Eyes Opened

by Simon Haeri-Hendy, Open Circle Volunteer Group Leader

Week after week as I volunteered with the LAF afterschool program over the past 3 years, I could see how important the volunteers are to the kids. They look forward to spending time with the volunteers, playing games, and getting help with their homework. More importantly, they started to open up to us and gain trust towards us. They would see us every week with a big smile, as if we’ve just brightened up their whole day. And they see us as their friend, someone who they can look up to and see as a role model. They treasure these moments, even if they don’t always want to admit it.

As university students, we take so many things for granted, and when I would hear some of the kids talking about the hardships they face at home it allowed me to become more humble and realize all of the positive aspects in my life. Even when there were problems or conflicts with the kids, we would use our reflection time after volunteering to clear things up and to fully understand everyone’s perspective. This allowed me and other volunteers to become less judgmental and to be more empathetic towards others and their circumstances.

Volunteering each week with Student Open Circles taught me to be aware of myself and to reflect on my goals. The importance of this cannot be overstated. I feel that most people will ignore this part of their life since there are so many other “urgent” things to worry about. Taking a few minutes to myself to think about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, my strengths, weaknesses and so on, helped me to become self-aware and improve on my well-being overall. It is the cognitive dissonances, the mountains of stress piled onto us as a university student, and external pressures that we sometimes live with that cause tension in our mind. Reflecting on yourself helps clear your mind, look from a broader perspective, and improve on your self-esteem. Student Open Circles allowed me to become fully aware of what my goals and expectations are and I have never been so confident in what my passions are. I’ve been able to look at my strengths and weaknesses and improve upon them. Just as an example, I found it very difficult to be assertive and act as a leader. My nature was usually to be the follower. However, when I reflected on what it truly meant to be a leader, I realized that it’s not necessarily the extroverted authority that we are all accustomed to seeing. Instead, it is about motivating change and inspiration in others, to facilitate and guide others to grow. For all these reasons, I have been so grateful for what I have learned in these three years and it’s the reason why volunteering with Student Open Circles was one of the most unique and eye-opening experiences I’ve had through my undergraduate years.