Before I came on this trip, the volunteer experience I had was at local soup kitchens, restoring schools, and organizing fundraisers and galas. I had little to no experience working directly with the communities I was helping, and at the end of all of my volunteer shifts, I gladly removed my apron, uniform, or name tag, and already began to dread the next shift or event. As a volunteer, I felt that my work went unnoticed, and did little to help the community I was serving. I worked behind the scenes and had no communication with those in need. I haven’t felt this way at any moment these last two weeks, whether I was at the men’s prison, elderly center, or hospital, I walked out with a smile that my face could barely contain. My favorite volunteering experience was definitely the day that I spent at the Federal Hospital with Professor Miguel’s theatre class.
Our day started in an empty lobby in the hospital, where the UniRio students taught us some of the songs they were going to be performing that day, which included, “La Bamba,” “Twist & Shout,” and “Stand By Me.” We soon made our way into our first performance area, a waiting room near the main entrance. To this group we sang English songs, I doubt that anyone in the audience understood what we were saying, but they were still affected by our presence. Some people started to record us, and one woman even burst into tears. When I saw that woman crying, it took everything in me not to cry too. I didn’t want her to think that I pity her because that wasn’t the case. I wanted to cry because I couldn’t believe how strong of an impact I can have on people just by doing something that I do everyday, singing and dancing. This happened multiple times throughout that morning in the hospital. As we made our way through various rooms and waiting rooms of the hospital, I encountered similar situations. I witnessed the most tears shed in the chemotherapy unit. At first, some of the patients didn’t seem too happy to see us. Then two of the women began sobbing, it broke my heart to continue singing. I wasn’t sure if our presence was helping them or hurting them until those sobs turned into cries of joy. One woman made a phone call while we were performing and I overheard her telling someone that students from the United States were singing to her. We were also giving the opportunity to see the students put on an exquisite play that involved props, costume changes, and singing and dancing, all while being confined to a space of about 8 square feet. The level of professionalism displayed by these students was extremely impressive. That day made me realize that there are so many ways to help other people aside from donating money or food. Sometimes the most valuable kinds of donations are just spending time with people who need it, people who may feel alone or unimportant in the world. I only wish I had the opportunity to do such work earlier in my collegiate career, and not in the final semester. However, I know that it’s never too late to help people, which is why when I get back to Michigan, I plan on searching for similar theatre groups to join, or even start one of my own if need be!