When I thought about studying abroad in Florence, I knew I wanted to do some form of community service. Something to help students, maybe help them learn English, or something that involved helping the homeless. I started e-mailing and looking for opportunities to help the community out.
I eventually signed myself up for a project that partnered with Oxfam International. Oxfam is an organization whose mission is to end the injustices of poverty. Their goal is to simply engage in the discussion of poverty and find different ways to fix it by bringing people together. And so I thought this was the perfect thing to be a part of and I felt that it would be a good way to leave Florence having an impact on people, even if it is just a little. I was looking forward to an interesting, fun, and unforgettable experience.
Those things were certainly true, but not ever in the way that I could have imagined. On the way to the meeting point, I thought that I was about to meet a lot of other volunteers, Italian and American, and I would make some new friends. When I got there, I was the only one volunteering. Also, the guide that I had only spoke Italian with a little bit of English. Luckily I have been taking an advanced Italian class so I was able to catch onto what she was trying to tell me. Instead of volunteering in the sense of serving food or distributing clothes, etc. to the homeless, my assignment ended up being a fundraiser. I had to try and get people to notice me, and then try to convince them to donate money so that Oxfam could send potable water to families in Sudan. Oh. And did I mention, I was only able to say this and convince people in Italian? Yes, very unexpected and not as easy as I thought it was going to be. I needed a catchphrase to get people to notice me, but then I also needed to be able to hold a conversation long enough to even convince them to donate money. I was pulling words from all over different parts of my brain.
At first this was very difficult because for one, I was really caught off guard with what I had to do and I couldn’t prepare for it beforehand. But also, I was nervous. I was nervous because I knew my Italian wasn’t the best that it could be, and I did not want to look stupid trying to convince people with broken Italian. I was nervous because I didn’t want to mess up the efforts of Oxfam with me not bringing in money because of my inability to convince people to donate. I was nervous because I did not want to get judged by people. As I tried to convince people to donate, some did and some didn’t. One person that did asked, in Italian, if I was from Sudan and if that’s the reason why I was trying to get people to donate. At first, I did not know how to answer. I didn’t know if the reason he donated was because he thought I really needed it for my family or something, or if he genuinely wanted to help Oxfam. This made me hesitant to try to convince people and I started to act quiet. But then after a while, I thought about it and decided that even if they thought it was for me, as long as it was helping somebody, it was okay. This gave me the confidence to keep trying and keep getting people to donate.
I ended up raising about 45 euros. I’m not really sure if that was a lot but I thought it was okay considering how I was thrown into the fire like that. On the bus home, I thought about my experience and I caught myself smiling. Smiling because I realized it was kind of fun doing that. Being by myself, and not doing the conventional community service that most people would probably do. This was something entirely different than what I expected and I took the challenge head on. What was also interesting about this project was that it was not directly involved with the poverty in Florence or the people of Florence at all. It was for a completely different country, a completely different culture. I was wondering why that was, considering the homeless people in Florence: Who is helping them and what foundation is working for them? But at the same time, it shows that Florence doesn’t just care for Florence. It cares for other people as well, people that they will probably never meet or see. I saw Italians in a new light through this experience. I felt happy to be a part of it. It made me feel that even when I leave in the next 2 weeks, Florence will always care about me.