It’s National Volunteer Week and I find myself at a loss for words. Amidst the collective grief and uncertainty we are all experiencing with the coronavirus pandemic, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity, ingenuity and courage I am observing in our country and around the world. During a time when it would seem that forced isolation would encourage us to become insular, this crisis has instead facilitated extraordinary kindness and connection.
You may have read about volunteers stepping up to deliver groceries and supplies to older populations, about both experienced seamstresses and first time sewers alike making masks to address shortages in personal protective equipment, or about the medical students who took their oath two months early to join the front lines in New York. You’re likely seeing the messages of solidarity displayed in windows and on sidewalks for essential workers. Perhaps you’ve participated in the nightly howl to honor the relentless work and courage of healthcare professionals. Maybe there is a stuffed bear currently sitting in your windowsill, a simple act meant to extend a hand to exhausted parents by offering joy to their isolated little ones.
A “coronavirus howl” at 8PM became tradition in April across Metro Denver
These are the stories and actions I am turning to when I find myself overwhelmed by our current context and all of its complicated ramifications. They serve as gentle reminders that lightness can coexist with darkness and that seemingly small acts of service can collectively make a large impact. Who knew a pandemic could act as a catalyst for compassion, human connection and social change?
Lightness can coexist with darkness… seemingly small acts of service can collectively make a large impact. Who knew a pandemic could act as a catalyst for compassion, human connection and social change?
As I consider how this pandemic intersects with human trafficking and many other human rights issues, it is easy to become discouraged and to feel that the world’s problems are simply too big to tackle. These are the moments in which I count myself lucky to work closely with the volunteer advocates who staff Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline. They serve as a source of daily inspiration and a reminder that together, we can and will make progress.
I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend with 33 pretty inspiring people – students, professionals, parents, and even a few healthcare workers who decided that mid-pandemic was an optimal time to volunteer to join the anti-trafficking movement. They’ve committed to four days of in-depth training and a year of service as a volunteer advocate for Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline. This weekend they will complete their training and join the rest of our advocate team – a phenomenal group of people who have demonstrated unwavering commitment to the hotline and to addressing human trafficking during this time.
These are complex and unprecedented times. Individuals, families and communities are impacted in a myriad of ways and the trauma that accompanies pandemic life can intersect in complicated ways with our well-being. I fault no one for their need to turn inward, take care of themselves and the people around them, show up for work, and simply survive. Keep doing what you need to do.
But I also have to applaud and express my gratitude to those who are fueled to activism during this time. Thank you for your service. Big, safe, socially distant virtual hugs and high fives to each of you.
In solidarity –
Brittany Austin is the Hotline and Advocacy Manager with the Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking in Denver, Colorado. She manages Colorado’s Human Trafficking Hotline and oversees the incredible volunteer advocates who make it possible.