Global Learning Blog Posts

  • Parkin Fellows
Gracias Madrid

Today was my last day. Since early in the morning there was a sense of nerves in my stomach. This would be the last time I would be able to see the families who despite living far away and having worked all day, made every effort to come to the office and get food for their families. They were no longer random faces in a line, but I would already find their names on the sign-up list before they even told me. In a matter of days, working with the Altius Foundation in giving out food, I experienced more than I ever thought I would. Now that sadly it is over, all I can hope for is that others get a similar opportunity as I've had, thanks to the amazing Parkin Fellowship program at Shady Side. Without it, I would not have learned as much as I did this summer. So, in five short points below, I summarize my findings.

Always wash your hands before you begin. 

We can find ourselves encountering messy things every day. Everybody does at some point. How we decide to deal with it is what's important. It might seem easy to try to ignore the bad things and move with our lives unmoved by what clearly exists. Others decide to dwell on the bad stuff and lose sight of what actually matters. Every day that I helped here in Madrid, Spain, we were reminded to wash our hands before beginning to work. We had to acknowledge the fact that they could be dirty and indeed affect our work. The best thing to do was to clean from any outside germs and start the work as best prepared not letting circumstances from outside interfere with our goal in preparing and giving the best food for families. Maybe far beyond the small kitchen of Altius, we should remember to wash our hands before we begin, start something new completely refreshed, and not let exterior circumstances cloud our judgment on what really matters. 

Stamp and Tag 

A couple of hours before we handed out the food, it was time to organize and get everything ready. We weighed every single box of food, divided the large casseroles into portions for families of five, three, one, etc., put the expiration date on every single dish and marked where all the food was donated from. On the first day this seemed both tedious and complicated, but in the long run it made the work easier. Every meal was organized, we knew what would belong to who, and later we could thank the restaurants who had donated the food. Organization and work led to efficiency. Efficiency led to progress. Progress led to success. We might not be stamping and tagging food plates in our daily lives, but this goes farther than that. As tedious or time consuming as it may be, keeping track of where our help comes from, how we decide to use it, and where it takes us, in the end proves to be worth it.

Remember to Smile 

As I carried the boxes filled with food to the families, I learned that it was best if I smiled. A smile releases dopamine and serotonin and has an infectious nature causing others to smile back. I had no idea what some of those parents and children had to go through, and their faces showed it was nothing easy. Some would stop and tell a bit about their day, how far they had to travel, the family member that was sick or the way the incredibly hot weather had spoiled their food. Many don’t have a refrigerator to store food in. Others preferred not to open up about their struggles. Whatever the occasion, however, greeting them with a smile seemed to help. For a bit they enjoyed the opportunity they had to get food for the day and it became easier to talk to them. Often, we have no idea what the person next to us is going through or how we could help. However, just a simple smile might light up their face in the way they need.

Don’t just “work” 

Because the volunteers who came were always changing, I was able to meet more new people and hear their stories. The first day, I met a mother who had brought her two daughters because she had a day off from work and decided to spend it volunteering with her family. The second day, I met an older woman who came every Wednesday and other days when there were no volunteers and help was needed. She had two other sisters, all three of them volunteered on a regular basis, and each through a different organization. Others were like Paola who as a student in college wanted to do real hours in what she might later work on, or Sergio who worked upstairs but came down whenever help was needed. What they all had in common was that they didn’t let work or school stop them from helping others. Out of their busy lives, regardless of age, they all made time to volunteer and help those in their communities in whatever way they could. Service to others shouldn't be something we do just to get hours on a resume or qualify for a club. It should come from a genuine want to help others. No matter how busy we are now, or will be later in life, we can always find time to give something in return.

No es un adios, sino un hasta luego 

Saying goodbye was hard. It had only been a week but the memories will last forever. As I shook a hand and said “adios” to the person who helped me get in contact to help here they said it was an "hasta luego." She assured me this was not the last time we would see each other, and that I was welcome there anytime I decided to return. The people that we meet and the good things that we do can bring us something we didn’t know was missing. And on the way to helping others, we find out what we are made of.