Ever since I first started learning about the role of the Internet in international volunteer culture, I’ve been waiting to find an organization that makes the most of online communities. The potential of the Internet for bringing people together is boundless, and yet, many organizations use it simplistically—to advertise their service and nothing else. There is nothing wrong with this—many organizations focus their energies elsewhere, on projects in-country—but I’ve been surprised by the lack of a full embrace. I guess what I’ve been looking for is focus: focus on Internet communications to bridge the gaps between people, to unite us all on a neutral playing field. Of course, the Internet isn’t neutral—it’s only accessible to people with a baseline of privilege—but it’s a start.
Empathy is one of the most important qualities a person can have. Without empathy, we are each an island. It is difficult to feel a deep connection with someone else when you can’t imagine yourself in her place. We may understand our connection intellectually, but true empathy means feeling a desperate humanness, a sympathy that compels us to act. I think experiencing different lifestyles at a young age teaches empathy early. When a child sees another child, she feels a kinship. I think this natural affinity dissipates as we age, unless we are taught that it’s right to feel, to care, and to have the desire to help.