From rubbish to religion, volunteers turn out for service

Volunteers with the Lions Club of Tropical Gardens celebrate during a neighbourhood cleanup project in George Town, part of the weekend’s 60 Acts of Service sponsored by Celebrate Cayman. - Photos: Mark Muckenfuss

Some picked up trash, some picked up rakes, others picked up hammers and paintbrushes and a few picked up microphones as groups of volunteers across Cayman participated in Celebrate Cayman’s 60 Acts of Service over the weekend.

Whether the organisation reached its goal of 60 service projects is unclear – only 20 were listed on the website – but for those pitching in, and especially for those benefiting from the work, that probably did not matter.

Rebecca Bodden, 74, was just happy to have a little TLC given to her home in George Town by members of the Lions Club of Tropical Gardens. The volunteers raked debris from her yard, trimmed trees and performed some maintenance on the home itself on Saturday morning.

“I’m feeling good and I’m thankful,” said Bodden, who has lived in the small home with her husband for 26 years. “These are the things we need help with.”

Chapter President Jasmine Minott said 22 volunteers were on hand for the morning project. She said members of the club identified the house after surveying the neighborhood. The work, she said, fit in with the geriatric services the club provides.

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“We’re doing two projects today,” she said, noting the the group would be installing some benches at Smith Cove during the afternoon. “We’re putting three benches on the beach. A lot of people use the beach and they don’t always have a place to sit.”

Field of Dreams

Not far away, at the Field of Dreams, a group of 10 volunteers was slapping paint and stain on what will soon be the office for the YMCA programmes held on the grounds.

Greg Smith, CEO of the Cayman YMCA, said the small building beside the main ballfield was originally built for an onsite caretaker. The painting was one of the final steps in getting it ready as the operations office.

“There’s some fine tuning, things that the electricians need to do,” he said. “We expect it to be open for operations by the 10th of June.”

Having a more accessible office, he said, is an important change. The current office is a second-floor walk up, making it difficult for some people to get to.

“We’re going from 20 steps to four,” he said. “It’s a huge help.”

Rashane Williams said six of the volunteers were all members of the FirstCaribbean International Bank’s finance department.

“We’re normally stuck in the office,” she said, while brushing stain on the outside deck of the building. “This year, our goal was to get out and help the community. This is our first project and we’re excited about it.”

While the YMCA was benefiting from their work, so were her colleagues, she said.

“It is very much a team building exercise,” Williams said. “It’s nice to see us working outside of our comfort zone together.”

Ali Shahan Butt, right, delivers a scriptural reading prior to a discussion on religion by panelists, from left, Tahir Chaudhry, Shilpa Tagalpallewar and Nick Adams.

Interfaith dialogue

Not all of the acts of service involved physical labour. On Saturday evening, Tahir Chaudhry, imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Islam mosque in Cayman, hosted a discussion about faith and loyalty to community.

Chaudhry, along with Shilpa Tagalpallewar and Nick Adams spoke about Islam, Hinduism and Christianity, respectively, and took questions from an audience of about 15 people.

“There is a common thread in every major religion,” Adams said. “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

He cited examples of the command in the major world religions.

“Our duty,” he said, “is to rejoice in the truth and operate out of love.”

Tagalpallewar, known by many on the island for her henna tattoos and artwork, outlined some of the basic principles of Hinduism and talked about the importance of karma and living a good life in order to advance one’s soul in the next incarnation.

“The goal is moksha, or salvation,” she said. “We can reach self-actualisation through repeated lives.”

Chaudhry, who set the theme for the discussion as “love for all, hatred for none”, said the ideals of human behaviour envisioned by major religions are more similar than different. He lamented the fact that a small faction of Muslims tainted the wider perception of the religion.

“It is very unfortunate that the religion of Islam is one of the most misunderstanded religions in the world,” he said.

Radical extremists, he said, are no more representative of mainstream Islam than they are in any other religion.

“When one wants to find the foundations of Christianity,” he said, “one does not seek out the Ku Klux Klan.”

“Islam,” he added, “means ‘peace’ in English.”

Chaudhry said he organised the Saturday event to promote tolerance and mutual respect.

“We need to start building bridges where we are bringing people together,” he said. “This whole initiative was made for trying to connect everyone in this culture. If we’re not going to connect, the society’s not going to work.”

Dervin Cummings said he came because he has an interest in different religions.

“It’s good,” he said of the event, “because people are scared of Muslims and this enlightens us to the truth.”

Cayman filmmaker Badir Awe said he thought the event could serve to initiate dialog.

“We definitely need communication between the different parties,” he said of the various religions. “There’s a tension created when there’s no connection. This helps solve that. We see how much we have in common.”

Chaudhry, who grew up in Canada, hopes to have an annual event that will foster that communication.

“In Canada, we do this every year and it’s a full day conference,” he said.

“I want to reach out to the communities. I pray that the Lord blesses this land and makes it a source of peace and prosperity.”

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