By Buyisile Nzima
My name is Buyisile Nzima. I’m a 24-year old female born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have spent most of my life in service of others. It is something that my mother taught me, not so much through words, but through deeds. She has a heart of gold and the ability to touch people everywhere she goes. My mother is a living example of Christ’s words, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s about never turning your back on those less fortunate and, most importantly, treating them with the same level of respect as you would anyone else.
Last September, I came to Catholic Charities of the East Bay with three fellow international graduates through a program called Collabriv. I remember our very first day, sitting in the large conference room, learning about Catholic Charities’ programs and how they all interact together to help people move people from “crisis to stability to prosperity.” I was more inspired than ever to make sure that I left there having made some sort of an impact.
Arriving in the United States, I wasn’t prepared for the contrast to what we see on TV back home. The Bay Area is probably the greatest example of the difference between the wealthy and the poor and the need for services that help people live from day to day. I couldn’t believe the amount of work Catholic Charities does for such a large community, and that so much of the work is volunteer driven. I felt proud every time someone new asked me where I was interning because their response was always the same: “You work for an organization that does a lot for the community.”
My role at Catholic Charities was to provide support wherever it was needed. I started in the programs department and ultimately ended up in the development department. My time working at the front desk, answering client calls and assisting them as they walked in really stuck out. I listened to clients tell their story about how much Catholic Charities helped them and gave them hope when all they could see was darkness. Those moments will be imprinted in my heart forever.
One client I met was there to make use of the housing services. She told me how she walked to our offices because she couldn’t afford BART or bus, but that for her it was worth it because she was finally getting the help she needed. Those are the moments that keep you going every single day and motivate you to give this organization your all. It’s the people whose lives get changed every single day. They make the difference.
You cannot come to Catholic Charities and leave the same. The staff welcomed four strangers and made us feel like family. We worked hard and gave it our all because of the examples we saw around us. Everyone at Catholic Charities has this unique ability to be kind and thoughtful even in the midst of their own daily stresses. It took me a while to understand how everyone found the strength to get through the days but I think the answer is simple: Every single person there believes that we are called to be of service to others and every day they get to answer that call. That is their daily motivation.
Catholic Charities challenged me to dig deeper. Living in another country and seeing the impact of such an organization made me ask the question, “How will you be of service?” I live in one of the largest continents in the world but our resources and our wealth potential has been stifled by conflict, corruption and failing institutions. My goal now that I am home is to keep learning and keep growing. I want to join the political systems and be the interruption that challenges our leaders to look for innovative ways to tackle the problems of our continent. Catholic Charities is a prime example of what happens when people come together for the good of others.
My advice to anyone thinking of volunteering at Catholic Charities: Just do it! It was the best of both worlds. I learned how the business functions, with all the various components necessary to keep it running. I also understood that everything we do is for the benefit of someone else, bringing hope and joy to their lives. There is no greater reward in life than that.
Why do you volunteer? Let us know what inspires you to give back.