ACII Alumni Spotlight Series: A Moment to Reflect on Community Organizing

ACII Alumni Spotlight Series: A Moment to Reflect on Community Organizing

The ACII Alumni Spotlight Series features original pieces by participants from Round 1 of our Afghan Community Impact Incubator (ACII) reflecting on their community service projects and lessons learned.

By Moska Rokay, ACII Round 1 ChangeMaker, Afghans Reviving Cultural Heritage Twitter: @immergentx

Burnout. Many of you may relate to this topic in some capacity but let’s talk about it in a form that is familiar to me and is not brought up very often – specifically what I’m going to be calling “organizer burnout.”  

Although I’m going to complain a little – you’ve been warned – I also want to provide some tips and helpful guidance for those new to community organizing.

The ACII Program

There’s probably a more formal term for this but I’m going to call it “organizer burnout.” To explain how I define “organizer burnout” I will start by discussing what I mean when I label myself a community organizer. I call myself a community organizer because I have committed to serving my Afghan Canadian diaspora community through a multitude of different organizations. Essentially, my community work has mostly been grassroots-level and has attempted to fill gaps in social services for the community by organizing events centered on real issues I saw in the community.

One such event was this past February’s Afghan Leadership & Reconciliation Summit: Unpacking the Hazara Experience. Through the ACII Program, ARCH (Afghans Reviving Culture and Heritage) and I were able to host an amazing one-day conference centered on raising awareness for Hazara human rights issues and creating steps to make changes. We brought together a group of intelligent, hard-working individuals who cared passionately about Hazara human rights from across the globe but we had little time to plan all of it. A huge shoutout to my wonderful ARCH team for hosting a successful event regardless.

Although I have been doing this work for almost 8 years now and have since developed healthy boundaries between my personal life and community organizing, I hope to be able to illustrate how burned out I felt despite all that and how self-care helped me overcome this burnout.

Reflections on Community Work

For years, I’ve spent my free time - yes, it was always my choice - attempting to serve my deeply divided community through events, workshops, educational/informational sessions, and socials because I grew up without these wonderful, unifying experiences. I also saw the strength of united diaspora communities by observing other ethnic groups in Canada. I wanted this for my own community. I gave up a lot of time, energy and mindspace for this community. What suffered were my relationships with my family, my friends, and myself because I had some grandiose notion that I must sacrifice body, mind and soul for the "greater good" of the community.

I naively believed that I was destined to change the world (the community) alone and that I'd do it purely through hard work and persistent effort. I was running on endless passion for a cause that consumed my being.

What I didn’t know was that my drive to do more and more was blinding me to what was happening to myself and those around me. You can easily let the world rush past you as plans and ideas for community “improvement” engross your thoughts. That’s when you start making excuses to miss “trivial” life events, too. You can easily miss your little brother’s high school graduation for an event or stop listening to your body’s warning signs as you surge forward.

Although I do not (generally) follow the unhealthy patterns I mentioned above very much anymore, the past one-day conference I co-hosted through the ACII Program challenged an old organizer like myself and I fell into my old habits (explained above) while planning this event. Attempting to change the status quo takes a toll on you but, this time around, I was able to fall back on self-care methods I had painstakingly created over the years.

A Moment for Some Advice

Before I reveal my methods, I want to be clear that I absolutely believe you can change the world even if it’s just a small dent. I don’t want to discourage anyone with my story. However, I’m here to tell you that It’s just important to remember the list below as you do world-changing work. I can’t tell you how many times I had to return to this list while planning our conference.

1. You can’t and shouldn’t do it all alone. Connect with equally passionate world-changers. Find your squad.

2. While you’re endlessly patient with others, remember to be patient with yourself, too. The world doesn’t change in one day and you’re young. You really and truly have time.

3. Pick a day of the week. Sunday to Saturday. Choose a day. Got it? Okay, that day is now your rest day. You are forbidden from thinking about/doing world-changing work that day. Start off with one rest day, see how it feels, and choose more. I needed my therapist to tell me this one.

4. Deliberately choose a time in the day or a day in the week dedicated only to family. And I don’t mean you finally leaving your room and sitting on the couch as they watch their Turkish dramas. Instead, plan an activity with them - with intention. “Family” can look different for every person.

5. Choose a time in the day to treat yourself. Spoil yourself because you deserve it! Do something that brings a smile to your face even if it’s just drinking bubble tea while watching The Office.

6. Get outside, exercise, and breathe. Breathe in the present deep into your lungs and exhale the past into the atmosphere, away from your being.

Of course, this list is not exhaustive and I encourage you to adapt and add to it as you need. It’ll look different for everyone but these 6 points are key foundational objectives as you throw yourself into community organizing.

Community work has been so fulfilling and nourishing to my soul. I am so honoured to serve my diaspora community and I hope to continue to do so years into the future. It just took me some time to learn how to do this work in a healthy and respectful way to myself.

Views expressed solely represent the opinions of the writer.