"Being a volunteer is challenging but I would do it again thousand times!"
To volunteer - To learn and live is a project organized by Slezská Diakonie as a part of the INVY project. A variety of centres oriented on social services in the region of Silesia (Czech Republic) is hosting around 30 volunteers from around the world this year. How does this special kind of voluntary work look like? We asked five volunteers who are participating in the project right now:
- Anna (20, Italy, working at Salome centre in Bohumín)
- Eugene (22, Ukraine, working at Nízkoprahový klub in Albrechtice)
- Frederika (26, Italy, working at ON LINE centre for kids and youths in Karviná)
- Johanna (19, Germany, working at BETANIA centre for elderly people in Komorní Lhotka)
- Marlin (19, Germany, working at high school in Český Těšín)
Why did you decide to become a volunteer?
Anna: During studying my last year of high school I was thinking what I could do the following year - and I discovered that I wanted to travel. When I informed my father, he told me about this opportunity that he found in a presentation in my city, Turin. I decided to participate in this project mainly because I saw a great opportunity in this experience for the growth from the personal point of view, a thing that I think is really important. This reason, added to the wanderlust, the desire to be more open-minded about the world and also the ideas not being really clear concerning my future studies, made me look for more information about the organization, the project and the activities and finally to successively participate.
Eugene: I have got my motivation last winter. I wanted to explore new things in my life and I also wanted to get a new experience by working in social work since I studied this field and I am interested in working in social area. EVS (INVY) project provides a lot of opportunities such as getting a good foreign experience with working in your chosen field, getting foreign friends, travelling (it makes getting VISA to travel for Ukrainians easier) and exploring Europe and the world in general.
Frederica: To be honest, my first choice was a project concerning children in Nicaragua (very, very different!). However, during the interview my Italian coordinators asked me “What about Europe?” and as I wanted to start something completely new and challenging, eventually I chose some projects concerning Roma people.
Johanna: I decided to become a volunteer because I wanted to help people and do something useful and practical after school. Living abroad for one year was my dream and I really like to discover new cultures and this seemed to be a great opportunity to connect both. Additionally, I was thinking about studying something social afterwards and work in the social area later, so this is a good chance to collect some experiences. One more reason was for me was the opportunity to learn a lot and to reach a personal development, get to know new people who come from different countries and maybe also to travel.
Marlin: I knew I wanted to live for a year outside of Germany. My sister spent a year abroad as well and she really liked it. That is why I wanted to do such a year as well. I wanted to catch some distance after school and before studying. Because of that I did not really care where this would take me to and what my tasks would be.
How was the selection procedure? What did you have to do and prove in order to be accepted to this programme?
Anna: After filling an Application Form, a CV and a Motivation letter, the selection procedure consisted of two meetings, the first with my sending organization in Italy (Diaconia Valdese) and the second with my hosting organization in the Czech Republic (Slezská Diakonie) via a Skype interview in English. I think one of the most important reasons that helps being accepted is the motivation they can see within you. If you are open and willing to have no certain expectations about the country where you will go and the activities that you will do, I think it’s quite easy to be accepted. They don’t care a lot about your English knowledge or the language that you will talk in your country.
Frederica: In order: First I sent my application form to Diaconia Valdese, two reference letters and a motivational letter. I participated in two training days in their centre in Torre Pellice, where I also had my first interview. After a while, they called me to propose different projects in different countries, suitable with my personality. I chose Czech Republic. After one month, more or less, I had a Skype interview with Filip, my coordinator of Slezska Diakonie. It was a long pleasant conversation in English. He was kind and he answered to all my doubts. I remember we had a lot of fun during the interview. After the Skype interview, we kept in touch and finally he proposed me the project in ON LINE which was according to me, my personality, my past professional experiences and my tastes really perfect project for me.
