As a volunteer in Germany

As a volunteer at Caritas in Alba Iulia, I dreamed a lot about big trips when I was in high school and I planned to work as a volunteer abroad, somewhere in the distant future.

After graduating high school, university came next – of course – and I finished a year at the Babeș-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca, as a sociology major, and since we studied online and I still stayed at home, I couldn’t live up to my desire to travel at all. Perhaps the only good thing about staying in Miercurea-Ciuc was that I was still able to volunteer and have dreams.

And look, my dream has come true! Because when Caritas announced a volunteer program in Germany in the spring of 2021, I got the opportunity right away and applied. I knew I needed some kind of change in my life, I wanted to be independent, to see the world, meet new people, and I didn’t want to study online anymore.  And when I found out that I was the one who got the only place, well, I can safely say that at that moment I was the happiest in our small town, Miercurea-Ciuc.

Although I had a few months before going, I had plenty of things to do: take my university exams, freeze my second year, get all kinds of files, get the vaccine, take everything I could need for a year.

It was a great help to me that before departure, Caritas organized a camp for disabled people, to which I was also invited as an organizer. This way I was more relaxed when thinking about the work ahead of me, as I am working here in Germany with mentally disabled, neurodivergent people at the Lebenshilfe Association in Trier.

At first it was scary, and I was a little worried because there were more people who came from the same countries participating in the program – Ruanda (2), Bolivia (6), Ukraine (2) – and I was the only one from Romania. It was definitely easier for them, because even though they didn’t know each other, there was someone to ask if they didn’t understand something, they helped each other, and what I think was most important, they could speak in their native language, which was impossible for me. Over time my fears have disappeared – of course – and I think every beginning is difficult, but an enthusiastic attitude helps a lot.

The first month in Trier, till I got used to new thing, has been very interesting and fun. All the participating volunteers lived in the same building, we attended a German course, cooked together, played board games, tried to fully meet each other, the city and our new life. We slowly became a family, we started to have a lot of things in common, despite the fact that we differed from each other culturally and other aspects, too. August went by fast, and in September everyone went to their assigned place. The others have moved to different cities in West Germany, but it doesn’t stop us meeting up from time to time. Every two months, we get together and become a family again, since we can attend one-week tutorial classes during the program, in which we participate in all kinds of activities. During these times we constantly have something to talk about, especially since we got a new language in common: German, that we all can speak pretty good now, so translating Spanish, English, Ukrainian and Hungarian from and to via Google Translate, isn’t needed anymore.

I stayed in Trier and started working with disabled people in the daytime activity center of Lebenshilfe Organization. My work is hardly considerable as difficult, my day looks something like this. The people I work with arrive in the morning by taxi, I have to help them get out of the car and walk them into the building. We have coffee together, me and my colleague make lunch, sometimes I go shopping or do the office work. Before and after lunch we play board games, go on a walk, listen to music, talk, and I give them their medicines. At the end of the day, taxis come, we help them get in the cars, and after that we plan the programs and food for the next day, together with my colleagues. At first, I had some difficulties – of course – since my German wasn’t very good, so I didn’t always understand what people were saying to me, but now that I learnt the language pretty well, this difficulty had disappeared, too. During the past ten months, I got lots of love from disabled people, who very much appreciate every nice word, every smile, help and care they get. Aside of my everyday work, once a week I teach to dance disabled children, as well. It’s always a pleasure to see the way they got themselves free and forgot their problems.

I believe I’m very lucky working to Lebenshilfe, since those working here are filled with love and devotion, I got a lot of help and support from them, disabled people and their loved ones are grateful, too.

Overall, I can say that time passes quickly here in Germany, the program is slowly coming to its end, but it’s not over for me at all: we got the opportunity to extend our volunteer work with another six months, to which offer I said `yes` immediately. I leave a time period full of memories behind me, and I hope that the upcoming eight months will be similar to them.

Anna Szatmári

The 13th of June, 2022.
Trier, Germany