When asked how my voluntary work experiences contributed to peace I could not stop smiling, and it reminded me how it was a smile that contributed to peace in many situations in my life, including voluntary work.
A smile in the tourism industry means making people feel "at home", "welcome" and making yourself available to them. When I worked in hotels, a smile was an 'accessory' that I was expected to wear at all times. Even though it costs nothing to smile and to be nice to people, it's not always as easy as it sounds.
Humans can be (very) difficult. They have different expectations. Humans (especially travellers who reside in luxurious hotels during their stay) can be very demanding. Despite it all, I had to smile. After all, I was contributing to peace, wasn't I?
In previous years I had the opportunity to participate in voluntary work with the Missionaries of Charity, locally and abroad. While each summer camp with the kids was unique, the power of a smile was a common element across every experience. It was not easy to build (temporary) meaningful relationships with the kids. I used to struggle to communicate with some of them - I thought of various ways to catch their attention but it was all in vain.
One day I decided to sit next to a boy whose attention I had never managed to capture before. His rude and negative attitude used to remind me of those tourists coming to reception complaining about everything during their stay. Despite it all, I had to smile. After all, I was contributing to peace, wasn't I?
I started drawing random sketches on a piece of paper and he approached me. He initiated a conversation and asked about my drawing. For the first time, I could feel a connection with this kid. I realised the power of a smile; it can replace unspoken words and thoughts. It can affect someone positively and affirm someone's presence.
It's not as easy as it sounds, to smile despite the negative attitudes of some of the kids. But during my voluntary work experiences I made sure I had time to restore myself and reflect about my actions... and that is where peace really starts. It starts within your soul.