Johanna: I started to inform myself during the year before I finished the school and went to some information days of different German organizations. The next step was then to apply to some of these. Therefore I filled in a lot of papers, asked people from my surrounding (e.g. teachers, priest, youth worker etc.) to write some references about me and especially my social experiences and stuff like this. Moreover I needed to be attested that I am healthy and able to work and live one year abroad, therefore I went to my doctor. After preparing all these things I translated everything into English and after some time of waiting some of the German organizations confirmed that my application was successful and they offered me to be my sending organization. I just needed to go to a few application talks and then I finally decided for one organization which is a partner organization of Slezská Diakonie. I had one more meeting before they sent my application to SD. After some time I got positive feedback and afterwards I had an Skype-interview with one of SD coordinators. Quite shortly after that I got an e-mail saying that I am accepted for the program. Later I got a placement offer and directly the first placement is my working place now.
What are your activities and responsibilities in your voluntary work?
Anna: I work in a social centre that hosts children with disabilities that are between 4 and 19 years old. My activities and responsibilities are about taking care of them, playing with them, feeding them, helping during some walks (wheelchairs,…). I can also contribute proposing and creating some activities or mini-projects within my placement.
Eugene: I have a very good placement. I work in a club for children and youths from 6 to 20 years. My activities and responsibilities are various, I play with the children games they want, I prepare my own games for them, also I do some presentation about my country and help with languages – I teach conversation courses in Russian, do some activities that help children to learn English. Because I can play guitar, we learn some Czech songs and sing them together. And one of my activities is communication with clients about how they are doing or about troubles in their lives. Basically I am doing everything I am asked for.
Johanna: I play with my clients or do some creative things. Sometimes I help with the hygiene or cleaning dishes or just with the things which need to be done. Moreover I help some clients with eating.
Frederica: ON LINE works through different services: streetwork ON LINE with children in special needs, Klub ON LINE in a social club with young people aged 14-22, some streetwork with drug users and a service of prevention in schools. I work in the club and as a streetworker with children.
At Klub ON LINE clients can surf on the internet, listen to music, relax and speak about their problems (such as school, family, drugs, sex) with the workers. I stay with them, we speak, share and I organize some presentations with different topics. For example I organized the Italian day. Its aim was to present Italy through a power point work and some videos - and of course I cooked some Italian food for them. I also organized some educative activities, for example for Saint Valentine’s Day and for the International Women day.
Besides I work in the most problematic parts of the city, especially in the so-called ghetto, where the majority of Roma people lives. We literary work in the streets: we have bags with games, papers, colours, a tablet and some exercises or activities for clients. We play with them, do some homework, we draw and colour together. In the meantime I ask them about their days, their families, school stuff.
As the programme's main goal is helping you with development in learning, what methods are being used to it? How does it look like in practice and which concepts do you appreciate the most?
Anna: The programme provides five seminars for the development in learning. Three of them are organized by the hosting organization and the other two by the Czech National Agency. On these meetings we have the opportunity to learn about time management, communication in an effective way, creating a project and a lot of other things. The method is non-formal and really interactive, so we can really enjoy ourselves all together. The good thing after these kind of seminars is that you are more motivated to face everyday life – in the work and even in the free time. At the same time you have also more “instruments” that you learnt which can improve you as person and therefore even improve your life.
Eugene: This programme helps me a lot with development in learning. Basically, I am learning every day – at least 2 languages (English and Czech) and that is very helpful and needed. During this project I am trying a lot of things that I have never tried before. As I said before, this project helps me with exploring brand new things in my life.
Johanna: For my personal development my life here is a big help. Sometimes during my work or also in my free time I am confronted with challenging situations which I have to solve and from this I learn a lot. Moreover I experience so many new situations which enrich me and I have more time to evaluate myself and my growth. Living in a flat away from home was also new for me and all the other experiences showed me a lot about myself, too. So I think this is a good way to develop the character and especially during the seminars we get some impulses for evaluating and improving ourselves which is a good help for me as well as the sharing and talking to the other volunteers.
What is the programme's impact in your personal life?
