Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Labor of Love. And Community.

[ PREFACE: I recently got involved with an organization in DC called Green Muslims. The moment I came across this group of people, I fell in love. I have organized for some years now for various causes, but this was the first time I met a Muslim organization that was in it to win it. What I mean is that all the folks in this organization, as diverse as we are, are very passionate about the betterment of the environment and are genuinely working towards this cause. Because of this, working with the Green Muslims has been a very spiritual and empowering experience for me.]

A couple weekends ago a few of us "green" Muslims headed out to do some good. So we arrived at the Marvin Gaye Park in South West DC, ready to plant and maybe pick up some trash. What we ended up doing, however, was breaking up asphalt, mixing and laying cement, cutting and welding metal beams, and a whole lot of digging. What we idealists ended up doing was rolling up our sleeves and doing some hard labor.

That day, we spent about 4 hours setting up a guardrail around a stage to make it handicap accessible. I was a little surprised by this because I didn't understand what was so "green" about completing the construction of a stage. But when Benem and Keith, our construction leaders, explained the history of the park, the project slowly started to make sense. A few years ago, the Marvin Gaye Park used to be a trash and crime riddled place- the first day of the park clean up alone produced 300 abandoned needles. Over the years however, it has been cleaned and developed into a beautiful park where folks of that community can come relax with their friends and family and enjoy nature, as well as each other's company. The stage we were working on was built for free musical performances by local bands and musicians. When completed, it will be a place where art and community can flourish together.

Although none of us expected this type of work, we eventually learned that the development of this park was just as important to the environment as planting trees in that space. Or, as another volunteer put it, building up from the ground sometimes is more important than planting things in it. I understood the true gravity of these words during our lunch.

As we all sat exhausted and giddy with hunger, we reminisced about the difficulty of the day. Through jokes and stories, we talked about the feeling of empowerment we gained from the physical labor, the appreciation we gained for the might and skill of those who are true laborers, and the gratitude we gained for the strength and determination of our fellow volunteers. Through these reflections I came to realize that this project helped us form genuine and positive relationships with each other and it helped strengthen the future of this park. I understood then that forming organic and positive relationships with folks is extremely important for the betterment of our environment. For it is through camaraderie that communities develop. And in these communities is borne the idea that one way of protecting a neighbor or friend or family member is by protecting the land and "community property" on which everyone relies.


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  2. Although I was sore for days, I loved working hard then having something to show for it. Even if was only a 20" deep hole in black asphalt (which I am very proud to have dug.)

    But I while empowerment and sense of accomplishment are very important. I think it was the working towards a shared goal was the most satisfying. We were 6 Gals working in tandem on 3 holes. We shared tools and tips, and funny stories. Digging and laughing may make for strange bed fellows, but like everything that happens organically it was a perfect match in its own way.

    I look forward to working with everyone again soon.