Volunteering for the foundation I truly believe in

João from Porto, Portugal, thought about taking a year off from studying and getting some real-life experience. With this thought came a decision to spend a year volunteering in Berlin, Germany. Currently, he is a European Volunteer for Schwarzkopf Stiftung Junges Europa and works with European Youth Parliament. 

© João

The interview was conducted by Sofio Rukhadze, a staff member of the European Volunteer Capital Project Office and a committed volunteer in Berlin herself, who comes from Geogia.

Were you planning on doing a volunteering year, or did you decide to volunteer because you wanted to work on the EYP project?  

My decision was related to both of those reasons. I was a volunteer within the European Youth Parliament network for different events and projects. Once I heard about an opening for a volunteer in the international office in Berlin, I understood it was what I wanted to do. Moreover, I realized I needed to get some real-world experience before proceeding to the next stages in my life, and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for that. So, both of these reasons contributed to my decision, but mostly I wanted to work with European Youth Parliament 

Why do you think EYP is crucial for nowadays society (especially youth)? What kinds of values does it encourage?  

I definitely think EYP is crucial, as, with all other things, it promotes civic engagement and active citizenship. We not only encourage people to be engaged in policymaking and political systems but to also take an interest and be active within their communities. It also promotes pluralism as we see society as fundamentally composed of different components and that being a positive aspect of it, we promote intercultural understanding and relations. Moreover, EYP helps participants develop crucial skills such as: facilitating discussion, time management, and working under pressure while encouraging them to be more confident and open to discussion. While being exposed to all of this, people form important relationships and have a better understanding of different cultures. 

This year is quite different from previous ones. How did it affect your volunteering experience and the EYP itself?  

It has been, indeed, a very interesting year. For the most part, it has been challenging on the social side. It was hard not to see my friends as often as I previously did or in large quantities. Still, personally, I do not think I was as affected as other people, as I am more introverted and do not have a problem staying home.  

However, of course, it affected my volunteering year in the sense that I have not been able to enjoy Berlin to its fullest. During the usual times, it is a very vibrant and dynamic city where you can do different things each day and explore different aspects of the city. Even though there is still plenty to do during the lockdown, it is still not the same. As for my work, I learned and keep learning a lot of things while working in this capacity. Working from home means that you learn a great deal about working autonomously as well as time management. 

 As for EYP, just like some other projects, it has adapted to the current situation and made some changes. EYP holds hundreds of events yearly all around Europe, and all these events were in person. By not having a chance to do that, we had to make adaptations as our sessions, usually gathering 300-400 people, did not happen in person and took place online. However, for me, the surprising part was how quickly EYP managed to adapt to online sessions and planned them very well. I remember last year my friend telling me they were planning to do sessions online, and I did not think that was possible. However here we are - adapting to changes and having digital sessions. That is the case of young people being resilient and coming together to engage and develop themselves. 

I am sure you have met other volunteers or former volunteers during your time in Berlin, how do you think this experience contributes to one’s personal and professional growth?  

I would say that it contributes massively. It is very much like you have the experience of working in a professional setting, but you are doing so in a social outlook. You are giving this place undivided attention and put your heart into it. You have experience developing different skills such as time management, working under the pressure, handling tasks, and completing projects. It really puts you in a different mindset, in a mindset that makes you have enough responsibilities in a personal and professional sense. I respect what I am doing a lot, and it also gives me an idea of what I would like to do in the future.  

How do you think your volunteering contributes to the project you work with and to the city of Berlin?  

I contribute to the project in specific terms. I work as a project assistant in international governance. I am putting different documents and meetings together while supporting decision-makers in our network as well. In that sense, my job is crucial, and I feel very valued.  

I think that everyone who comes to Berlin and connects their life to the city contributes to it. By being a person who volunteers and works on a project focusing on pluralism and internationality, I think that I contribute towards the city being perceived as incredibly open to all nationalities and the types of values I support. 

 What are the key lessons you already acquired during your volunteering?  

I learned how to be more confident. When I got here, I was scared of making the day-to-day lives and works of the people I worked with harder as I was a new volunteer, and, of course, afraid of making mistakes. People generally were helpful and supportive, and it boosted the confidence a lot. If you do start volunteering. It is all right to be a bit nervous, but it is not something that should preclude you from knowing and recognizing what you are capable of. Moreover, I understood how to set limits for myself and have a specific time for working and for personal matters, and not think about work all the time.  

What is the best part about this experience, and what is the most challenging?  

The best part is that I can work in a team and in a foundation that I am so passionate about while being a part of fantastic projects and promote values I truly believe in. you get to see other people who are similarly passionate about the projects or different daily, routine tasks. The most challenging part is, of course, COVID-19 and the fact that I could not experience Berlin at its full potential. However, the pandemic did not ruin the social aspect of volunteering. We had a seminar during the start of volunteering where I had a chance to get to know other volunteers on a digital basis.  

In the end, what would you like to tell the people who have never experienced being a volunteer but want to become one?  

Definitely take the leap. If you are undecided about something and uncertain about your future path, volunteering is the best chance for you as it gives you the freedom to learn and experience. Volunteering can create a wonderful experience in your life.  



Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe

The Schwarzkopf Foundation Young Europe was founded by Pauline Schwarzkopf in 1971 in Hamburg. The foundation´s mission is to empower young people from all backgrounds to be active European citizens who contribute to a pluralistic, democratic society through their engagement and opinions, leading to mutual understanding, solidarity and peaceful collaboration across Europe.

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