Komila Kholmatova is a junior student at Florida International University, she is a part of Honors College and majoring in International Business with a focus on a certificate in Social Media and E-Marketing Analytics. As an international student from Uzbekistan, Komila is very excited to be a part of this course and have an opportunity to learn more about the history and the culture of beautiful Miami. After finishing her degree at FIU, Komila hopes to start up her own business. Apart from school, she likes cooking, travelling, reading and painting.
I was lucky enough to volunteer for two institutions for my service project.
The first one is the Florida International University’s Student Programming Council (SPC). SPC is a student-led organization located at both MMC and BBC campuses that organizes various events for FIU students’ community. Events vary from lectures to workshops, movie nights, concerts, shows and pool parties on regular basis. Even though the pandemic had put a big end on all the in-person events, SPC continued to program engaging virtual events and volunteering opportunities for its community. As the situation started to become better in regards to Covid-19, in-person events started to happen by following strict social distancing rules along with other policies. Thus, I was able to become a volunteer on one of their events “Pride Drag Show”.
The second institution is Castellow Hammock Preserve and Nature Center. The rich in flora and fauna Castellow Hammock is named after James S. Castellow who was a citrus farmer that declared the property of 160 acres and built his homestead in 1900. The park was opened in 1974. Today the park is a home to more than 120 birds, 70 butterflies, hummingbirds and many more other species. Castellow Hammock offers a big range of educational activities and volunteering opportunities perfect for everyone. Thanks to the park’s volunteering opportunities, I was able to become a part of their Youth Service Earth Fest.
As a thriving person for new experiences and adventures I always try to look for something that I have not done before. Even though the pandemic has significantly affected the variety of options for volunteering I am glad that I was still able to find something different like the “Pride Drag Show” and the “Youth Service Earth Fest”.
Being form a country where homosexuality is illegal- and people fear and refuse to talk about their lives and sexual orientation- I was never able to learn and understand this social dilemma regarding acceptance of LGBTQ community. Today, around 174 countries around the world socially accept LGBTQ people. Nevertheless, in Uzbekistan being a part of this community means being a criminal. Coming to this country allowed me to see perspectives that would have otherwise been shunned away from my learning growth as a compassionate human being. Thus, I decided to volunteer at the Drag to raise the awareness for the rights of LGBTQ community and show my support during the pride week at FIU.
As for “Youth Earth Fest” event at Castellow Hammock Preserve and Nature Center, I always liked everything related to nature. This specific opportunity at the park was a perfect chance for me to spend a great time outdoors and help our mother nature to be a little bit more beautiful, green and clean. As human beings take care after themselves, nature also needs to be taken care of, and only we humans can help nature by caring and beautifying it in all possible ways would it be watering or planting. Big parks like Catellow Hammock are always open to a helping hand and this time I was glad to provide mine.
Since one of my friends, Aleksandra Baryshnikova, and me were looking for volunteering opportunities together, she referred me to the “Pride Drag Show” event. The volunteering opportunity was sent out to all FIU Honors College students and I was able to complete the sign-up form as soon as I was told about it. The event collaborated with LGBTQ initiatives and Erica Jayne Friedman, the associate director of Pride center at FIU. I am very grateful and happy for all the opportunities that Honors College provides for its student, including this amazing one. Despite pandemic, FIU is still doing its best to entertain students and create engaging big range of events.
For my second volunteering opportunity, I had to do a little research online. After visiting Miami-Dade County’s website for Volunteering and looking for what they offer, I came across “Park Service Day” and signed up right away, since it caught my attention for being held during “Earth month” and at the location that I have never attended. To sign up, I had to create account and sign a form that included parks policies and guidelines.
WHERE & WHAT
“Pride Drag Show”
On April 10th 2021, I together with my friend Aleksandra, arrived to the GC Lawns at FIU MMC campus around 2:40 pm. The event setup had to start around 3 pm and everybody including us were gathering at the venue for about 10 minutes. After everybody has arrived, we were introduced to SPC leadership and organization team, Miss Hope- one of the students leaders- had given us a little heads up on what we were going to do. Meanwhile, before the event each of us had received event day details including timeline and task that we were assigned to do via email. Every volunteer received a T-shirts and event tag that included the QR-code for the event’s details and additional information. After changing, we got into work. First, we had to set up tables and wrap them up, and check that chairs were set 6 feet apart. We also packed and distributed giveaway bags at several tables around the venue and organized food and drinks at the tables. All preparation and setting up took about 2-2.5 hours.
