Hi everyone, my name is Catherine, and I’m a volunteer and ESC alumni. I’ve spent a beautiful infamous 2020 in Hungary, and I was the happiest there.
It all started at the end of 2019, my project in India was coming to an end, and I was casually scrolling through the database when I saw a project called “Solidarity Roots” by Egyesek Youth Association and felt something sparkly inside my heart. After gathering all the information I could about it: the infopack, the info from the website, stalking them on Instagram, going through their feed on Facebook, I decided that I have fallen in love, and I simply must try to reach out and explain my motivations. Who said that first love cannot work out? Mine turned out to be the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to me.
In February 2020 I was on the plane to Hungary, anxious and excited to meet new friends. And thus, the adventure has begun.
Unfortunately, I cannot share the whole experience as it was, I could write a book on it, but here are some thoughts on aspects of volunteering that I’d like you to take as an opportunity to reflect 🙂
Let me start with the most important thing: motivations for volunteering. You want to volunteer, but why? What is behind your wish to do it? It is very important to remember that we volunteer to support the local community. Not to help them, by any means. If we think that we are going there to help, we think that we are more than them from the very beginning. And with the definition of support in mind, I’d like to present an example.
2020 was an interesting year for all the planet, no doubt. My project was supposed to be fully centred around having non-formal educational sessions with children and youth. That… was a bit difficult during the lockdown, and to be frank, the priorities of the local community were a bit different at the time. So, we teamed up with a different local NGO and were creating food-packs for less economically advantaged people in the area. And I believe that it’s okay, as I’m a volunteer. During these times that’s how we were able to support people around me, so we did it.
From all of my volunteering experiences, I can assure you: you will meet so many people during your year. People will excite you, people will share, they will frustrate you, and you might even fall in love so hard and so pure. All of these things are normal. It’s normal to have opinions and feelings towards people. If you’re 7 people in the house, what’s the chance that you will match perfectly with each and every one of them? It’s very low.
Don’t be afraid to communicate, just agree on the terms of communication. And make it less about you, but more about the situation that both of you are facing.
Change of plans.
Flexibility. You probably will hear this word a lot during your volunteering. You wanted to run around and play dodgeball with kids but they are not in the mood? You prepared the best ever lesson but it’s just not working? You wanted to go on the field trip but it got cancelled last minute? I can go on and on about things that could potentially change. And how you’ll handle the situation will depend on your attitude. It’s not that things “went wrong”, you just had to change them. If you are feeling safer with a plan (like yours truly), prepare a plan B, a plan C, have a collection of activities written down. It’ll all be alright. And then, in the evening, you can come home, share a glass of wine with your roommate (if you are of legal age in the country of your residence…) and talk for hours.
Flexibility is not only about going with the flow, it’s also being ready for a change.
Volunteering is also about learning, learning about cultures and learning to accept the differences. It will (probably) be a very diverse environment. And apart from adjusting to the culture of your host country, you’ll have to adjust and learn about all the cultures of your co-volunteers. This will be a lot. And if it’s your first time participating in such a project, it will be overwhelming. Remember, that you’re not alone in this process. People around you are also learning about your culture. And maybe they are as overwhelmed as you are. Ask questions. Forget all the snickering and shaming of formal classrooms! Questions are amazing! Questions are a tool that leads to better understanding. And better understanding ultimately leads to peace. And that’s the goal, right?
That was the most amazing part of my project. I’ve been a volunteer for a very long time, I have participated in many different projects over the years. And sharing the values of volunteering and making them more visible is kind of what I enjoy the most. So, I wrote an initiative (goals, idea, plan, everything by the book) on enhancing the sense of community among past or future participants of volunteering or training projects on Egyesek’s social media.
And I got so much support and interest from my association and beyond. It was refreshing to see how amazing a community can be, how excited everyone is about the mini-projects, and then to see improving stats was something else as well. It was a fantastic opportunity to collaborate with people I look up to, to learn about the other side of Erasmus+ projects.
A final note.
It can feel like you’re taking a leap, not even a step. But I can guarantee you that going for an ESC will bring something new and totally unexpected in your life… even if you are a veteran of volunteering, trust me: been there, done that!
Автор: Екатерина Уварова