The organization I decided to volunteer with was the Dunedin Night Shelter. The shelter provides meals and housing for displaced people in the Dunedin area and has been helping people in need since 2004. As a matter of fact, it has been Dunedin’s only emergency shelter since 2006. The shelter adamantly clarifies that the housing is not a routine “homeless shelter.” The Dunedin Night Shelter takes pride in the fact that is welcomes everyone who needs assistance. Whether some people are having a difficult time at home, going through difficult relationship issues, or simply need a warm place to stay at night. The most remarkable thing about the Dunedin Night Shelter is that it does not receive any money from the government, the entire complex runs off of funds received from the local community. It is the generosity and kindness of the people living in Dunedin that allow the night shelter to help those in need.
My experience at the night shelter was one an experience that was very familiar. During my volunteer experience I was responsible for helping out in the kitchen and serving hot meals to the residents. The time seemed to fly by as I was talking to some of the people there. Previously I have volunteered with organization such as the United Way which provide thanksgiving meals for people who may not be able to afford it. Both of these experiences gave me a different perspective on life. I am extremely lucky at this point to not have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or if I am going to find somewhere warm to sleep for the night. The people who are in these unfortunate situations are just like me. They have families, jobs, and some are even attending school and it’s shocking to know that I could be in the same situation as these people. Every time I volunteer, whether it’s for the Dunedin Night Shelter, the United Way, or another organization, I always remember that I am could be in their place someday and hope someone could provide me with the help I need.
Although my experience at the Dunedin Night Shelter was very similar to past experiences, there were some stark contrasts which I noticed. The biggest eye-opener was the fact that there was only one night shelter in Dunedin. I was shocked to learn that a city the size of Dunedin only had one shelter for displaced people. In comparison, New Haven has a similar population and has at least three homeless shelters. What I think is the most shocking is that there is little to no sign of homelessness around the Dunedin area. The comparison between homeless populations between cities in New Zealand and the United States was astonishing.
I think that volunteering while abroad is an exceptional experience. Throughout the semester we have discussed a lot about integrating into the host culture. We have been interacting with the locals, understanding the culture, and integrating ourselves in the community. I think that volunteer work is the best way to achieve all of these goals. There is no better way to get involved in the community than to give back to those residents who need it the most. There are aspects of the culture which can only be seen by taking the time and interacting with locals who you may have never taken the time to talk to. Slimbach directly criticizes American study abroad students for not having a “true experience” and I believe by taking the time to volunteer provides an opportunity to prove him wrong and help receive a unique cultural experience.