Saturday, August 15, 2009

Heart Work

If someone peers closely enough into my career, they'll notice an awkward 6-month gap from Jan to June 2002. This was when I was working three days a week at Connectif Commerce - and the remaining two? I was at Malaysian Care's Prison, Drugs & AIDS Division.

This was six months of:
  • walking around the back-alleys of Kuala Lumpur buildings and one or two abandoned buildings, handing out food (usually bread) and flyers to drug addicts (we even 'threw' bread down into hole in response to a voice which came out from there)

  • going to drug rehab centers to hold fellowship-meetings with inmates (the best part was the huge buckets of KFC and/or curry chicken rice we'd also host)

  • scooping rice and vegetables for the soup-kitchens (except I don't think they called it that) which were usually held in one of those streets next to the Klang Bus Stand, then listening to the participants talk about their (usually broken) lives; I can recall at least two stories - one by an addict also stricken with polio and now confined to a wheel-chair, he told me was a musician and composed songs; another by a guy whose wife left him because he couldn't keep away from drugs.

  • eaves-dropping on Bible studies held for rehabilitating drug addicts at M.Care's many rehab houses (along Old Klang Road)

As with every volunteer, I had my fair share of, well, fear the first time I walked into rehab center; the first time my mentor, Steve, drove our van barely 4 feet next to some dudes sniffing glue from a spoon; the first time I stood next to a HIV-positive lady (with open sores) next to the soya-bean drink vendor; the first time I walked into a rundown old house taken over by displaced addicts.

This was more than seven years ago.

And today I met Steve again (at the Community Services Fair@Dream Center - it's on till tomorrow). Chatting with him again for a few minutes brought back those six months in a flash and reminded me again of the words he spoke to me on the way to the streets one of those mornings: It's not just hard work, it's heart work.

Colleges may wish to consider sending their students for 'internships' at institutions like Malaysian Care, CREST, CES, HISTeam etc. No it may not exactly be 'related' to the course, but (not unlike Seth Godin's post on 'free work') students will:
  • learn how to serve and give of themselves (minus the selfish financial calculations)
  • lead projects (trust me, if you prove yourself willing and able to champion an event or proposal, you'll get to do it)
  • learn patience of the highest kind (because the pay-off is not more money but a trusting heart)
  • apply their course skills in the most diverse/awkward of settings (e.g. in prison)
  • gain valuable experience of the kind not quite available selling one's services for a pittance in the corporate world
Best of all, heart work is internalised and (hopefully) brought forth into the world, both before and after the handshakes and photographs at the graduation ceremony.

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