Guests started to arrive around 5 pm. We had different tables to entertain guests, like DIY resin keychain table, food and drinks table, a mask painting table, table of giveaways, and Pride flags and pins. Aleksandra and I were assigned to distribute food and drinks to the guests. While giving away food we met a lot of new FIU students and I was happy to meet some of my friends that I did not see for long time. The show started around 6:30 pm, and luckily we had chance both to volunteer and enjoy the show itself, since our table was right next to the stage we were able to watch it from the beginning to the end.
This was my first time witnessing a Drag Show and it was insanely incredible. I was completely delighted by the performance of the Drag Queens and astonished about how mobile and charismatic they are. Everybody had so much fun, they danced, laughed, played games and at times screamed saying “YAS QUEEN” by raising the index finger of the hand as a supportive sign to the Drag Queens. As the show ended, guest started to leave and we volunteers started to clean up and wrap up food leftovers. After finishing cleaning we brought all the tables and equipment used for the events back into the SPC office and headed home around 10 pm.
“Youth Service Earth Fest”
On April 17th I arrived to Castellow Hammock Park in the early morning at 8:45 am. We had to clock in as soon we arrived to confirm our service hours later on. As people started to arrive and it was 9:00 am, the introduction presentation started, and the Park’s Ranger Mr. Erik King described our plan for the day. Since April is the Earth month, our cleanup was named Earth Fest to encourage people to sign up and help our Earth to become a better and a cleaner place to live. There were around 15 volunteers of all different ages gathered for the park clean up. We were divided in several groups and assigned different task in order to keep social distancing- and be able to assist park in variety of work. Our group consisted of three people and our working area was the butterfly garden. We were given work gloves and other working tools like hedge shears, pruning shears and wheelbarrow.
We pulled out wild plants and weeds that damage the garden and eventually attract insects that might harm the butterflies. During the 2.5 hours we also cut the bushes and tried to shape them in a beautiful circled shape. My favorite part of the work was creating a path by cutting branches through an overgrown garden, unfortunately we were not able to finish the entire path, since the garden was large, but we managed to get to the middle of it. As it was only 3 hours shift, the time flew by so fast and we did not even notice that it was 11:30 am and our shift was coming to an end.
At the end of the service, every volunteer was given a free lunch brought from the local café, Mango, as a token of appreciation for the help provided to the park. It was an amazing ending of the service, since we did not only enjoy eating our lunch but simultaneously we learned about the endangered Miami Blue Butterfly through park’s documentary that was broadcasted for us through YouTube.
I am beyond grateful for every single opportunity that comes towards my way to help our society, nature and world. Honors College volunteering should not be taken for granted because it is a portal that brings the most positive and brightest character traits out in every person. I am very glad that I was able to engage and raise awareness regarding the community, social and global issues throughout world thanks to my honors courses. I appreciate that I was able to participate in the Pride week event and show my support and appreciation to the LGBTQ community in our society and attend the Earth clean up service.
I sincerely believe that there is more goodness than evilness in the world, and in order to keep the balance on the side of good, us people must stop at some point and forget about our problems and do something good that will help our friends, our neighbors, our nature or people that are in need of help. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to say to me that “If every person in this world would plant a fruit tree next to their house-our air would become less polluted and those trees could feed thousands of hungry stomachs”. By mentioning that I meant that each of our help to the environment, society and nature matters and only by sticking together, raising social issues, participating in such volunteering events and even doing something little that will bring smile on someone’s face will help us to make our world a better, safer and cleaner place to live!
Communications, Florida. “Student Programming Council – Get Involved Student Affairs – Florida International University – FIU”. Studentaffairs.Fiu.Edu, 2021, https://studentaffairs.fiu.edu/get-involved/student-programming-council/. Accessed 20 Apr 2021.
“Castellow Hammock Preserve & Nature Center”. Https://Www.Southfloridafinds.Com/, 2021, https://www.southfloridafinds.com/park/fl/miami-dade/miami/castellow-hammock-preserve-nature-center.html. Accessed 20 Apr 2021.