Both of us Umbra students, Jenna Snelgrove and Emily Pietrzak have always been interested in volunteering. So when the opportunity came up to volunteer at the local fair trade store, Monimbò, we both jumped at it. Neither of us had ever had much experience with fair trade besides maybe hearing the words from time to time, never connecting what they really meant and how important they are to be aware of. Being able to work in a store that sells only fair trade items from producers all around the world connected us to this “altro mercato” where the workers making these products are treated fairly and paid an honest living wage. Finding out about the ways in which workers worldwide are abused and paid pennies for their work is a serious social issue that needs to be talked about and addressed, and this volunteer opportunity certainly opened our eyes and encouraged us both to pursue this issue further in the future.
So, once a week for the past few months, we would head on over to Monimbò, and help out around the shop. We usually interact with Paolo, who does not speak any English, and he would give us our tasks for the day. Usually our duties would consist of helping out around the shop such as creating customized bomboniere for customers, stocking shelves, and overall making sure the store stays in tip-top shape. Being forced into a situation with strictly Italian has definitely been a learning experience. It has certainly been a challenging one, especially for Emily who has just started out Italian–mamma mia!
But having an opportunity such as this where English is not an option has helped improve our conversational understanding and speaking skills immensely. We conversed often with Silvia, another volunteer at Monimbò who also owns her own fair trade store in Assisi. Talking with Silvia was one of the things we looked forward to every week, because we were able to chat comfortably about a variety of things and not feel intimidated about speaking the language with a native-speaker. This practice proved extremely useful for us, and also gave Silvia an opportunity to practice her English on us in return!
Being involved in Monimbò gave us a much more well-rounded experience at Umbra because it allowed us to be present in the society of Perugia, outside of school. We were able to interact with locals and feel as though we were giving back to the community that we love being surrounded by every day. One of the most beneficial aspects of this volunteer opportunity was being able to use the language we learned in class and put it into practical use to discuss one of the most prominent social issues we have today. Overall, Monimbò is a small shop with a lot of heart that has given both of us a sense of being more present in society here in Perugia, and introduced us to the idea and the hope that “un altro mondo è possible.”