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Volunteering in a multicultural city

Natia, originally from Georgia, currently is volunteering through the ICJA organization in Stephanus Stiftung while working with people with disabilities. Natia’s journey in Germany did not start in Berlin, as while applying for the volunteering position, she was already living here. In the interview, she talks about her experience, the possibilities for non-Eu students in Europe, and her decision to stay in Germany a bit more and do a volunteering year.

© Natia

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

How did you find out about the volunteering possibility in ICJA? 

One of my friends did the same type of volunteering two years ago; Funny enough, she volunteered in the same organization and lived in the same room as I do now. So, I have been hearing about this program from her, but I did not have any interest at first.  However, after some time, I thought it could be something I would like to do.  

Before coming to volunteer in Berlin, you were already living in Germany. Did you attend the university here?   

At first, I came to Germany as Au pair and worked in Munich for a year.  After one year, I did language courses for one more year and then moved to Berlin for this project. I want to develop my German even more, and this opportunity seemed like a good chance to do so, and I wanted to volunteer and help others.  

What are your responsibilities in the organization? 

First of all, I must mention that I am so lucky to work here as my team is extremely helpful and always makes me feel like you are home. My duties are connected with social activities. I help the people I work with to socialize and find interesting tasks to keep them busy. Especially now, when they do not work and stay inside most of the time.  

Their routine during the usual times is much different than during the lockdown as it involves many outdoor activities. Now we spend most time indoors, so we have to be creative and come up with fun indoor activities. There is no routine as I can be as creative as I want. Sometimes we cook together, do arts and crafts, play table games. Since last week was pretty sunny, we spent a lot of time outside playing ball. However, even when the weather is terrible, we can still take short walks and get some fresh air as we live near the lake. I and other workers are trying to do our best to help them live their full lives, especially during the lockdown.  

Why did you think this experience was important for you?  

I heard a lot about Berlin and got curious about this city. Berlin is something special as it is very different from everything that I have ever seen. Even though everything is closed, you still feel the spirit of the city. What I like the most about it is the fact that you can find everything, starting from underground culture ending with some historical sights.  

As for the job, at first, I was a little bit concerned about and careful with this decision. Because I did not have any experience working with people with disabilities. In my country, unfortunately, there is still a big stigma surrounding them. So, we do not see them around a lot as many of them are not adapted to society. Here I had a chance to revaluate my values and view them differently.  

So while working with them, did your perception changed?  

My perception became much better as I got more familiar and more comfortable with them. At first, I felt a bit stressed out because I did not know how to behave; I did not know what was right or wrong. I used to think that they were different from me, but now it completely changed. I see them in a completely different light as I am sharing my daily life with them.  

How do you think these kinds of possibilities of volunteering affect personal and professional development?  

Moving to another country or even a city, is such a great experience, especially in such a multicultural city as Berlin. I always advise my friends to take a chance and go somewhere new. It broadens your horizons, and you start perceiving things differently while also thinking outside the box. This experience helps me be a good person, be more responsible, organized, and develop work ethics.  

You are coming from a non-EU country. What was the procedure of applying and starting the position? Did it come with difficulties? 

In my case, the application for VISA went very smoothly. Especially because ICJA was extremely helpful as they did all the paperwork and made sure I was ready for my appointment. 

Did you always want to volunteer in a foreign country? And why so?  

It was not a spontaneous decision. I always had an interest in different countries, and I think making a volunteering year is one of the best possibilities to get familiar with the culture and people. One piece of advice I would give future volunteers is to learn the basics of the language of the country where they are going to volunteer, so when they arrive, they can develop it more and become better at speaking. Maybe not everyone will need German language skills, as some volunteering work needs only English. However, for me, it was crucial as I have to work and communicate only in German.  

Would you like to add something at the end of the interview?  

Maybe, I should repeat myself and say that it is a great opportunity. Especially if you are a person in search of your true passion. Go for it, travel, explore and broaden your horizons. 

 

 

Die Stephanus-Stiftung

The Stephanus-Stiftung is a Christian, non-profit company and a member of the umbrella organization Diakonie Deutschland. Together with its subsidiaries, it provides social services in the business areas of housing and care, housing and more for people with disabilities, supported work for people with disabilities, education, children's and family work, and in the work area of migration & integration.

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