In the last couple weeks I've done a bit of enlightening volunteering. Along with other members of Amnesty International at USF, I delivered meals to homebound people with HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses through Project Open Hand (one of my favorite organizations in SF). I've volunteered a couple times in their Grocery Center, but I had never delivered meals before. We got a couple insulated containers of hot and frozen meals, a map, and a list of clients to deliver to. All the people we delivered to lived in SROs within a few blocks of each other in the Tenderloin. I had never actually been inside an SRO before, and it was intense, horrifying, amazing... I don't know how to express it. The elevators were terrifying. The living conditions were horrible. Still, in one hotel I was waiting in the lobby while some of the other students went upstairs to deliver meals, and I was struck with the community people seemed to have within the building. My roommate, who spends a lot of time with Project Open Hand and is also an intern at St. Anthony Foundation (one of my other favorite organizations in SF), told me that SROs often cost $900-$1000 a month. That's for a single room. Bathrooms are shared with the rest of the floor. That's far more than I currently pay for my own room in an apartment in a pretty nice area of San Francisco.
The other volunteering I did recently was April Action, a service day organized by University Ministry at USF. April Action always has an environmental theme, and last Saturday a bunch of us went to an area of Golden Gate Park where we cleared out blackberry plants that were hurting the magnolias (or something - I wish they had spent a bit more time talking about the purpose of our work). It was going fine, and it was kind of fun except for my arms getting scratched up from all the thorns, until I heard one of the gardeners telling people to stop, saying something like "uh oh, we have a problem." It turned out someone had set up an encampment inside the blackberries. There were some bags of stuff sitting there; it was somebody's home. The gardener called over the woman who was in charge, and I saw her making a phone call, but we kept clearing away the plants. I think those of us who knew what was happening were pretty apprehensive, however. I was glad to hear other students saying they weren't comfortable destroying someone's home. I certainly wasn't. We had a little reflection afterwards, and I brought up the risks of unintended consequences of service. We can be completely well-meaning, thinking we're doing a good thing, but actually do more damage than good.
For anyone interested in social justice and social change, I highly recommend reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. If you're more interested in an 18-page article than a book, check out "Pedagogy for the Children of the Oppressors" by Andrew Christian van Gorder in the Journal of Transformative Education. I don't feel like breaking copyright laws and posting it, but if you're at USF, search for the journal in the library's Journal Finder, then search the article title, and you should find it. It was published in January 2007.