Meeting so many open-minded people from all over the world, who went through hard, horrible and so often dehumanizing expereiences thought me how strong the will to live can be. I convinced myself that we as humans can be really powerfull and work on improving the world on everyday basis. I want to make my every breath count; after that year I feel the enormous motivation and faith that it makes a sense.
My name is Ewa and being born in Poland on the border with Belarus I am spending this year of my life doing voluntary service with ASF. I studied European Diplomacy at the Wrocław University, Chinese language and Culture in Confucius Institute and did a semester at the Leipzig University, studying European and Global studies. The surrounding of my hometown was so scarce in international “elements”, that my inner nature always wanted to get to places and occupy myself with “global” issues. However, being rather a “do” person, I always tried to implement this multiculturalism in my life, not only read and learn about it. Currently, my work in Berlin is just a perfect practice experience for my studies. A closer look in my past can prove however, that this lifestyle is already quite well embedded in my story.
My Voluntary Peace Service was launched during the preparatory seminar of Action for Reconciliation and Peace Service (ASF). Starting from people I got to know there, soon I realised that I can find there so many warm emotions, making one feel like it was a family. Particularities of every single person made me thinking, that only special people engage themselves for this peace service. And I felt honoured to be part of that group. During well prepared activities we got a chance to get to know us better. I appreciated a lot the moment, when each of us had to present their way to the service with ASF in a form of collage. Afterwards, everyone of us talked about themselves in front of the whole group, so that we could learn about our past, experiences, interests and motivations for volunteering abroad. The very surprising conclusion I had was that even though most of people were quite young, they already possessed firm and conscious approach towards life, were concentrated on their goals and being definitely aware, wanted to dedicate their future year to contribute to commemoration of a very depressive past. I was admiring people, who just before starting their time in used to be concentration camps or places where clients are overwhelmed with problems (like refugees), could have find so much joy in life as well as were so informed about the subject of work. At the end of the day we could all enjoy our time in this lovely town, taking walks to the lake, dancing and developing our creativity together.
I was actually working in 2 projects: Asylum in the Church (AiK) and Jewish Community.
Asylum in the Church (Asyl in der Kirche, AIK) it is a very particular organisation, responsible for help to refugees who got rejection to their asylum application. One could see a role of AIK as a kind of broker between churches and refugees who got an official decision requiring them to leave the country. We try to match both sides, searching mostly for church communities which are able and courageous enough to offer an asylum in the church status, that means care, shelter and company for around six months, during which the asylum procedure would be attempted again. The greatest challenge is that the amount of people in need exceed available resources substantially. So we try to contribute as much as possible to making two sides meeting and cooperating successfully.
However, what was I doing there on a daily basis? Given that it is mostly an office work, activities like printing, writing reports and answering phones constituted the top of my tasks list. On the other hand, especially at the first part of the year, I need to admit that the amount of time I spent in the office was surprisingly not too long. As I was said that I am free and welcomed to search and participate in events related to the main topic of work and interesting for me, a relevant amount of time I spent on workshops, conferences or working on projects. We organised a podium discussion and an informative workshop about asylum in the church, where the idea of this status was promoted and explained. It was also an amazing opportunity for me to enter the field and learn about the whole environment. On the international conference Inside Europe, co-organised by us, I could expand my knowledge about asylum seekers situation on the eastern border of Poland. Even though I was born in that region, it turned out that my knowledge about atrocities that were happening there was almost close to zero.
I also got a chance to meet refugees, what was more possible due to cooperation with a Refugee Church, which is providing asylum seekers, refugees and foreigners in need with German Courses as well as medical and legal advice. I was providing a child care for offspring of refugee woman, who joined a special language course only for females. Playing games, inside and outside, with boys who could barely speak any German word, helped me to realise how important non-verbal communication is. I could also practice my abilities in communicating with others using other than language tools during many events that took place in the Refugee Church, like the two years anniversary or the “international dinner” where foreigners were sharing they cooking skills. Offering once to cook a polish food, thanks to a great international group in the kitchen (people from Poland, Czech Republic, Syria, India, Afghanistan), I got plenty of approvals from over 40 guests who joined the event.
