Thursday, January 26, 2017

Bloom Where You're Planted

By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

“Bloom where you’re planted” is a phrase that no teenager with a lot of angst wants to hear. Yet, looking back, my mom was right - as she often is - about the necessity of and the joy that comes from immersing yourself in wherever it is that you are, rather than resenting that place. At age 16, I wanted nothing more than to be far from Long Island and New York. Fast-forward to age 22, and now I can’t imagine where I would rather be. My time in Dominican Volunteers has given me an enriched and renewed appreciation for the amazing city and state that I grew up in.

It’s no secret that I moved the smallest distance for my service year. While some volunteers moved across the country, I did not. On a good day, I can drive across just two counties from my parents’ home to my new community in the Bronx in about 45 minutes. By public transportation, I would cross four counties, take one Long Island Railroad Train, the 1, 2 or 3 subway line up one stop to 42nd St, then the S or the 7 to Grand Central, and then the 6 all the way to the end, and end up in my community in about two hours. At my ministry site, I’m about 21 miles from my parents’ house, and my community is roughly 19 miles from where I grew up. I may be close to home, but the past few months have been a world of difference that I never could have expected.


Katt speaking at the Migration and
Immigration Conference
Growing up in New York, one would think that I would have at least visited the United Nations once in my life, yet I had not! I wouldn’t have been able to find the UN if I was walking around Manhattan, and I certainly did not understand even a fraction of the work that goes on there every day. Yet here I am, every day being transported around the world without ever having to leave midtown Manhattan, learning about situations and conflicts that seem so distant yet are inextricably tied to our collective human condition and global narrative. Every day I attempt to be hope for people with whom I may never come in contact, living in conditions that I can hardly imagine. Every day I enter what is often a bulwark of bureaucracy, and every day I leave not having solved all of the world’s problems, but having hopefully provided the tools to both policymakers and ordinary citizens to get more engaged, be more aware, and make changes that reflect the human faces behind the world’s crises.

I am so often reminded of the immense privilege that I have to be from the United States. I would imagine that many of my fellow volunteers are realizing how fortunate they were to grow up in the families or areas that they did, and I am realizing that as well, but the awareness of my privilege as an American has never been so stark. Worldwide, there are roughly one billion people who live on less than $1USD per day. Approximately 800 million people are suffering from lack of food security.  In many countries, girls and women still do not have adequate access to education, and around 15 million girls per year enter into a child marriage. There are people dealing with little to no infrastructure, corrupt regimes, lack of clean water, and tremendous income inequality. Every person, at every corner of the
Katt with the President Mahama of Ghana
globe, is facing the difficult challenge of global warming and climate change, and how to mitigate these risks. However, for some in Small Island Developing States, the reality is that with rising sea levels, thousands of people might very quickly find themselves quite literally stranded on desert islands, without homes and without land to live, farm, or build businesses on. While difficult economic and social problems persist in our own country, we are guaranteed certain securities by our government and are often afforded opportunities that those in other countries do not have access to. Across the globe, there are people coping with realities beyond my wildest imagination, and yet every day I seek to represent them in the Dominican Leadership Conference advocacy space. Every day I “show up” for people who cannot do so for themselves. What a true and immense privilege, honor, and responsibility this is, and how lucky I feel every day that Dominican Volunteers has afforded me it.


Community life has also been an experience unlike any other. First and foremost, I am living in the Bronx. When people mention “the Bronx,” images of the era of the “burning Bronx” in the 1980s are conjured. There is a certain nervousness with which people approach the Bronx. I myself, despite living on Long Island for the majority of my life, had only driven through the Bronx, and never made an effort to explore it. I had been missing out on so much! Not only is the Bronx the largest of the city’s five boroughs, it is also the most diverse, with over 200 cultures represented. There are distinctly Italian sections of the Bronx, there are Caribbean sections, Latin American, Irish – any culture that one can imagine is likely represented here. High in the Northeast corner of the Bronx, a stone’s throw from Westchester County, is my home at Our Lady of Assumption Church, where I have been able to grow in my faith and learn valuable life lessons from women who have seen and done it all. From sharing stories about growing up in the Bronx, to deep and thought-provoking discussions on poverty or the true nature of what it means to be “pro-life,” my community has shown me the beauty of life well lived in pursuit of the truth, and has taught me lessons that I know will stick with me long after the year is over.  

So, yes, bloom where you are planted. In my case, it could be that I am challenged to consider the plight of migrants and refugees in the morning, and then asked to consider what role women should have in peace negotiations in the afternoon. It has involved helping to plan a forum, volunteering for the International Day of the Girl Child Summit, drafting a proposal for an event on indigenous women in agriculture, writing statements for a social development commission, taking an active role on six NGO committees, collaborating with great people, and being tasked with professional responsibilities that I never thought would be possible as a recent graduate.  It has involved cooking for my community, which I was terrified of doing. It has involved waking up at 5:50AM for prayer, which seemed daunting at first, but has carried many personal rewards as well as strengthened my relationship with my community. It has involved finding a new home in an unexpected place, but still being so close to the home I’ve known since childhood. It’s involved giving a place I was ready to leave a second glance, and definitely not regretting it at all. It has involved traveling around the world without ever leaving New York, and it’s involved being in a center of global diplomacy every day, but returning to my quiet corner of suburbia every night.

It’s been about five months since I formally said “yes” to the Dominican Volunteers journey at our Orientation Retreat. While I don’t know what the rest of the year will hold, or what the future beyond this year of Dominican Volunteers looks like, I have learned that having faith in the fact that all things happen as they are meant to, I will never be disappointed, and will always be in for a new adventure, even if that adventure is just 20 miles away from Long Island.

This post first appeared on Dominican Volunteers USA blog, Disputatio. Reposted here with permission. To learn more about Dominican Volunteers USA, please click here.