Ursula reads stories for children from all over the world

Everyone can make a small contribution for everyone, Ursula thought so too. She volunteers to read stories to children in libraries. It's a small gesture that generates a lot of enthusiasm among the little ones and strengthens equal opportunities in education. But Ursula also finds that volunteering enriches her time with other volunteers.

© Landesfreiwilligenagentur Berlin

There is a story about a boy standing on the beach and being watched by a man. This beach is full of starfish. The boy starts throwing the starfish back into the sea. And the older man is a little bit surprised about this and goes to the boy and asks, "What are you doing?" Then the boy replies, "The starfish will die if they stay on the beach." To which the older gentleman replies, "But don't you see, there are 1,000,000 starfish here, you can't throw them all back." And then the boy picks up a starfish and throws it back and says, "But this one, I can help it." And that's exactly how I think volunteerism is.

„Of course, we can't save everyone, we can't give all children equal opportunities in education, but we can improve a bit, and I think that's worthy of all honors.“


I wanted to give something back to society, that was important to me. And at that time there was a lot of discussion about Hartz 4, the Pisa study was new, education of children, especially of educationally disadvantaged children - all that was very much in focus. And then it was clear to me that I wanted to do something with children and with education. One day I came across the Lesewelt project. I read about it and thought to myself, "That's it. That's what you do. Volunteer to read to children once a week, children between the ages of 4 and 12 who are educationally disadvantaged or have a migration background - I'd like to help them." 

I called the association and a week later I was already in a reading place in a library, reading to the children. That was a whole new world for me. It was really great. The children were so friendly and so enthusiastic. What really excited me personally were the other volunteer readers. This friendly interaction with each other, that was such a contrast to my working life. I found that incredibly great. And then I made up my mind and said, "Okay, I'm going to stick with it." 

To read voluntarily to children means that we are opening up educational opportunities for children.  That's one side of the coin. The other side is that this association provides a stage for people who want to volunteer. 

Europe is actually a bit small for us in our work, because children come to us who have roots all over the world. They come from Asia, from Africa, from America, from Europe, they also come from Germany.  We represent - I'll just put it this way - the whole world. 

I believe that civil society can only shape itself. Civil society must shape civil society. And recently I have seen a tendency not only for us in civil society to shape things together, but also for the state to increasingly try to influence the shaping of civil society. I find that a bit problematic. Let me give you an example: If you have a volunteer agency or an organization that places volunteers, it can act differently if it's independent than if it's docked to a district, for example. And I think it's the case that government agencies know exactly how important civil society is, especially in terms of democracy development in the country. But at the same time, they are a bit suspicious when civil society is too independent and try to exert influence. And I think we strengthen our society by emphasizing our independence even more.

This portrait is from the competition "Gestalter:innen der Zivilgesellschaft" ("Shapers of Civil Society") of the Landesfreiwilligenagentur Berlin e.V. of the Landesnetzwerks Bürgerengagement Berlin. The competition was intended to draw attention to all those shapers of civil society in Berlin who are not yet so well known and have not yet received awards. It is precisely they who are to be honored for their special commitment. Five pioneers and implementers of humanity and public welfare were honored. The criteria were Achieving commitment - Driving forward integrative action - Promoting inclusion and diversity - Acting transparently and responsibly - Achieving effectiveness - Incorporating European values - Being a role model and instigator. The winners of the competition were announced during the 11th Berlin Commitment Week in September. Senator Elke Breitenbach was the patron of the competition.

More information