The end of the year was rich in events related to Christmas celebration, which I co-organised or participated in. There was an Advents Bazar where we were selling some snacks. I have created a Christmas thanking card for all members and supporters of our organisation as well as for volunteers who engage in a Weltweit group. Later on I also helped to organise a Christmas meeting, where in a nice atmosphere, enhanced by delicious food, Christmas decorations and festive mood, together with other co-workers and members of a board we could have an informal time for taking a look at our work and lives. Last but not least I met there also women who is working in advisory office, where I joined her two times. That was also a very interesting experience to hear the stories of refugees coming and asking for help. It gave me plenty of information about the asylum policy in Germany and it’s constant changes, usually for worse for our “clients”. Surrounded by such a devoted, motivated and determined people, willing to gratuitously offer their time, attention and care to strangers in need, one can regain the faith in humanity and values that should be spread in a fair society.
The second part of the project enhanced many of my competences. I have developed my coordinating skills, engaging myself in a German-Polish human rights project. Representing the Asylum in the Church, I was responsible for structural organization of our meetings. It included also writing reports and inviting to (and reminding about) the next meeting. Most of all, as a result of that engagement I have increased my knowledge on the practice of the application for asylum status of Chechen refugees in Poland and in Germany. Topics like violations of human rights or at least legal negligence were too often too easy to determine from single cases raised by Maria, the psychotherapist who represents the Polish site in that project. She is already very experienced in work with this group of particularly vulnerable refugees in Poland. For the needs of the project she moved on to Berlin and she tries to spread and share her knowledge, experience and competences in Berlin in Brandenburg aimed at supporting the refugees themselves and all social workers, who are in touch with the Chechens. Besides supporting her with available in German information about the practice of refugee policy, I was quite often helping her with issues like bank, insurance, translations. Getting to know her daughter, we also developed a close relation as friends, which was an extra positive supplement to all surpluses I have already gained.
In July I was also teaching German in one language course, which is offered by Weltweit, the volunteering group of Asylum in the Church. This opportunity appeared as during one of monthly meetings of the group I have assigned myself as willing to undertake a replacement of teacher who is having a holiday break. Every Tuesday, together with one really experienced teacher and one less experienced volunteer we are trying to accompany students who come for 2 hours class in their process of learning. One of the biggest difficulties is that the group can be always quite mixed, given that the participation is voluntary and no pre-registration is required. During my first class there was 3 students whereas during the second one – 10, with only 2 who came again. Additionally, there was always broad variety of countries, where students come from; ranging from Greece, Russia, Eritrea, Syria, to other Arabic and African lands. Such a complexity made the preparation phases always more requiring, as I should be always ready for few case scenarios, various levels and dynamic of work. However, with every lesson I have enhanced my communication and public speaking skills as well as I could learned a lot about interculturality. In the meantime, speaking with participants, I got a chance to learn about personal stories of people living in Berlin and having migration or refugee background.
On those Tuesdays, as classes were held in refugee church, I have always gone later on to our advisory board, where I could take part in consultations. The partaking was always not easy (actually almost never, due to frightful details of stories of ‘’clients’’), however significant to me as I wanted to familiarize myself with the stories of refugees during my volunteering year. Additionally I have confirmed in the belief that the communication has a huge power, and it is not only the langue, that can enhance it. To the same or even greater conclusions I have come during international dinner events, where I was few times cooking, helping or just taking part in the meeting. I got to know plenty of people spoke many different languages and could experience various means of expression, like music, theater and dance. Already a cooking process in always very intercultural group have made a huge influence on my way of perceiving life. I have realized, that in the kitchen there are other factors than age, country of origin, sex, or appearance matter. Those were: experience, team work, willingness to help (they were always voluntary), sense of humor and sense of responsibility. Those key features made me realizing that the equality, non-discrimination and simply humanity can happen and are very positive. Food, the end result of those hard efforts, was always extremely praised by attendants of dinners.
My second project, where I spend two days during the week, encompasses visits of two ladies from Jewish Community. Coming to their houses I am trying to be as helpful as possible, accompanying them, helping with small household tasks but most of all enjoying their company and learning a lot from their behaviour, about their past experiences and approach towards life, that have developed out of it. Both of them lived their lives as differently as possible. The only thing they have in common is friendliness and kindness to other human being. And both of them express such a warm feelings of care that I feel quite often as a member of their family when I am with them.
