I think volunteering is very important to participate in. Getting involved in the local community is a rewarding experience and it is a way to give back to the community and to learn from others. Although I did not have the opportunity to volunteer, I was able to sit down with the workers of a local organization in Barcelona called Centre d’Estudis Africans, or CEA. This is the Center for African and Intercultural Studies. This organization was created mainly as a way for immigrants and some locals to come together and learn more about the study of Africa, migration, and interculturality. CEA understands that there is very little information about Africa. Not too many people are knowledgeable about this continent. Many of us only hear about countries in Africa through commercials we see on the television explaining the poor conditions children go through. CEA hosts seminars about Africa, focusing on a different topic each year. The organization hosts many events and activities for immigrants to get involved in, such as hip-hop dance classes, cricket, and educational discussions. The goal of CEA is to change the mindset that people have about Africa, and to work on the process of interculturality.
I sat down and had an interview with one of the workers, Jess Gonzalez. Jess was born and raised in Columbia and immigrated to Barcelona at the age of 16 for her education. Although she has been living in Barcelona for the past 10 years, Jess says that she considers herself an immigrant. She mentioned that when she integrated into school, people saw her and labeled her as “the brown girl.” Jess also mentions the idea of intersectionality, which is all the dynamics that makeup a person and the strikes against them. She said that being from Columbia and being a woman in the workforce are just a few of the “strikes” against her. She mentions how she feels the separation between immigrants and locals in Barcelona. It doesn’t matter if you have been living there for over 10 years and know the culture, if you were not born there, most people do not consider you to be a local. Jess has a big role at CEA in that she is helping with the planning of events offered, she works on gender empowerment with Pakistani women who are at the center, and she leads local volunteers in the projects.
Volunteering in a host country is a beneficial way to gain more knowledge of a culture and to add value to the community. In our workshop earlier in the semester we discussed Global Community as individuals embracing differences and working toward common goals. Volunteering allows individuals to work with the community in reaching a goal and feeling more connected with the culture. I think sitting down with the workers at CEA really helped me to gain more knowledge about this process of interculturality and integrating into a society. From speaking with Jess I also feel as if I have learned more about immigration and have seen the dedication and commitment that people have. It was refreshing to talk to someone who is so enthusiastic and happy with her work here in Barcelona. This experience has expanded my knowledge and has made me hopeful for the continuous growth of interculturality. Although it is a process, there are changes occurring thanks to organizations such as CEA.
“The first step in this journey is to venture outside of your 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.” –Richard Slimbach
I do not have a picture from the centre, but I want to post this picture here because I think it depicts the importance of volunteering. If we all take time to contribute to the community, we can help our community to grow, as well as each other. We can learn a lot about each other too during the process. Volunteering can bring personal self-growth for an individual. I am glad that I have been able to witness and partake in this organization here in Barcelona. I have met some passionate people that are dedicated to making a positive change in the community.