Anna: Before coming here, I was studying my last year of high school. The decision to invest one year in this way has been really important and useful for me. In October I will start to study on the university but the possibility to interrupt the studies for doing something more practical made me open my mind. Lots of people, before I left, said to me to be careful in suspending the school, because probably I would have lost the will to study again. Now, instead, I see the school as a source for enlarging my personal culture and interests and not as a continuous examination of the subjects that I studied. At the same time, working in social area made me clarify my ideas about what I want to do in the future. These are only some examples of a personal development due to the project itself, but I could talk about a lot of others if I would focus on the everyday life. You are living in a completely different context, in a country that is not yours, with people coming from all over Europe, new traditions, language and so on; all this revolutionizes you necessarily.
Eugene: When you are teaching someone something, at the same time you are learning too. And this can apply for everything, for every activity. Every public experience helps you to do it next time better and better.
Frederica: First of all, I lived in a city for seven years. I had my friends there, my places, a lot of activities and events to attend and (sometimes stressful) active life. Life in Karviná is really different. People are calmer and sometimes colder. However, I adapted quite fast. Besides, it was the first time I lived completely alone (finally!), because in the past I always shared flats with other people. Thanks to all these factors I can enjoy my hobbies and have more time for myself.
Besides, working with minorities and socially excluded people made me realize more than ever how lucky I am. We live our lives complaining about silly things mostly every day without thinking that there are people with bigger problems - and sometimes with nobody helping them. That’s why I decided to apply for other voluntary services in future.
What do you consider as the most valuable thing that you have learned during volunteering?
Anna: It’s difficult to say but probably it could be the possibility to be always myself with the things that characterize me. By this I also mean giving less importance to judgment from others, not being scared of it and being more free to show my point of view and my believes.
Eugene: It helped me to be more responsible, because before I wasn’t this kind of person. Now I am trying to be better in this.
Frederica: I think EVS is first of all an opportunity for our personal growth, not only a professional experience to put into CV. I learnt to appreciate the little things - when my colleagues tell me I’m doing a great job, when a 6 years-old child learns how to write his/her name with me, when clients come to Klub and joke with me... And most of all to be grateful for what I have, for the beautiful people I met. They are the ones I live here for.
Johanna: I have already learned so much that I cannot really say what is the most valuable thing for me, but for example in my work with the old women I rediscovered the quickness of changes in life and how important family is. In general I also learned to more appreciate the small things and the possibilities I have and to be more grateful for everything. For me also the spontaneity was something that I learned here.
Marlin: Even though I still do not know what I will do after my year here is finished, it really helped me to find values and my identity as a person.
Overall, how do you appreciate your experience so far?
Anna: Amazing! I made a lot of great friends from all Europe and with them I shared a really important path of my life and this built us a bond. I hope that this little interview will help someone to decide to do the same, investing in one year abroad.
Eugene: I think it is good. However, you shouldn’t get stuck on this, you should move on and keep learning for whole your life and try your best in everything. I would like to recommend this project to everyone, it's really worth it. I will never regret participating.
Johanna: I am here now for more than seven months and I really had a lot of different experiences which were both positive and negative. But all in all I would not want to miss this time because I learned a lot from every single good and bad experience.
At the beginning I stood in front of 12 months which seemed to be such a long time, but the time then was running so fast and after all one year is not much at all. Of course I had some moments when I felt homesick and my motivation was very low but I grew on it and in our modern world it is really easy to keep the contact with my family and friends which made it much easier for me to stay here. Due to the good attendance of my German and my Czech organization I had a really good time so far although I still have a lot of problems with the Czech language. However, all in all I am really satisfied and proud that I made it so far and also curious about my next months, because I think they will be also very good or maybe even better! I am really thankful that I had this opportunity and got this chance and I want to recommend especially to the young people to go out into the world, collect their own experiences and learn a lot. There are so many great places everywhere in the world and sometimes it is really good not to take the easiest or most obvious way because this can open you the door to a great new experience with nice people.
Frederica: Challenging, not always so easy, but I would do it again thousands times!