It’s pretty easy to volunteer when you feel like the task you are doing is big and important. But when the job seems mundane and messy—maybe even smelly—some volunteers might hesitate. In Serve the City, however, volunteering with humility means we are not too proud to do the little things, and to clean up things that are are dirty. And this includes not just dirty streets, but dirty bits of history that pollute our cities.
This episode contains three stories from three continents in which people doing small, humble things together are making a big difference. Our first story, from Lusaka, Zambia, features a massive crowd—including some people who might be considered too important for such tasks—who work together to clean their streets. In Berlin, Germany, the site of our second story, volunteers go down on their knees to clean, not just the streets, but a city’s memories of persecution. And in Hampton, Virginia, in the USA, volunteers put their backs into paying respect to some long-dead residents who were not respected in their lifetimes.
You can listen to this episode HERE:
Tabitha Kaonga, one of the City Leaders of Serve the City Lusaka in Zambia, is pictured at left on the scene of their first serving event, an all-city clean-up. Tabitha, along with co-leader Sydney Mukela and their Core Team, organized the massive event in cooperation with the sanitation services of the city.
Over 700 volunteers showed up to sweep the streets, pick up rubbish, and clear blocked drains throughout the city (at right). The city provided garbage trucks to dispose of all the trash that volunteers collected. Among the volunteers picking up rubbish were the mayor, the minister, and many prominent Zambian footballers! A great demonstration of the Serve the City motto: “Many people doing small things together can make a big difference!”
Our second story, in Berlin, Germany, is illustrated by the photo at left: Melinda Means, in the centre, is cleaning the stolpersteine (stumbling stones) along with two other volunteers. These are small brass memorial plaques inserted into the sidewalk in front of the last official address of a person persecuted by the Nazis. Melinda noted that the volunteers must take a posture of humility as they kneel to clean these reminders of a dirty history in their city.
If you want to learn more about the history and distribution of the stolpersteine, you can read the Wikipedia article here. And if you want to learn how to clean the stumbling stones in your area, you can refer to this site for instructions (it also lists all of the Dutch and Belgian stolpersteine).
We also heard from the Serve the City Peninsula team, as they cleaned up the historic Elmerton Cemetery in Hampton, Virginia (USA). This cemetery, dating back to the time of the American Civil War, is the final resting place of over 900 African-Americans. As family members died or moved away, the graveyard had become unkempt, in place covered by grass six feet high. Serve the City is one of the groups seeking to restore its beauty.
In the episode, we heard from Dave Hahne (left, in green) and Geri Holden (right), both members of the STC Peninsula Core Team. Geri is the one that brought this project to the attention of the team, and got Serve the City involved. They explained why it is so important that volunteers learn about and pay their respects to Black Americans who were not shown much respect in their lifetimes. Even more so as this cemetery is less than 3 miles from where the first enslaved African people landed in the English colonies! It takes some humility—especially for White volunteers—to acknowledge this history and take the time to do this small thing to honor these people. If you want to read more about Hampton residents who are working to restore this cemetery, take a look at this article.
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