It is hard to accept things that go against your family values. It is still harder to change how one feels about things deeply rooted in one’s upbringing. But there is one personal experience that has made me accept such things and adjust my beliefs in order to be of service.

It happened when we had to do a four-week volunteer stint in our community for our class. I was tasked to be a peer counsellor at a shelter for runaway teenage girls. I was very apprehensive about this assignment as I had no experience in dealing with runaway teens with problems of drug abuse, alcoholism and pregnancy. I come from a middle-class, close-knit family that frowns upon such behaviour. I would often come home crying as I felt like I was being punished having to deal with girls whom I had nothing in common with. I would immediately have a long hot bath when I got home as I felt tainted by their problems. On my second week, I was to be a solo peer counsellor to Maya. Maya is fourteen years old and three months pregnant with her father’s child. She ran away from home as she had just discovered that she was pregnant (she had been continually sexually abused by her father since she was twelve). She had not told anyone about the abuse because she felt no one would believe her as she had troubles many times before. I didn’t know how to counsel Maya as her experiences were so different from mine. My having to counsel her put me far outside of my comfort zone. Being with Maya made me realize how privileged I was and I wanted to help her to move on. I slowly let Maya trust me by letting her get to know me more instead of forcing her to talk about herself. When I felt she was ready to open up to me, I let her pour her heart out. This experience has been a revelation. I have realized that the people we deal with are not always the same as we are. We must not judge and shun others because they threaten our comfort zone. Most often these are the people we need to show compassion for.

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