From Splashlife: Safiyah West of LIFT, Volunteer of the Week

By Splashlife Staff

From her very first volunteer gig preparing sandwiches at a homeless center as a child, Safiyah West has made helping others a priority in her life. These days she balances her time between studying Community Health and French at Tufts University and working one-on-one with people to help them find jobs, housing, and health services through LIFT, an organization dedicated to combating poverty and providing clients with opportunities to achieve economic security.

What made you begin to volunteer and how did that first experience impact you?
“My first volunteer experience was in elementary school at a homeless shelter, where we helped make sandwiches. The school I was going to at the time had a strong focus on instilling in us the value of philanthropy and public service from a young age. At the time, I felt a feeling of accomplishment, as if I were doing something that should be done. Even if I could not really understand the depth of my experience and the ensuing feeling at the time, I believe that the way I felt after that first experience is indicative of the very spirit of what it means to volunteer.”

What have you learned from your volunteer experiences that you’ve used in your own life, education, and career?
“The people I have met while doing volunteer work have left the biggest impression on my life, and how I view and treat my education, and my career goals. I have often made a point of trying to emulate the resilience and persistence I have encountered in populations I have served through volunteer experience. Through helping other people, I become more informed about the world, its injustices, and its systems of hierarchy and privilege. I have also become more informed about myself, as volunteering for me has always been an introspective experience in which I am constantly required to evaluate my values, and to force myself to work harder, think broader, and to make the most of my experiences and resources in order to be in a position to better serve others.”

Could you tell us what LIFT is all about and what drew you to dedicate your time to the organization?
“LIFT is about providing an intermediary platform of support between people and institutions which have failed them, and/or do not have the capacity to give them the individual time and man-power to work with them on a human level. I was attracted to the opportunity to develop more direct, personalized relationships with people in the community where I go to school every day, but do not frequent in many other ways. Also, I love that working with LIFT gives me endless opportunities to expand my knowledge base and to be challenged, so that I am constantly growing.”

How has working with LIFT broadened your life perspective?
“Working with LIFT has introduced me to the realities of what it means to live in America every day for people from different walks of life… I have gained a better understand of the social systems and institutions that govern the lives of Americans and non-Americans living in the United States, and the various ways in which they serve or fail to serve the people who partake in them. LIFT has also encouraged me to think more critically and more creatively when problem-solving, and the value of using creative and effective approaches in accordance with the issues and individuals in question. My time at LIFT has also shown me that collaborative work often has many rewards, including the opportunity to teach, and to learn while teaching. I have also been exposed to systems like immigration processes, public benefits, healthcare, and housing, in more intricate and profound ways, following a realization that just because they are there and they exist, they are not always successful in answering to the needs of people who fall between the gaps.”