A world apart:
Last year was spent a bit different than the rest. At the beginning of the year I decided to make the radical decision to pause the life i had created for myself and focus on how i could use my skills and time in order to help others. This was possible with the opportunities offered by the European Union for young people. The ESC volunteering program gives the opportunity to people between 18 and 30 to move to a new country and join an NGO in order to provide help where needed. During my mobility I was working as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten during the morning and in the afternoon I was based in a center.
So after packing my bag and stuffing it with hopes, motivation and excitement I began my journey for neighboring Poland. Arriving there I began meeting new people, people that would later become big part of my journey. I spend some time exploring the city and attending trainings in order to be better prepared for the work I had to do. We had the opportunity to share our expectations, ideas and plans with the other volunteers and we helped each other create plans. We immediately began playing and hugging each other and for a moment it felt like language barrier and nationality was not an existing issue. As time was passing, our relationship was becoming stronger and our language skills were improving. All the time that we were spending together and the skills we were teaching to each other brought us even closer.
To be honest, when i think about the greatest thing that I got from this year, the answer is the lessons that I gained through my interaction with the kids at the kindergarten. The way that a little child looks at the world, with their innocence, free of stress and prejudice, looking at everyone as equal and looking for nothing more than having fun and making new friends. But as we live in an imperfect world, the lessons were not only positive, as I got to also experience a more realistic side of these children's lives.
The afternoon center was not simply a place for children to spent their free time, but it was in fact mainly a place that was trying to support the local minorities, providing them with extra education and food. The main objective of the center is to help them integrate into the local society by providing a place for them to be creative and gain motivation from people who actually believe in them and want to support them. There I had the opportunity to see how many things people take for granted every day during their life. What strikes me the most is how unnoticed the
differences of one kid's home compared to another's goes.
Children that were growing up just streets apart, that were attending the same school seemed to be having similar lives while in fact they were living in two completely different realities. Things that we can't even control, like our nationality, our family and environment we live in and it is shaping our
lives, our feelings, the way we see the world and our opportunities. Things are supposed to be simple when you are a child and in fact most of us are looking at those days with feelings of reminiscence, unaware of the privileges that we enjoyed. But that is unfortunately not the case for everyone. Spending my afternoons with kids from the local Roma community gave me the chance to have a glimpse into what it seemed to be a new world for me. These children felt as they were born with a disadvantage. The city was treating them as if they were a burden, as if they could not handle the diversity. Their families had a completely different lifestyle than the locals. It was visible though their houses, the way that they were supporting themselves as well as the way that they were treating their children. Yes, child labor, stealing and being loud was part of their life. All these were nonexistent issues in the local's lives. They only thing that seemed to differ was the attention and the stigma around them when it came to the particular group of people. Even though school was seemingly giving them educational opportunities and the state was providing them with free afternoon education, the lack of people believing and supporting them, as well as the influence of their societal norm seemed to be pushing them more and more into not seeking further opportunities but rather settling for what their families were expecting them to do.
This experience helped me understand how important someone's support system is and how difficult it can be for change to be implemented. Even though the center's aim was to inspire them into taking better decisions
for their future that would help not only them, but also the future generations, the truth is that is hard to help someone break free from their heritage and the way their communities have been living for centuries. Our only hope could be to at least help them see that there is a different point of view and maybe hope for them to give a chance to their own children.
The overall year was full of experiences, observations and realizations. I had the chance to not only experience a part of the educational system of the country, but also be introduced to the culture and experience how locals are experiencing life given their different history and influences. I had
the chance to explore the country, learn a new language and create memories.
Volunteering after all helped me realize that by giving, you can become much richer.