Casa Internazionale delle Donne is a women’s shelter located in the heart of Trastevere, the neighborhood of Rome in which I live and attend classes. It is a huge resource to the local women as it serves as both a site of temporary refuge as well as a source of many different services for women at no or reduced cost. Women can turn to the shelter for everything from a meal and place to stay, to legal advice, to psychological and medical care, to educational courses. This is where John Cabot University comes in. My school has a program with the institute in which students volunteer to teach a course in English. The women Casa Internazionale delle Donna serves are impoverished, or otherwise disadvantaged. Courses in conversational English particularly seem to benefit, from my observation, the women who find themselves at a turning point, and need these language skills to move forward in their lives.
I chose this volunteer opportunity not only because John Cabot enabled this program so that I could attend with other students, but also because of the opportunity to work with women. Of the many ways that my understanding of the world has been expanded during my time abroad, my understanding of women’s issues are perhaps the most pertinent. The way that women are regarded in Italy, which is considered to generally be every bit as much of a developed nation as the United States, does not even come close to the freedoms and liberties that they are allowed at home. I learned just recently in my sociology class that up until 1981, rape was considered a crime against society, not a woman, and it would be made right if the perpetrated agreed to marry the victim, freeing him of any legal crime. I was absolutely shocked to learn this, although in retrospect I should not have been given the way that I see women being treated every day.
When I went to volunteer on Monday, I was with a group of just four other students, and we were aiding an English teacher with a class of ten women. The small class size allowed for lots of personal interaction, and that was good, because that’s what we were there for! We were encouraged to engage in simple conversations with the women so that they could have an opportunity to practice their English language skills, as well as to instruct them when they were unsure or incorrect in how to say something. There was a great degree of personal interaction, although that proved to not necessarily be the same thing as personal discussion. Nonetheless, it was clear that the women were extremely genuine in their desire to learn, most aspiring to jobs that may only become available to them with language proficiency.
It was a highly rewarding experience, and certainty had a great impact on my abroad experience. Like several other quite moments I have found over the last few months, I found this to be a rather sobering experience. Amidst the adventure and excitement that is experienced as a young adult with the opportunity to travel the world for four months, it is important to remember that you are living in a society as equally complex as the one we know and understand at home. There are many people struggling in Rome, just as in New Haven, or sadly I venture to say any city in the world. The experienced reminded and reaffirmed my commitment to a healthcare career that is rooted in public service.
Albert Schweitzer said “Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life and that to destroy, harm, or to hinder life is evil. Affirmation of the world — that is affirmation of the will to live, which appears in phenomenal forms all around me — is only possible for me in that I give myself out for other life.” This especially resonates with me in the context of my recent volunteer experience as well as when juxtaposed with my future career goals. The sanctity of life knows no governmental borders, nor cultural, religion, race, ethnicity, age, or sex boundaries either. Whatever we end up doing in each of our lives, we must always hold the words “good consists in maintaining, assisting, and enhancing life” near to our hearts. I feel the image below appropriately corresponds with this quote, as it emphasizing the need to reach out to our neighbors. There are people around us everyday that ‘just need a hand’ and we are capable of making that difference for them.