Volunteering for change

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Volunteering for change

American President-elect Barack Obama won the election with his slogan of change. But it will be difficult for Obama to carry out the educational, health care and environmental reforms he promised in his campaign as he focuses on solving the economic crisis.

Despite rampant skepticism, Obama proposed the establishment of a Classroom Corps to help students in underserved schools, among other initiatives, on a recently launched official Web site. A Health Corps will improve public health outreach; a Clean Energy Corps would help in weatherization and renewable energy projects. A Veterans Corps is to help veterans in hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters; a Homeland Security Corps will help communities plan, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

Obama seems to have judged that it is more efficient to invite participation from the private sector rather than the government doing it alone. This is why he intends to expand the Peace Corps and its domestic equivalent.

This is his blueprint to change the United States, with the help of the people who believed in his message and voted for him. During his victory speech, Obama credited millions of volunteers with the win, and reiterated that without their help, change would not be possible. Obama encouraged all Americans to take care of their neighbors through volunteerism, patriotism, responsibility and a sense of sacrifice.

In his autobiography, “Dreams from My Father,” he said change does not come automatically but from well-organized grassroots. It was after he graduated from Harvard Law School that he learned this lesson, from community work in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Chicago, rather than earning a high annual salary at a prestigious law firm.

Naysayers are calling Obama’s volunteer projects overly ambitious. However, the young people who support Obama, the so-called “Obama Generation,” are already doing a lot of volunteer work with a passion for change. Surely, then, these proposals are not impossible. For example, Princeton University graduates created the Teach for America initiative in 1990, through which over 20,000 students from prestigious schools in the country take part teaching students in poor areas.

It will be interesting to see whether the Obama generation can bring change in the United States through volunteerism. We may be able to approach the current economic crisis with similar methods.
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