By Rupal Ramesh Shah
I have always believed there is no self-made man or woman because behind each person’s success there is an entire community that has lifted, encouraged, and supported them.
Growing up in Tanzania, I felt a community always surrounded me and my family. In both of my cultures of origin – Indian and Tanzanian – that communal mentality prevailed. Therefore, at school, work, and social events we were surrounded by people with whom we could celebrate and collaborate and also count on in times of need.
In many countries people say it takes a village to raise a child – which is a way of speaking to the power of community. Data from numerous studies have proven that those who rely on their communities have better life outcomes – that community can positively impact an individual’s success, happiness, and health. While studies have proven this through data and numbers, I can attest to this myself through my own life experiences, especially in the past few years.
On Google’s homepage – arguably one of the most frequented public spaces in the world – high schooler Sophie Araque-Liu recently wrote, “Caring for yourself means recognizing that there are others in the world who are also there to help you … I care for myself by accepting that others care for me. Opening up and letting others support me not only relieves my stress, but it also lets me tackle things I could never do on my own.” Clearly I am not alone in my belief in the importance of connecting with others.
So, how does one have a better life by building a community? What are the key elements of building, sustaining, and collaborating with your community?
First, relationship-building is key. Conversing genuinely and openly creates relationships, and a foundation of trust and compassion sustains those relationships. Recently I moved to Ohio. As I build new friendships, I find myself increasingly at ease in my new environment and community. And having relationships has helped me to navigate the professional world. With the help of my new friends in Ohio, I have met a lot of professionals who have let me know about potential job opportunities. At the same time, I’m spending time on retaining old relationships because all relationships take work, and one must invest time and skill in order to sustain them.
Second, contributing is important. When building a new community, contributing time, money, or skills helps. I like to volunteer, and since I have a passion for working with kids, I have been volunteering at shelters where I bake with children. In Ohio, I have joined the boards of a couple of organizations, which have given me a platform to meet new people, learn about their work in the local environment, and impact the overall community. Contributions can also come in the form of supporting local neighbors and businesses.
Third, inviting others and welcoming them is worth the effort. Extending a hand of friendship to those we are surrounded by makes a community stronger, especially in times of need. For me, it has been great to get to know people by sharing meals together, sometimes meals I cooked and sometimes out at our favorite local restaurants. And sharing my culture and traditions with those around me has been a great way to help others genuinely understand me and my background.
Last, finding shared interests strengthens connections. Above all, in order to sustain a community, one must find and share common interests. Those common interests could be centered around hobbies, food, culture, language, or experiences. When there are common interests, it is easier to bond with people and at the same time grow and learn with them. A great example is the group that contributes to Amjambo Africa, and those who follow it. As a community, we come together to write pieces based on our perspectives, and grow together. We share our interests in relation to immigrant experiences and global insights. While there is value in being independent, there is a lot of strength associated with a community bond.
During the height of the pandemic, when all of us were required to go into isolation, some had families or friends to live with, while others were alone. Everyone requires some alone time and space, but studies are now showing that those who had family and friends around them during COVID-19 fared better. With the support of others in the household, individuals were able to engage, discuss, and make sense of what the pandemic meant. It was a difficult time for everyone, and having that sense of reliance on others and knowing that we were not alone provided a feeling of comfort!
Now that life has returned to some normalcy, many are questioning their previous relationship to community. People are reflecting on what they want in their ideal environment. One thing that is obvious is the need for everyone to interact in some capacity with others. Workplaces are finding ways to creatively engage teams. Families are finding ways to constantly remain in contact, even with the elderly and those who have precarious health situations. Individuals want to ensure connectivity with others to ensure overall well-being.
As time goes on, I hope that each person feels supported by their community, and appreciates, values, and understands the role a community plays in life.