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Volunteering Abroad: Touching the Lives of Others

Some students travel to see the difference, but others travel to be the difference.  Before my semester abroad, I knew it was going to be a life-changing experience.  However, what I've come to realize as my time in Barcelona comes to a close is that when I return to the United States, a part of me will remain in Spain.


My volunteer experience at Hospital de Sant Joan de Déu has proved to me that I underestimated my capacity to touch the lives of other people. I have had the privilege to serve as a volunteer every Monday.  Most of my weeks were spent in the children's playroom.  Whether I was crawling along the floor playing with dinosaurs or involved in a heated table football match, I did not realize at the time that these would be some of my favorite memories I'd make abroad.  Giving the children the opportunity to play and forget they were hospitalized, even if only for a brief moment, was so special.

One day in particular will stay with me for the rest of my life. I went in expecting it to be a routine Monday, however it was far from it. I was asked to go along with another volunteer to a room where 3 young children awaited us.  These children had been involved in a car accident the previous night and had lost their mother and their uncle and their father had not been involved in their lives for some time. Essentially, they were left with no one.  As I held the eldest of the three, a 4-year-old little girl, in my arms, I thought to myself, "how can I possibly console this child, she has lost everything?" I was able to calm her down and by the end of my time in the room, I sat by her side as she drew a picture and she looked up at me and smiled.  That smile is committed to my memory and serves as a reminder that performing small acts with great love is the most powerful way to affect change.


I encourage everyone who goes abroad to volunteer. You have been gifted with the opportunity to travel.  This journey will change you, but you also have the possibility to change the lives of others.  Take time to focus on what you will leave behind rather than what you will take back.


Alison Ismail is a Spring 2015 CEA Barcelona student and a Junior at the College of Charleston.

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