About two weeks ago I volunteered for an organization called Angeli del Bello, which means Angels of Beauty in Italian. I found out about this foundation through Serena, who is the community service coordinator at my school here in Florence. She told all of us students about different service opportunities at orientation this year, and this one stuck out in my mind from the beginning. The foundation aims, “…to promote and coordinate project and voluntary actions aimed at improving decorum and beauty of Florence” (Angeli del Bello). The angels work to preserve the beauty of the old city of Florence. One of their projects is cleaning up the gardens around Florence. Originally, I wanted to work in the gardens, but it did not work with my schedule so I had to get involved with something else. The foundation also goes out in the city and tries to get rid of the graffiti that has become more prevalent. It’s almost fated that this is the task I ended up doing, because when I first got to Florence I was shocked by the graffiti everywhere. I had been expecting a perfectly clean city that looked beautiful everywhere.
I volunteered with my roommate Kelsey, and at first we were both very unsure. When we got to the meeting place, no one was there yet, and when people showed up, no one really said anything to us at first. After a few minutes, an older woman came up to us and started talking to us in English and Italian and she made us feel much more comfortable. Kelsey and I got to work painting over the graffiti with the other angels. One thing that really impacted me about this experience was how service work can bond people together. Kelsey and I didn’t know any of the other people working with this foundation, but by the time our work was done, we all shared pride in the fact that we had accomplished something. There were elderly people, young people and other international people there, and even though we were all very different, we were able to work together.
I have done a lot of community service in the past in America, but I never truly realized the impact that it has not only for the community, but for the individual as well. Obviously cleaning the graffiti helped Florence because it made the city a more beautiful place for the citizens to live in and it preserved the tradition of a beautiful city that flourished during the Renaissance, but it also gave me a stake in the city. Now I will always remember that wall that I painted over as my wall, and it will serve as a constant reminder of the impact that I made on the city. I think that this experience has really distinguished my time abroad. It made it so that I am not simply studying here, but I have made a difference in the place that I live, even if it was a small one.
Serving the community is something that every citizen should take part in. It is a way to give back to the community, a way to make the world a better place, and a way to get connected to people and things that one may not be aware of. It is an important part of studying abroad because it brings the students into the community and it forces them to invest a little bit in the places in which they live. We have talked so much in this class about making the experience meaningful, and service is absolutely one way to do it. Taking part in community service in the host country allows the student to examine global issues that affect the country and to further immerse themselves in a culture. In our first workshop, we said, “A global community is comprised of all living things who make up smaller communities that are conjoined by the desire to achieve human rights.” In my blogs I have discussed the idea that not everyone in a global community is cognizant of everyone’s rights. I think that community service in a global community can serve the purpose of continuing to bring awareness to human rights and to also help make the world that we live in better.
Richard Slimbach says, “The first step in this journey is to venture outside our comfort zones and get involved directly and personally in the lives of others, especially those occupying the margins of society…to create respectful and mutually beneficial relationships.” He means that we can connect to other people if we are able to deal with some discomfort. While Kelsey and I did not do community service for the marginalized people of Florence, we were able to push through our nervousness of volunteering to connect with the workers of the Angeli del Bello foundation. The graffiti may just look like some street artist’s work to some, but for me it represents a deeper connection to this city that I have been able to develop. s