After a few weeks of looking into volunteering possibilities near my hometown, I discovered that due to various rules and policies, I would have to settle for observing my host community. This week, I was able to observe various EU Red-Cross volunteers serve at the local food pantry in my town. The red cross is a global organization with the mission statement: “to prevent and alleviate all human suffering, and contribute to all efforts related to protection, social welfare, prevention, education and health care”. Like many Red Crosses in the United States, there are various departments and jobs that they preform in order to carry out their mission statement. Some of these include donating blood, food pantries, offering shelter and so forth. However, no matter the department, I learned they all strive for the same goal and that is to help one another; human to human and nothing more. What I mean by human to human basis, is that each person is taken care of with consideration and humility, as if we are all apart of the same immediate family. In Old Town Antibes, a portion of my hometown, in the morning for a half day on Tuesday’s a group of retired French Ladies come together at the food pantry, with more than just food. They also come with clothes, various medicines if applicable and their kindness. There are not many homeless people that live in Antibes, but as always there are some. Part of the incredible thing about this organization and their methods is the ability to become friends with these people who lack basic necessities that we have daily. This means that the women of the organization and the members who need assistance are closer to one another, making it even more meaningful. However, the French women help the community on a need-basis, and not by who they are more friendly with. My favorite part about this experience was the fact that these women speak in only French—which made it interesting for a non-French speaker like myself. Since I didn’t have a full grasp on conversations, I had to read a lot more into body languages and little cues that I don’t think I would typically pick up on. This only served as yet another example in my past months of how pivotal language is in terms of adjusting to the culture and community.
Volunteering has always been important to me and I’ve always found various outlets where I can give back to my community in one way or another. Whether it is through decorating my hometown soup kitchen, serving sandwiches to homeless in New Haven, fundraising for my sorority’s philanthropy or witnessing the less fortunate in France. I think that servicing the community in any way opens various perspectives to the other people that inhabit the places we call home too. This is the fundamental concept I will take home with me after observing this experience. No matter where I am geographically I am surrounded by masses of unique individuals that comprise the greater community. However, no matter how different these people are in the global community we all have one similar aspect: we are all human. Going back to the human rights discussion, we are all supposed to be guaranteed basic human rights that establish a level playing field for all. Yet through money, possessions, status, power, etc sometimes this can be lost in translation. Giving back to the community allows perspectives to be realigned that we are all human and we all deserve the same treatment towards one another. These French ladies do not have to volunteer their time and services helping people completely unrelated in any way, shape or form to them; but they do.
As my time here is quickly coming to a close—as much as I don’t want to admit that—I’ve been able to appreciate a lot more. I’ve started taking pictures of things I encounter everyday, trying as many restaurants as I possibly can and adventuring with people I’m not close friends with. As 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.” This quote perfectly corresponds to my mentality as this semester comes to a close. It also corresponds to this picture I took at the local fruit, vegetable, fish and flower market. I for sure ventured outside my comfort zone as I attempted (and failed) to speak in French to the women selling me fried zucchini flower (super yummy by the way). But she appreciated the effort, noticed, asked where I was from and seemed invested in our short conversation. One of the most underrated experiences that I for sure wouldn’t think to talk about when I go home to my friends and family, yet one of those crucial conversations that help us get an idea of our global community; where the people you are around seem invested in your life. This is exactly what I was able to observe at the food pantry as the French women assisted and became invested in their community.