, and I’d ask them about some of the topics that we had talked about the previous week.

During the week that they all had March Break, our CVA volunteer group got a chance to plan some games for the youth. They went so well! I was surprised to see these same youth so excited to play games in a circle and chat with one another. Doing things that did not involve quietly sitting watching a screen.

I realized in that moment that it was not that they didn’t want to interact, but rather that they simply did not feel confident to take the initiative themselves! They were happy to join in the games, but needed someone else to take that first step. My perspective had changed.

That action could be a good way to sum up this term. My perspective changed. I have seen a shift in the way I view a lot of systemic poverty, as cycles that need to be broken, rather than an individual’s problem. I have gained new insights into what wealth looks like, and where contentment can be so valuable. I have seen what small acts can mean to people in big ways, and seen how volunteering can have such a large impact on the people that are involved. Both as volunteers and as those in ‘need.’

The four months that I was part of Student Open Circles flew by incredibly fast, but it will take many years I am sure to realize the full extent of how these changes and experiences will shape my future, and for that I am grateful!