Prior to leaving the United States and arriving at our respective host countries, we received a great deal of advice and information that would help us to better incorporate ourselves and make these new places our homes away from home. One piece of advice that I received that I feel is underrated was to live these next four months just as you would at home. It seems simple, and even self-explanatory, but I did not realize how crucial this piece of advice would be until I needed it most when I was homesick at the start of the semester. Back at home and back at Quinnipiac, I am always keeping myself busy. Whether it be going to my siblings’ sporting events or getting involved in multiple organizations on campus, I always remained involved in my local community because I love working with others and for others. This diligent lifestyle of mine was something I thought I left at home. I was so overwhelmed by my nostalgia and by this new life abroad that I was blind to the fact that I could still get involved even when I am in another country. After attending a community engagement information session at Umbra and making a few visits to the Student Services Office, I found the perfect volunteer opportunity at the UNICEF headquarters in Perugia that would make my time here as fulfilling as it already has been.
UNICEF is an organization that works with over 200 countries and territories to promote the rights and well-being of children in third world countries. They focus on the needs of each child through a “life-cycle based approach” by supporting children from early childhood through their development into adolescence. By providing proper care at a young age, UNICEF is able to establish a stronger foundation for the child’s future, allowing them to become independent, responsible individuals in the global community. The first line of their mission statement reads, “UNICEF is mandated by the United Nations General Assembly to advocate for the protection of children’s rights, to help meet their basic needs and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential” (UNICEF). After reading this portion of UNICEF’s mission statement, I was instantly reminded of our class’s definition of what it means to be a member of the global community. UNICEF’s mission revolves around respecting the human rights of the child so they can achieve their goals and live a wholesome life for themselves as they develop into responsible, adult citizens.
Every Tuesday evening, fellow students from Umbra, local Italian students, and I go to Sant’Anna to volunteer at the UNICEF headquarters here in Perugia. Each week, we created hand-made dolls to sell locally for twenty euros. All proceeds go toward purchasing vaccinations for sick children abroad. Each doll saves the equivalent of twenty lives. The eight elderly Italian women who work for UNICEF are experts in the craft. They became our Italian grandmothers over six weeks time, teaching us how to sew, how to speak Italian, and how simple gestures of hospitality can go such a long way.
The following quote from Richard Slimbach portrays my overall service experience at the UNICEF Headquarters and what I have taken away from it:
“The first step in this journey is to venture outside of 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.”
Thanks to this wonderful volunteer experience, I was able to not only make the doll shown below and make new friends, but I was also able to partake in a profound aspect of globalization by both broadening my Italian language knowledge here in Perugia and providing for those in poverty-stricken countries like Africa. It is truly amazing what you can do for other parts of the world when you are in one place. Giving back to the global community during my time abroad is an experience I will never forget.