Travel Log 12: “Service” by Rachel Marino. Florence, Italy

I ragazzi di Sipario is a restaurant in Florence started by a man who has a mentally disabled son.  This restaurant is run by people who have mental disabilities.  The founder knew that people like his son were often discriminated against and that it was very difficult for people who have mental disabilities to find jobs.  Although the world has come a long way regarding inclusiveness, Italy hasn’t come as far as countries like the United States, but even the United States needs to make efforts to create equal opportunities for people with mental disabilities.  There are many programs in place for people who have mental disabilities at younger ages throughout high school but after that many of these people become dependent on other people even if it is possible to have a more independent life.

Unfortunately, we cannot volunteer here but we did have dinner and we did our best to speak with people there although it was difficult because of the language barrier.  My experience mostly consisted of observation and some research beforehand but it was great to see adults successfully living lives and holding jobs, just like anyone else would.  This restaurant is a great start and sets an example that I hope to see developed.  This could spring from small events that organizations have and eventually develop into restaurants.  I spent some time working with Best Buddies at Quinnipiac last year and it was amazing to see the work people put into helping prepare people with disabilities for independent lives.

Volunteering at home is something I have done before at home and I always enjoy it because it is always a grounding experience.  I often get very overwhelmed and stressed about school and life but volunteering makes you feel less selfish even if just for a little while and this humbling puts life into perspective.  For me, I really felt like my volunteer work was worthwhile when it was in a medical setting.  In addition to my immense interest in medicine, I am enduring the battles of premed courses and preparing for the war I anticipate from medical school because I, like all physicians and health care professionals, want to help people.  A dream I have always had would be to travel abroad with the Doctors Without Borders team and provide care to people around the world who have no access to healthcare otherwise.

Volunteering abroad as a college student is very fulfilling and can be a life-changing experience.  This is one of the best way to feel closer to the culture.  I think many students hide in a study abroad bubble and it is hard to get out of this mindset.  It’s hard to leave a comfort zone but that is exactly what studying abroad is all about.  I felt that this experience really showed how small the world is and created a unification and a cohesiveness throughout the world for me.  I loved the opportunity to see the similarities between this restaurant and the Best Buddies program.

The unity that I felt when I was at the restaurant really relates to the definition of global community.  It creates such a level of simplicity.  Volunteering in a foreign country relates to the definition of global community because it creates a oneness and it allows one to find commonalties with someone else who it may at first seem like there are few commonalities.  Some key points that I will take away from this experience is to try to remember to stay grounded.  It was especially important for me to receive that grounding that I need and to realize that even if I feel like I don’t fit in here, I am not alone and even if I don’t fit the typical Italian cookie cutter mold, by getting to know someone a little better I could find something in common, which can make me feel more integrated with native Italians.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” -Lilla Watson, an aboriginal Australian woman

I chose this quote because it really embodies the concept of unity, which I think encompasses my journey through Italy, what I hope for my career and my dinner at I Ragazzi di Sipario.



2 thoughts on “Travel Log 12: “Service” by Rachel Marino. Florence, Italy

  1. Rachel, Thanks so much for coming out to this restaurant with me! I think it was a great experience especially being able to talk about everything going on around us. Finding the restaurant was a task in itself so I’m glad we had each other! At first I was worried about going with another student because I didn’t want to stay inside my “study abroad comfort zone” but I think that we both still did a great job having individual experiences — and yes, going up for seconds is acceptable!


  2. Rachel,

    This sounds like an amazing experience, one that I am actually quite jealous of!! Being that I am a psychology major, I have always given much thought to how mental disabilities are perceived in other cultures. I am glad that there are people in the global community spreading positive awareness, creating a safe space for these affected individuals to lead a normal life.

    I definitely agree with you that much change is still needed in regards to this topic, even in the United States! I hope that with time and restaurants, such as I ragazzi di Sipario, awareness and understanding can continue to spread throughout our wounded world!

    Good luck with the rest of your semester!


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