First women, over 80 years old, who I am visiting on Wednesdays is a self-reliant, mindful, conscious, enlightened, strong-minded, reasonable and unbelievably altruistic person. She inspired me so much by telling stories of infinite acts of kindness towards unknown people, she felt like undertaking. From the very beginning I could experience it myself, being overload with small presents or acts of care about me, my life and environment. The most amazing thing is how “freelancing” is the nature of her deeds and how humble she is referring to it. For her, helping other human beings is something, that should be self-evident. Unfortunately, in nowadays hectic, individualistic, money-based world, what is being observed is rather to the opposite – disappearance of that way of comprehension of the humanity. Having the opportunity to join her changing the world for better starting from the surrounding, I fell more than amazed how great connection could have develop between us. On the top of all our common initiatives, we spend short holidays in Görlitz at the beginning of December together. She was planning that for almost 10 years so far, but there were always some obstacles. I, being a wanderlust traveller and a “do” person, took the advantage of her proposal and joined her on that trip. I could not confirm better the saying: “travels teach and broaden one’s horizons” after we came back.
The another woman is like an island of calmness for me. With her friendliness, politeness, regard and respect toward others coupled with an abiding appreciation for what she receives she can be a great example of a humble and chaste soul. My visits at her place are not only help for her with shopping and collecting rubbish, but so often a help for me with calming down, slowing down the pace of life and appreciating living the moment. She communicates with me very willingly, sharing her story but also expressing her interest for my life. The purity and innocence of humankind is almost possible to touch when one enters her home. The willingness to understand my situation and the curiosity in my background is something, that make my time with her even more valuable. Not even to mention how many life-lessons I can withdraw from her attitude towards life. A great summary of an unbelievable attention, I received from both of them could have been seen during my stay at the hospital, at the beginning of January, when both of them contacted me regularly, expressed their sorrow and offered help and wishes for prompt come-back to a good health state. The message I got from this is that a love toward humans does not mind age, culture, experience or any other visible or invisible difference. Goodwill and a bit of effort can make next to impossible just simply real.
Our coordinating organisation, ASF, also enabled me to learn extremely huge amount of things. The richest in "aha-moments" was the seminar organized in Poland,. With the whole group of foreign volunteers spend 5 days in Oswiecim, learning about the history, the way of telling about it and the meaning of preserving those information for the future generations. I took it very emotional from the very beginning, especially that it was my first time visit there. Our tour in Auschwitz led me to many tears, but also thoughts and considerations. I was confronted with horrible scenes from the past, that led me to make inquiries about humanity as such. Working now in the field of refugees policy, I had also many reflections on the situation on the world nowadays. Taking into account all the wars, catastrophes and inequalities, that millions of innocent people are facing, I started to ask myself, what else could be done now in order to make the future life on the Earth a better place to live. From then on I am occupying myself with those issues more often, what is helpful for designing my future. First steps were already done: I have changed a topic of my master thesis, and now I am preparing a research on the development of Asylum in the Church in Holly Cross Church in Berlin. The further developments will hopefully be even more direct with achieving that enormous goal.
The most visible turn happened obviously in my knowledge about refugee policy and all the structures that were achieved in Germany. I was surprised by many aspects: the complexity of the policy that goes hand in hand with constant changes; undeniable differences in approaches in various states in the whole country, the magnitude of unjust decisions made by German state offices or the appalling conditions in which asylum seekers have to be accommodated. Given that, I was even more surprised by the amount of organizations and individuals who engage and dedicate their time to support, help and enable refugees to have human rights guaranteed and realized. Sometimes even in the situations, where the political directions enforce the movement against refugees. Next to my work I was also very active in purely voluntary work with refugees, where by participating in Mentoring programs I was accompanying few particular people in their process of learning Berlin and the style of life in Germany. It have brought me plenty of enriching experiences, from getting to know their stories, learning about their culture to simply spending a great leisure time with them. We have also organized many bigger events, like cooking together or some trips, where we could integrate with bigger group of people. That made me confirming and realizing even stronger, that no matter our origin, we are all humans who can have the same emotions, skills, knowledge, and by approach towards life and other humans everyone can decide how they want to act on the world. Maybe it is just my luck in life, that I have noticed so far, but I am consciously admitting that those experiences brought me acquaintances with amazing and full of potential people, that I praise highly.
This all great people I met, impressive stories I came across, inspiring lifestyles or initiatives I learnt about and just simply amazing moments I had in last four months would never be possible without all those great humans who made it possible. There are no words which allow me to express the gratitude for all workers in ASF, especially those, I had the closest contact with. Comparing to other voluntary services, ASF is outstanding with their care about needs of volunteers. They try to understand individual situations, are always willing to help, even during their holidays there are possibilities to contact them in emergency cases. In fact, all what they do is enhancing the home feeling between all of us, volunteers. Home feeling would never be attainable without an actual house, which arise thanks to donations from all great people, who appreciate the work and engagement of the organisation and support it with funds, which allow for all initiatives to be implemented.