Volunteering with UNSA!

By Ilaria Gliottone and Victoria Angel

This year, UNSA gives the opportunity to every student of Maastricht from all faculties to get involved in a wonderful adventure in five different continents. The chance of being in a country where you are needed and where you can find your own task within a project to spread some joy and help people in need is a once in a lifetime experience. Choosing your favourable country and project will also involve the choice of learning more about yourself and your limits. Moreover, by volunteering you will be in touch with completely different people and another environment: a great moment to travel the world and to get to know new countries from different perspectives. In addition to this, every NGO provides work of a different nature: health clinic, teaching, child care, administrative work, conservation work and law defenders. Therefore, in order to help each volunteer to have a magnificent experience the Development Committee is also organising useful and enjoyable workshops to give some tips and tricks to start the new adventure in a good way.

For more information, this power point presentation gives further insight!

FINAL_Volunteer Info Evening 5 Nov 2014 (1)

Join the Development Committee for the UNSA Volunteer Info Market on 9th December at the Law Faculty to collect further information what NGO suits you best, what activities would be for you, how to get there…

“I had the feeling, I always took and never gave” – An Interview with a Volunteer

David Wehner is a 21-year old Psychology-student from Cologne, Germany. The past summer he spent six weeks in Nagpur, India (“the center point of India”) in the Nav Jeevan Saanstha School. His main tasks were to teach English, work in public relations and fundraising.

The Diplomat: First of all, what influenced your decision to apply as a volunteer?

David Wehner: I had the feeling, I have never done anything productive in my life, since I never had difficulties in my social background, I never had to worry about anything. I had the feeling, I always took and never gave anything back in return. Furthermore, I did not do a gap year like many other students did and, therefore, had not seen anything comparable to the school in India yet.

 How did UNSA volunteer program raise your attention?

A friend of mine went to Nepal in the volunteer program, organized by UNSA, and her stories made me want to do the same.

This was your first experience being a volunteer. Did you have any particular expectations when deciding to be a volunteer?

No. I did not really make up my mind about what would expect me there.

How did you prepare for your stay?

We had the workshops, which were organized by UNSA. They were, of course, helpful, but in my opinion you cannot really prepare people to be a volunteer. But the volunteers will deal with it. I think one needs to have the information that had been given by the workshops and maybe also a backup plan, but the rest is on them. When you start your work as a volunteer, it is crucial to ask a lot of questions and try to understand the culture and behaviour of the people. In my case, the people were usually very helpful. I learned the most helpful things in the first days and weeks of my stay while already working with the children. After two to three weeks, I started to get an idea of the quality of the organization, which is great by the way.

What were your first impressions? How did they change over time?

Since I lived on the school grounds, I got a very intensive impression of the lives of the children. In the beginning I especially realized how messy the place was and I did not really see the benefit, but later I slowly realized what it really meant to the children. After having read the life stories of some children, I started to understand that they cannot be happy in our sense of happiness. They have experienced so much bad things at where they come from, which is mostly the slums. I was forced to interact with the children, because I was the only volunteer for a really long time.

But which also stroke me was that the people there really lived Zen Buddhism to be happy. Everybody was really friendly all the time, because they are convinced of living friendly and peaceful, and, in return, they seemed really happy with it.

Did you have a kind of culture shock? And how would you describe the impact these experiences had on you?

I did not really have something like that during my time as a volunteer. I would rather say that I kind of experienced a culture shock only when I came back to Germany. I changed a lot through this. I, for example, always used to be on time, but since that was not possible in India because of belated busses etc., I am still being late. Another thing is that I realized how spoiled our culture is and in which luxury we live. In India, there was no possibility to take a hot shower and therefore I still shower cold, because I got used to it and I think it is a waste of energy to shower hot. I also realized that in Germany, as in most Western countries, there is so much meat in the menus, when you go to a restaurant, whereas in India, the waiters in India apologized for having it in their menu.

How did a typical day for you look like, what stroke you?

I got up quite early in the morning and started to give lessons in English and more or less common knowledge until lunch. In the afternoon, I gave extra lessons and helped the children with the homework. The children were really eager to learn. That is also something which is different from what I have known. Another thing I remarked was that the children were really tough, although they must have been missing their parents, since it was a boarding school. Almost none of them ever cried.

Other tasks of mine were sitting in different lessons and evaluating the teachers, keeping track on Facebook and twitter about my experiences and I also did fundraising. The last project I did, which is about financing a bus for the school, is not finished, yet (https://www.betterplace.org/en/projects/21475-school-bus-for-children-in-india).

Would you do it again?

Definitely!

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