Oct 07, 2022 - Publications
Serving Community is a core value at Ako Mātātupu - both within and beyond formal education settings. Much more than a metaphor or talking point, it is a way of life. Come explore the concept and practise of service with us, as we unpack (and debunk some myths!) about what it can mean to serve community:
What does it mean to serve community:
O le ala i le pule o le tautua. The pathway to leadership is through service.
Being of service and receiving the loving service of others is a huge part of what it means to be human. Serving community has always been important in these precious motu that make up Aoteaora, and our wider sea of islands. Community and service are at the heart of whānau, hapu, and iwi networks of care and reciprocity - including kaitiakitanga and relationships to our ecology. We not only have duties to the natural world, we are the natural world. We literally whakapapa and connect to the beginning of all life, and we owe it to each other to serve our community and the earth we call home.
Inequality and oppression are not only social, but also ecological issues. We are human creatures in need of food and shelter and the means of a flourishing cultural life, as part of the wider web of life on earth. We all need the proper means to live into our potential and our shared humanity, and that includes serving and living in community. Everyone has mana and dignity, and service and care can uplift the mana of each member of our community: manaakitanga.
What is service? It is a way of being. For example, enacting tautua or service is one of the key pillars of Samoan values. Tautua is based upon the premise of serving your family, village, faith, and nation. Service is not a flash in the pan, but a sincere commitment, through which your own esteem can grow. E lē o se mea e fa’atagā faia ae matuā tu’uina atu ‘ātoa le ola e fa’atino ai le tautua - it is not something that is conducted lightly but something in which to invest your life.
And what is community? Community is not something outside of ourselves that we give our service to here and there. Community is what makes life possible and good. Community is life lived in concert, rather than life lived alone. It’s true for tangata whenua and it’s also true for tangata tiriti, too. All groups that have made Aotearoa home have the ancestral practices to know how to prioritise the health of the collective and the service of others. It’s in all of our DNA. And it’s on all of us to activate our shared potential by serving community.
The Importance of Serving Community:
Serving community is not a nice-to-have, it is the essence of life. And here’s the thing: serving community is about serving others, but it is also about honouring oneself. To serve community is to embrace interconnectedness and invest in your own wellbeing, too. Community care is self care. It is great to tend to your own needs and let your uniqueness shine in the world, but without community we miss the meaning-making experience of seeing and being seen by others.
Serving community is not some saintly act that we can only do once we have reached an arbitrary high rank. It is not only giving back, it is serving amongst. In a world where daily life can feel less like a community and more like a desperate race to achieve, or merely to stay afloat, serving community is the loving and smart thing to do. By being of service we can claim back our time, relationships and wellbeing from the clutches of competition and scarcity. We truly are stronger together.
Benefits of Serving Community:
1. Serving community supports intergenerational relationships
Growing up in the school system we spend time learning and socialising in peer groups, and often our closest friendships are with those of a similar age. This can mean we miss out on growing close with people who are older or younger than us. We have things to teach and to learn from people of all ages. Serving community helps connect you to the span of human experience, across different generational groups. Variety is the spice of life, and serving alongside people from different ages and cultures enhances our worldview.
2. Community service nurtures health and well-being
The health benefits of being there for others in times of need are huge. The Mental Health Foundation developed The Five Ways to Wellbeing based on the New Economics Foundation's (NEF) Foresight Project on Mental Capital and Wellbeing research report. One of the big recommendations is to give to others. It is a beautiful paradox that when we are at a low ebb and feeling most empty of inner resources that we can give to others are receive a generative form of well-being in return. Serving your community is strongly linked with feeling good and functioning well.
3. Community service builds our resilience to face difficult times
Hoarding and stockpiling for oneself makes sense in a world of ruthless competition and fear, but serving others is a sign of a healthy resilience and ultimately better emergency preparedness. In ‘peacetime’ it makes sense to get to know your neighbours, chat to your community members at the market, offer to help out, and do working bees together. You are, together, building up skills and relationships that make life good in the now, and also readying yourselves should difficulties arise. Remember in the early days of lockdown when we smiled at each other and had that spirit of all-in-this-together? We have this beautiful potential to pull through for each other. Mutual aid goes a long way.
