Thursday, August 9, 2012

Our volunteer Regina from Argentina reports about her volunteering experience in the UK

“If you think you are too small to make a change, then you’ve never slept in a closed room with a mosquito”.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              African Proverb

                I’ve been asked by Concordia UK to write about my experience as a volunteer of the ROBBS Bursary Programme. I am a member of Subir al Sur, an Argentine organisation that works in the strengthening of youth groups in different parts in Argentina, by promoting local and international volunteering. It is hard to use words to describe the whole month, but to sum it up I can definitely say: AMAZING! I warn you, reader, this article will be EXTREMELY boring for those who like to read about terrible news or poor and sad experiences, for it will be loaded of POSITIVE adjectives in such an amount that you will start doubting whether everything happened for real or it was just a very pretty dream. Well, let me tell you, and I have witnesses, that this month was enough time to make a change, at least in myself, and this is real, for sure.
                My first experience was at Moulsecoomb Primary School and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project. We were eight volunteers and a camp leader participating in a 15-day workcamp, sleeping in the School’s gym, joining the children’s classrooms and working in the Community Garden. Well, Moulsecoomb is supposed to be a “deprived area” inside Brighton and Hove, and I could tell that there are many problems such as violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, etc, underneath the beauty of the streets and the important Universities. Nevertheless, I don’t know if it’s because of my extreme optimism or the fact that I come from a country where “deprived areas” are areas where there are not even basic public services, but Moulsecoomb for me is a diamond in the rough. I have to say that the Primary School’s way of teaching, their willingness to transmit to the children the importance of communication, the expression of their opinions and feelings, the relevance of working with and for the community, and actually doing it, teaching it by giving the example, was inspiring to see. Everyone I met working at the Primary School and the Community Garden is committed to the community and is working to make the best out of Moulsecoomb, mainly for the children that live there. All the School and Community Garden’s Staff members and volunteers are so involved with their community and so confident of the fact that the only way of dealing with harsh environments is working together towards a different and better future, which results in stimulating and exciting everyone that joins the project.
                During my second weekend in UK, Concordia invited me to the North-South Training that is held every year for volunteers that will participate in projects on the South part of the world, and for people interested in joining some of these projects eventually. It was an intense weekend where I got to meet many people with different backgrounds but two things in common: they were all from the UK, and all had been wondering about the idea of “change” in a particular way: by volunteering somewhere far from their home country. “Change”, I mean, in a wide and subjective form and definition; “change” conceived in a different way for every different individual. In this sense, it may mean an internal change, a social or a political change, etc. It was important to get to know what their fears and expectations are before leaving to their projects, so as to work on them before they arrive to Argentina. The training is very successful in raising questions that everyone should ask themselves before joining a North-South project: What does being a volunteer mean?, How am I going to deal with cultural differences? If any conflict arises, how am I going to cope with it? How do I think I will be feeling outside my comfort zone? Am I willing to learn from other cultures? These questions help the volunteer reflect upon important matters and situations that may happen during a project. The awareness that naturally comes with the questions help the volunteer be more prepared for the trip.
                The ROBBS Programme is not only a volunteering programme, but has another important objective that is getting to know other organisations in the UK that promote international volunteering, in the way Concordia and Subir al Sur promote it, as an intercultural experience. That is why Concordia sent me to London to meet Nigel from VAP UK, and to Cardiff, to meet the members of UNA Exchange. This experience was enriching in many ways, but mainly in an institutional level. I got to interview members of organisations that work in a similar way as we do in Argentina, and was able to exchange experiences and information, for both of us to improve.
Regina volunteering in Wales

               In Wales, I was invited to take part of a weekend project in the valley, in a place called Abercynon. This project was very different from what I had experienced before, due to the fact that we were only two volunteers and one coordinator, working in a Community Garden, together with its manager and his helpers. It was a hard-working weekend, where I learnt to make a fence, cleared weed from an area full of growing trees, dug a pipe trench and carried 20 wheel barrels loaded with soil to cover the trench to protect the pipe. But as tiring as it sounds the satisfaction of doing it and actually seeing the results of such hard work was more than enough to compensate the effort. It was a beautiful project and I enjoyed it so much!
                There are many, many things unsaid in this short article but I thought that the best way of describing my experience was by telling a bit about the different projects and people I met thanks to the Programme. I want to make a special mention to Concordia’s Team for the support they gave me from the very beginning and their constant motivation. I will be forever grateful!
                If someone is lucky enough to join this programme, I would suggest they seize every day, knowing that every minute is important to enjoy and learn from the inspiring people they will meet during the trip and to let the beauty of the places penetrate them. Everything happens so fast! And you never know how far the impact of your presence in the projects goes and how deep your footprint on someone’s heart steps. It is definitely worthwhile making the best out of the experience, because if you think you are too small to make a difference, then you never slept in a closed room with a mosquito.
                                                                                                                                                                Regina Ruete.

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