When I first came to the University of The Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, I had the perception that it would be hard to find a good place to do my community service, because this is a pretty big city, and I didn’t know how to move around. To my surprise, finding the perfect place to volunteer was easier than I thought. I did most of my volunteer hours at the Incarnate Word Village, an assisted living facility for the elderly, which is on the UIW campus. I chose this place because I wouldn’t lose time traveling outside campus, and I was curious to see how the elderly people live in these institutions in the U.S., in order to understand better what goes wrong in retirement houses back home. First, I wasn’t sure if I would go there multiple times, but after the first time, I couldn’t wait to go back and help all those lovely ladies and gentlemen.
Most of my community service in the Incarnate Word Village had to do with artistic crafting activities, like designing frames or mason jars. Everyone that knows me knows that I don’t have a good relationship with art, but this motivated me even further to continue working in the village. That is because one of my goals about my U.S. experience was pushing my boundaries and getting out of my comfort zone. What I learned though is that a smile or a short conversation meant more to them than being a great painter. They kept asking me about me, my family, my country, and my experience here, and they made me feel welcome from the first day. Also, many people living there were war veterans, and I got to learn a lot about the war, and how their lives have been. I have heard a lot about veterans since I’ve come here, so I felt lucky that I had the possibility to interact with them directly and learn more about their experiences.
The village administrator gave us a tour as part of our orientation before starting to volunteer, and I learned so much from it. I got to see how nicely the residents are treated and the great conditions they provide for them in their facilities. While walking around the building I was so surprised to see how happy they were, and I started comparing it with similar facilities we have in Albania. I’ve had the chance to volunteer in retirement houses in Albania, but it’s not the same; now more than ever I understand that many things have to change. In my home university I am part of the Charity Club, and I am thinking of proposing them to work more in retirement houses when I go back. The people living in those houses have gone through communism, wars, isolation, transitions, and they deserve to have the best life they can have.
Written by Romin Halltari (Albania), Global UGRAD 2017-18 at the University of The Incarnate Word.