4. Community Service promotes solidarity and companionship
Serving community is an act of resistance against any selfish programming that we receive in our socialisation - a selfishness that ironically denies the expression of our true selves: the generosity and companionship that make us human. Collectivity and community is food for our spirits, and helps us to be brave enough to resist dehumanising forces and oppression. Living in community makes life feel abundant, no matter how many material resources we have. Being of service to others grows your own mana and standing, which comes with the gift of accountability and feedback. If you sow seeds of trust and care, then people will trust you enough to be real with you and let you know if you have caused harm. Rather than flinching with guilt, we can have the confidence to acknowledge and put things right. This restorative process is good for solidarity and good for our own growth and fulfilling our own ethical potential as individuals and as a group. We never have to rest on our laurels and accept ‘good enough’ from ourselves or others. Through service we can grow, together.
5. Community service is social insurance
Serving community is not charity; serving community is reciprocity. In good times and in bad, community is wealth. To receive time or resources - however humble - can make such a huge difference. No one is keeping score, but one way to look at serving community is as a social insurance policy. It might not be that precise person who will ‘repay’ you in your own time of need, but when you serve others you are voting and investing in a world in which people support each other.
Ways to serve your community:
1. Share your surplus
All you need to ask is: what is needed? And do I have some of what is needed? Time, energy, skills, resources, food, money - whatever it is, do I have some in surplus to what I need to get by myself? If the answer is yes then we are called to serve community. It is not martyrdom. It is simply human nature to share that which we have in surplus to our own needs. Relationships are truly powerful and valuable in this life. But serving community is still powerful without personal relationships! If you don’t know where to start the good news is that you can serve a person or a group that you have never even met, or don’t have a particularly close bond with. Giving and serving is important no matter our proximity. We are all part of the human family, after all. Consider donating your time or money to a trusted group who will gladly take all the support and service they can get.
2. Make time to be of service
You don’t have to have lots of material surplus to be of service. Service can become a habit or a rhythm in your week, without it being an ‘extra’. Sometimes those of us with the least know the most about the power of sharing and serving – we know how much the little things can make a difference in good times and in bad. It can be big or small. Be generous with smiles! Tell your neighbours about the public fruiting tree in the park! Become an honorary aunty or uncle and support people who are raising little ones in a busy world. Offer to take out your older neighbour’s bins on rubbish day. Volunteer to do phone-banking to support a cause or candidate close to your heart. Support those who are grieving – make them a meal or organise a koha to support funeral costs. Listen. Listen, listen, listen. To pay attention to someone might be the highest form of love. Park your own mental chatter for a moment to hear another’s pain or joy. Pain will be more bearable and joy will be magnified.
3. Share your knowledge
Do you have a degree or a vocation that you have put time into studying or learning? Do you have a valued skill? Consider sharing it with others – not only the products of that skill, but the process itself! Can you train up a new generation? Can you spark a fire or passion for a topic or body of knowledge? Consider teaching! You can tutor and offer to support students with their learning in an informal setting. Or you could take it to the vocational level and take up a teacher training journey – explicitly turning service to young people into your career, and entering the rich world of pedagogical excellence as a teacher. It is on us, as teachers, to not only inspire confidence and connection in students, and set them up for their own rich lives of serving and being served by community. Ako Mātātupu offers an employment-based programme to gain full qualification as a secondary school teacher, and we grow as a cohort community along the way.
Serving community is about being there for others, and being there as yourself. When we invest in our community we get to stand tall, grow in resilience and mana, see others for who they are and feel more seen ourselves. We are each other’s keepers. We don’t have to be perfect, we just have to acknowledge our beautiful mutual dependence on each other, and on our earth. When we serve community we activate our power to support a liveable future and a liveable present – one with joy, laughter, generosity and ease. Does that sound like the world you want to live in? Join together!
Looking for a concrete thing to do? Join our flagship Teach First NZ Programme, or donate to our kaupapa in service of young people and their potential.
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