Something strange is afoot—the shoe is on the other foot—and other feet idioms to describe the unusual situation where I, the usually invisible blog writer, am interviewing myself!
I am Carmen Thong, one of the volunteers whose task it is to attend Hope Horizon events, interview someone, and write a short blog post about it. Of course, since COVID, there was less of the attending, and more of the direct interviewing conducted over phone or Zoom.
In the interview process, I try to simulate a normal conversation where I meet someone for a coffee and I am really invested to get to know them more. I ask follow up questions so that we can dig deeper into their stories. At the end of the process, I write up a narrative that encapsulates, as best as possible, the spirit of what they said. In all of this simulation, I find that every conversation I have does end up getting me invested in the person’s joys, struggles, hopes, and goals.
Being able to connect with people I haven’t met before in this deep way was an unexpected and wonderful experience. I wasn’t sure before I started if I would be adequate for the task. This is because I have just moved to Stanford University from Malaysia to start my PhD in English (on Postcolonial Studies). I was entering not just a new locale—which would already be a different enough context—but a new country and a new community (one beyond the academic bubble). I was concerned that because of this, I might not be able to connect with people well and to represent their voices in the best way. But my interviewing experience has shown me that with an open heart from both sides and listening ears, two strangers can meet for the first time, talk for an hour, and come out of it feeling affirmed, inspired, and encouraged. That is certainly what I felt from hearing the stories of many of the staff, volunteers and parents at Hope Horizon. The same spirit for hope and change in community moves us all, and might I even say, the same Holy Spirit.
I was particularly struck by the generosity of one mum I was interviewing over the phone, which was happening whilst she was also doing her many chores. Her frankness in sharing about the struggles she and her family faced during COVID, and how she was thankful for the help she received from her community and Hope Horizon particularly, made me feel so much optimism and hope for what an organization like Hope Horizon can do.
Hope is really and truly my largest takeaway so far from my time volunteering. I value this so much because, in an academic context, I think and talk about large scale concepts like capitalism, colonialism, and racism.
At Knight Hennessy, a scholarship program I am a part of where I met Sarahi (who referred me to Hope Horizon), we talk about systemic and global problems all the time. We are always encouraged to measure ourselves up to the task—which is an intimidating prospect because these systemic problems always seem so abstract, inevitable, and insurmountable.
Then, I meet the folks at Hope Horizon. I see volunteers investing weeks, months, and often, years, into a local community where they see real needs and decide to put in real help. I hear about kids and parents whose sense of self and ability to dream is built up by an organization who not only tells them they can do it, it also helps them to do it. I interview staff who were once kids in the Hope Horizon program, volunteers who have volunteered so long there they might as well be staff, and kids who want to volunteer when they’re older.
This is long term, community grounded, multi-generational work that has influenced so many lives, and continues to shine a light on the path ahead. Knowing Hope Horizon is out there doing the Lord’s work, and many other Hope Horizons elsewhere, makes the insurmountable global problems seem smaller.