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Volunteering is way of life for a Saudi student in U.S.

The United States is home to one of the biggest philanthropists in the world

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The United States is home to one of the biggest philanthropists in the world — Microsoft founder Bill Gates — who gives away over $3 billion of his own money to projects around the world.

He and his wife, Melinda, travel the world donating not just their money, but volunteering their time too, so they can give back to those in need.

Volunteering is a huge pastime for many Americans, with about 62.6 million people volunteering through or for an organization at least once between September 2012 and September 2013.

Now there’s another volunteer that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics can add to the list — 22 year old Rasheed Al-Faris from Yanbu, near Jeddah.

Rasheed is currently in his final year studying Biomedical Energy at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.

Shortly after joining the Saudi student club on campus, he heard about an organization called “US to U.S.,” which encourages Saudi students to volunteer their time to the local communities they are living in.

It’s also a way for Americans to interact with people from Saudi Arabia that they may not otherwise have had a chance to meet.

In an interview with the Saudi Gazette, Rasheed said: “When I first heard about volunteering I was really unsure about it.

I had never volunteered my time before, and I really wasn’t sure about doing something like this in public.”

Not long after, Rasheed signed up for his first volunteering project — handing out water to runners in the 2013 Hartford Marathon.

He was positioned at an area where runners knew to stop for a quick refreshing break. “I just couldn’t believe what a great feeling it was to see someone running toward me and that he really, really needed something from me.

When I handed over the glass of water to the person in the marathon, and I saw the way he smiled at me because he was so happy I was giving them something, that smile was just amazing.

It felt so good to be giving something back by way of the time I was donating,” said Rasheed.

Inspired by the way he felt as a volunteer, Rasheed quickly found out that the “US to U.S.” organization was planning more events for Saudi students in their local communities.

This time there were openings at a Food Bank in Hartford. A food bank is where poor homeless people in cities or towns in the United States can get a meal for free, as all the food is donated as a act of goodwill, and the people who prepare the food and serve it to those in need donate their time doing so.

For his second volunteer experience Rasheed invited some of his fellow students from Saudi Arabia to join him.

Eight of them went along to pack up vegetables into small plastic bags as the food bank prepared meals for the hungry.

This experience was very different for Rasheed. “When I told people from the food bank that me and my friends were from Saudi Arabia they just couldn’t believe it.

They were really, really shocked. The people said they always saw bad things on TV about Saudi Arabia, but because we were volunteering and helping others we know that we turned their bad thoughts about us into really good thoughts about Saudi people. It just felt so good to know that,” Rasheed told Saudi Gazette.

His seven friends that joined him at the food bank felt exactly the same way. “We all knew we had such a positive impact with what we were doing.”

That’s good news too for communities in the United States that rely on volunteers, as a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said volunteer rates for both men and women (22.2 percent and 28.4 percent, respectively) declined in the year ending September 2013.

That same report also said women continued to volunteer at a higher rate than men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.

Perhaps that’s why Rasheed Al Faris continues to volunteer. Just a few weeks ago an old man near the University of Hartford needed someone to remove all the leaves from his lawn.

Winter was coming and he wanted them removed before it snowed. He couldn’t afford to pay someone to rake the leaves away, so Rasheed volunteered.

“I always thought moving leaves would be easy, but it’s not. And it was so cold. But this was just so good for me to do. I had to rake the leaves away, put them into bags, and try and stay warm.

The old man was watching me, and it felt so good that I could connect with him like this. At the food bank we didn’t really see the people, but now I was at his home trying to make it nice for him.

Seeing him smile at me when all the leaves had gone was one of the best experiences of my life. It was just so good for me.”

So inspired by volunteering, Rasheed plans to encourage his family and friends in the Kingdom to do the same, telling Saudi Gazette: “We need to do more for others in Saudi Arabia, and create an environment where people become used to helping others.

My friends and I are working on plans for what we are going to do when we go back after our studies. One of the first projects is to volunteer by making sure all the mosques are clean.

Sometimes people don’t look after them, but we will. I also really want to get a group of us to visit old people who may be lonely. Just talking to them will make them happy.

That’s why volunteering is so simple.” With Rasheed’s enthusiasm and commitment, it sounds as though many people in Saudi Arabia will be inspired by the impact volunteering has had on him during his studies in the United States. Summarizing his time at the University of Hartford, he said, “I have had many, many classes.

But the best lesson of all was learning how to volunteer. It’s an amazing experience.”

This story was orignally posted on the Saudi Gazette on Dec. 26, 2014.