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Volunteering: We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends-and Complete Strangers
February 19, 2000

If I told you that you were one in a million, that would be quite a compliment. So imagine how special it is to be one in SIX BILLION! That's right, you're one in six billion (6,000,000,000) people living on this planet. Congratulations! The six billion mark was passed recently, and now we all share this special distinction. It can be said that we're the most special people in history!

But remember, friends, with honor comes responsibility. The population may be expanding, but Earth isn't getting any bigger, and we humans spread out all over this globe should become aware of our connections to this biosphere. Our actions move outward like ripples through water, reaching farther than ever before...

If the world is saved, it will be because all six billion of us stopped waiting for someone ELSE to do it. If the world is saved, it will be because the people of the world finally woke up to the fact that saving the world isn't the work of specialists. It's work we all CAN do - and all MUST do.

-Daniel Quinn


Biosphere - that portion of the earth and its atmosphere containing living organisms
Overwhelming - overpowering, too much to handle
Disastrous - causing great harm, damage or grief

World, world, world…it's a big word to be throwing around. All the talk about changing the world can be overwhelming, and suddenly being one in six billion reduces you to a tiny speck on this swarming planet of human beings! With so many people, it may seem difficult to contribute. Can one person really make a difference in such a crowd?

Find out for yourself. Take some time and help someone you know. Maybe listen to someone who needs a friend. When we help each other we help ourselves. The ripples of your actions can change many lives for the better-including your own-in ways that you never imagined. During our stay in Turkey we've already met several people who have experienced this first-hand.

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Kavitha with our new friend Okan Cuntay

When Okan Cuntay (pronounced O-kahn Joohn-teye) felt the house shaking in the pre-dawn hours of August 17th last year, he knew immediately that there had been a major earthquake somewhere near his home in Istanbul. He turned on the radio and sat with his family, listening for news of injuries and accidents caused by the quake. When the TV stations began airing footage of collapsed buildings, and called for volunteer translators to help with international rescue teams, Okan knew he had to help-his command of German and English made him a perfect choice. He piled into a car with his brother and two other friends and drove immediately to Adapazari, a town struck violently by the quake (link to my Adapazari school dispatch). Over the next three days, Okan served as a translator for Swiss rescue teams and participated in the rescue of 12 people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

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Konstantin Pavlov is helping to re-build Turkey

News of the earthquake inspired action from all corners of the globe. Konstantin Pavlov had recently been accepted to medical school in Colorado, but had a year before classes started. He was looking for ways to get more involved with international medicine, and the disastrous quake seemed to be the perfect opportunity. But his checks with several large aid groups came up empty: they told him his lack of experience in international relief prevented him from helping. Not one to take no for an answer, Konstantin bought a plane ticket to Istanbul and looked for his own ways to help. After several days, he arrived in the city of Yalova, where it's estimated that as many as 10,000 citizens of Yalova died, and where many survivors lost their homes. Tent cities were built to shelter those left homeless. Konstantin soon became involved with Corem, a children's rehabilitation center (link to Kaviearthquake) located in one of the tent cities, and he still lives there today.

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These tents became home sweet home for many after the earthquake

As we walk down the gravel pathways near Corem, a child named Efcan runs up to Konstantin, shouting, "my teacher! my teacher!" and jumps into his arms for a gigantic hug and kiss on the cheek. This, Konstantin says, is the greatest reward. Efcan was once so unruly that teachers thought the Devil himself would be frightened of such a little terror. But they gave Efcan love and continued to help him, and over time he transformed into the hugging expert he is today! He even keeps the other kids in line!

Of course, volunteering doesn't require grand gestures or natural disasters. We can often find time within the context of daily life. Consider Ezgi, a 19-year-old university student on holiday vacation. Ezgi accompanied us on our trip to Adapazari and served as the translator during our visit with the students of Mithat Pasha High School-just because she had the day off. Her casual offer proved to be priceless to us as she helped us communicate with the teachers and students at the school. The teachers had been unable to find a translator for us, so without Ezgi's help our visit would have been cancelled. But thanks to Ezgi, we all enjoyed the chance to meet the students and learn about their lives since the earthquake. She made many new friends in the process, and will soon return to help them prepare for their university entrance exams.

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Chillin' with Ezgi

As I speak with people that have volunteered their time and effort to help others, patterns emerge in their words, and their passion is a testament to the gift of giving. Do you know that without volunteers you wouldn't be reading these words? Yep, nobody gets paid to do this! The Odyssey is run entirely by volunteers, from this group of six in the field to the masses that arrive every week to edit our dispatches and keep the Website running smoothly. And it all started with one idea in the head of one volunteer, Jeff Golden. The ripples of his idea and efforts kept spreading...and look what happened!

Related Links

Volunteers of America

A list of short- and long-term international volunteer opportunities.

Everyone has something to give. As we give, we receive-even if we only spend fifteen minutes a week helping to make this world a better place. Be a smile gardener and make someone laugh. This brings a satisfaction greater than anything money can buy. Start early and do what you can.

When you're one in six billion, anything is possible.


Abeja - Pergamum: City of Death, City of Life
Brain - Five Days, Twelve Lives...A Look Into One Rescue Worker's Journal
Brain - Fifteen Thousand Years Old and Going Strong
Brian - Volunteering: We Get By with a Little Help from Our Friends-and Complete Strangers
Kavitha - COREM: Mending the Shaken Lives of Turkish Youth

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