My Experience as a Black Woman Volunteering Abroad

By Adriana Smith on 28/02/2018

I consider myself a global citizen, a human before anything else. My travels reflect my passion and desire to immerse in a community and culture different from my own.

 

I am a black woman. Yes, with light-skin. But, my hair and skin color causes confusion with most locals because they simply do not know “what I am.”

 

To answer this question, I am a volunteer. I serve my, your, and our world. Since we celebrate Black History in February and Women’s Month in March, I thought it was only right to share my most private thoughts about my volunteer work in Quito, Ecuador as a Black Woman.

 

volunteering ecuador

Strong for Yet Another Group of People

Not to complain, but my strength isn’t limitless. I, as a black woman traveler, sometimes want to break down and cry about the horrors of the world and the injustices felt by others.

Especially, in the communities of color where there is so much socioeconomic and racial disparities.

Sometimes, I just want to be. But, pursuing volunteer work, I couldn’t. Round faces with small brown eyes stared at me as I stood in the secluded play area of the volunteer organization, UBECI.

I didn’t think I could do this. I wasn’t sure if I could volunteer abroad at the street markets. The task was to facilitate learning experiences for children, who spent hours helping their parents and families make money to survive.

I was well aware of survival. I grew up in Miami in the inner city to a single mother of six children.

We had to survive too. Though as a child, I definitely didn’t have to work anywhere to make money. I was allowed to be a kid.

I would be lying if I said I completely saw myself in the Ecuadorian children who spent hours with me during my voluntary work. We lived in two completely different places. Most would say that I’m from a privileged country. I would agree.

Although we originated from different backgrounds, I could understand the strength they had to endure. I endured the “hood” and they endured the street markets.

No tears. Because that’s what Black women and Ecuadorian children do.

It was powerful.

Quito Ecuador

Unapologetically Educated

On the very first day of the volunteer program, I observed the tenacity and excitement in the eyes of the toddlers and pre-teens who wanted to spend the day with my team and I.

Of course they would. We possessed educational exercises, books, games, toys, paint, hand soap and water, etc. They came to learn and play.

Their enthusiasm reminded me of ME. I was super excited by hooked on phonics, books, and educational activities. Like my mother told me when I was younger, I had to get an education.

My mother gave birth to her first-born at 14 years-old. So when she scolded “Get Your Education,” I understood why it was important for me to go to school and “Get My Education”.

That understanding was undeniably felt through the energy of the street market children. They may not have had someone clearly say those exact words, but it was obvious that it was important for them to do so. I knew that too.

I read to them. Helped them learn the color blue through finger-painting. Ran around to burn off some calories. Jumped rope like I was 8 years-old. Built towers with the colored blocks, and so much more.

The older kids got some attention too. I provided some assistance with their language homework. It was all too familiar as I had taught black and brown children in Miami several months prior to this moment.

They were my babies. I cared deeply about their future because they too sought educational opportunities.

It’s what we were groomed to do. Get educated no matter the circumstances.

Lessons on Lessons on Lessons

Is it really volunteering when I see much of myself and my own community during my service? Or, is it my duty? Those were my thoughts during the 8-hour days spent in the markets.

Yes, this was an impactful opportunity. Truth be told, it was an amazing, yet difficult experience.

It was reality. It was too familiar. Volunteering abroad in Quito was like volunteering in the streets of Miami.

I wanted badly to merge the two communities and share resources. I felt conflicted by being with the children of the street markets while away from my home.

That guilt subsided though. I took myself out of the equation. I focused on the children and their needs. That’s all that mattered. I wasn’t there to save the day. The children. Or, their community.

I was donating my time to a worthy cause. That’s priceless.

Better yet, I spent time where I needed to be: with the children of the street market.

They taught me so many lessons. It is them who helped me.

 

Written by GivingWay Ambassador, Adriana Smith, a Black Miami-born blogger and educator empowering others to be a Social Do-Gooder Traveling the World. You can check out her website here

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