ZOË SULLIVAN-BLUM – When I went to interview for my internship with the Fundación M., I thought I had a general idea of what I was getting myself into. The Fundación offers assistance to mothers and their babies through social workers, English classes, childcare, counseling, and a small clinic. Most of the soon-to-be or new mothers are quite young and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many have had experiences with abusive relationships. A good amount of these women are also recent immigrants to Spain, and many of them experience language barriers in addition to other struggles they may be attempting to overcome. I had picked this particular place because of the promising opportunities it offered within the field of Anthropology, not to mention the experience I would gain from working with a not-for-profit (something I have strongly considered pursuing as a job “when I grow up”). I wanted to be involved with childcare research, anything I could do in the clinic or with the social workers, and other Bio-Anthro projects. I felt fairly sure that I would be able to mold my role at this organization to fit the academic interests I was pursuing.
I dressed nicely for the interview, wanting to look like a desirable hire: heeled boots and warm, opaque tights; a patterned, dark, button-down top; a modest-length black pencil skirt. As I met with my interviewer, I felt confident that I looked like I knew what I was talking about, even if I would be talking in Spanish. As I entered the volunteer-coordinator’s office and began talking with her, I slowly realized that this was not the interview I had expected. The coordinator asked me a little about why I wanted to work there, then proceeded to get my basic information and to have me fill out a volunteer sheet. Our internship options are arranged through the program, so I figured that the Fundación knew that I was looking for a more academic opportunity. However, as I gave my information to the coordinator and discussed my schedule, I realized that more than anything she was looking for volunteers to take care of children and help with English Classes. As I was nowhere near fluent in Spanish, I did not feel comfortable teaching Beginner English Classes. “Vale (okay), let’s show you the guardería then,” the coordinator said after I finished giving her my address in Madrid, “You have time this afternoon right?” I was a bit flustered, thinking I had only been there for an interview and would start working later, but, eager as I was to begin, I followed the coordinator to the childcare center/nursery, or guardería. Right away I knew my savvy, dressed-to-impress outfit wasn’t going to work. The mass of tiny, sticky children that greeted me (all less than 3 years old as per the Fundación’s policy) did not seem like they would be kind to my silky blouse and spotless black skirt. The coordinator told me to hang out for a bit, so I settled myself in on the floor next to a little girl, who smiled at me and continued to pleasantly drag the tip of a marker back and forth across the bare table at which the was seated.
Just so you know, I absolutely love children. I cannot wait to have kids of my own (I know Moms, when I say I cannot wait it’s a figure of speech, I know I actually can wait a few years, don’t worry) and I have always loved babysitting and being around children. However, this wasn’t what I had expected to be doing at the Fundación. “Ah well,” I thought to myself, “They probably just need help in here today and next time we will talk about what work I will actually be doing.” After an hour I tracked down the coordinator and told her I needed to leave, but that I was looking forward to starting my internship.
Over the next few weeks, I spent every second of my shifts in the guardería, helping take care of babies and toddlers while their moms learned English. I tried a few times to talk to the coordinator about other things I could do at the Fundación, and I also talked to our Internship coordinator at the Program Center, but ultimately the combination of everyone’s incredibly busy schedules at the Fundación and my own guilt at leaving the guardería short-staffed meant that the weeks I spent in the guardería turned into months. Now my time at the Fundación is almost over, and I have never done anything else but tend to the children during my hours there. At first, I was disappointed that my expectations of not-for-profit work had not come true. I still am not sure that I would have chosen this particular internship had I known what I was really signing up for.
And yet, I cannot say that I regret the experience. I think that caring for children is always rewarding in the end, even at its most stressful and messy moments. And the looks on the women’s faces when they come to collect their babies, fresh from a session of learning they would not have had the opportunity to have without someone volunteering to watch their children, those looks make it worthwhile too. I can only imagine how stressful it is to work at the FundacIÓn M., trying to organize so many things and deal with God-knows how many regulations and restrictions. It is clear that the place where the people at the Fundación most needed me these past few months was in the guardería, and so I am glad that I was able to provide support where they needed it the most, even if it meant forgoing some of my own personal goals. My work at the Fundación didn’t exactly match up with my original expectations, but I believe that what I have done is important and worthwhile nonetheless.