It’s really strange to realize that my EVS is ending and it’s hard to believe that 11 months passed so fast. But I guess it’s always like this when you do something nice… time flies fast and even the good things come to an end. I remember like it was yesterday how I arrived in BIR’s office – it was late at night and I was dragging a big heavy suitcase behind me. I made a big circle around the neighborhood until I found it on the other side of the bridge.
So how was this year and what I will take with me? It’s a pretty hard question… because there were so many special people that I’ve met, so many interesting activities, so many things and places that I saw, so many emotion and thoughts. It’s like when you are moving to another place and want to take everything with you but the space in your backpack is limited.
In my mind I split these 11 months in 3 periods : 1 – The long retreat, 2 – parlo poco italiano, 3 – Now I am ready to do more! But… I have to go back home.
The long retreat:
I remember my first day in the office, large bright rooms with modern design, nice welcoming people smiling to me and a very relaxed atmosphere. It didn’t feel like in a normal office in which people are stressed about deadlines or afraid of their boss; it was more like chilling at work.
In the first 2-3 months my main activity consisted mostly of silent observing and listening. I guess it was the most silent 2 months of my life and even if I’m not the type of person who usually speaks a lot, it was too much even for me. I was feeling like a Zen Buddhist monk who took a vow of silence in a very long retreat.
There is one particularity that you may not know about Italy: most of the Italians don’t speak English so… it’s basically either Italian or Zen meditation. At the beginning it was disappointing but then turned into the best motivator to learn Italian.
I couldn’t understand why my colleagues from the association or people that I was meeting were talking so emotionally. Often, I felt frustrated when somebody was joking and everyone was laughing loudly but I couldn’t understand why… that situation when you put a confused smile on your face and pretend that you also get it.
We spent the first month visiting different social and youth centers, schools, other associations where BIR was doing their projects. We were very lucky because BIR has a big variety of projects so it was very interesting and exciting and I felt lucky that we could choose the activities that were closest to our interests. And by “we” I mean me and the other 3 EVS that also were in the same project with me. Together we were like the fantastic four of BIR – always ready to use our superpowers for making the world a better place! We even had a special button on the gate of the hub where was written “Volontari BIR” so people could call us anytime when they need the help of a professional Superhero…
When the sensation of everything new passed I started to realize that I could not really get involved in the activities, or make friends, or have a deeper conversation than “- Ciao, come stai? – Tutto bene, grazie” because my possibilities were very limited and the limits were determined by my capacity to understand and speak. For the first time, I experienced so deeply the importance and the power of the word. My world in the first months in Italy consisted of my room, office and a couple of people who spoke English, then slowly by learning it, my world started to extend and become larger, including new things, new people, new places, new possibilities. I heard many times and in different variations the idea that the language is capable of creating the world but I used to take it more as an abstract idea or a beautiful metaphor, where in fact it’s not so abstract. It’s that case when you became conscious of your teeth just when it starts hurting.
Parlo poco italiano :
After 3 months, I got used to my new life and as I was able to understand Italian pretty well, I started to make little basic conversations. I even learned to cook pasta like Italians (not boiled to much so it steaks a bit ot the teeth) – they call it “al dente”, it’s a big thing, because in Moldova and some other countries from East Europe we call pasta “macaroane” and boil it until it becomes very soft. In Italy it’s almost a blasphemy against PASTA so they can send you back home for this. Ok I exaggerate, but there are some things that you have to be careful with in Italy; respect the Italian Pizza, Pasta and Coffee.
I finally had my (more or less stable) schedule with my weekly activities it looked like this : Monday and Tuesday I usually was spending in the office half of the day learning Italian and in the evening I was going to the meeting with volunteers or related to the projects that I was involved in. On Wednesday morning and Thursday and Friday evenings I was “making” (because it was more assisting in the beginning) in a social center/market called Vetrine. We were making activities with children and elder people. I also had an activity at the local markets 2 times per week we were collecting the fruits and vegetables donated by the sellers and giving them for free to the beneficiaries. Also a lot of occasional event, workshops, trainings, presentations so pretty intense.
Meeting new people and creating new relationships I guess it’s one of the most beautiful part of this type of experience and it was very rich in meeting amazing people, I guess i could write a story about each of this meetings. Starting from my homies (other 3 EVS from BIR) our coordinator Serena, BIR people, volunteers, beneficiaries and many other nice and not always nice people J.
I was feeling more comfortable to get involved in the activities. And a big step was also that finally the long (sometimes too long) meetings that I was assisting on started to make sense…
When I came to Moldova for holidays for the first time after 5 months away I was happy to meet my family and friends but I had also a strange feeling that I miss my life in Italy, the people, the city. Didn’t expect that I will get so attached but now Milano is like my second home.
My big discovery in this period was the culture of volunteering in Italy… here it became something so natural and normal for the Italians that they almost don’t understand why I’m so fascinated about. In my country we are just making first steps in this direction and seeing so many people of different ages, from different cultural and social background willing to sacrifice their time and energy for helping other people is really a beautiful and inspiring thing.
Now I’m ready to do more but… I have to go back home
Now I speak Italian pretty well, to my cooking skills added making coffee with moka and a decent risotto. In my last months of project I took part in a summer camp in Romania with a group of Italian volunteers, I made an amazing 10 days walking trip in mountains of Sibillini, my main activities ended because everybody went to vacation.
I feel good in Italy and enjoy what I’m doing, I’m ready to do more but… I have to go back home.
Coming in last to the 11-month volunteer project and leaving last from it has its good and bad sides. The middle part was arguably the most important but instead, I write about the end.
Expanding on that a little:
I arrived late to the project, between a month and two after the other volunteers had already started. Imagine it like walking late into the party but not exactly “fashionably late so that you’re not the try-hard that everyone looks away from”, but instead you’re there 2 hours into it and you’ve missed the first whoops of joy, as well as a bunch of the inside jokes. But you’re there anyway, and the party isn’t ending soon, so you jump right in, do a little uphill battle with the established relationship dynamics and look for an empty cup to fill with a drink, and maybe a chair in which to take a break.
That metaphor aside, I can never regret that this happened the way it did. I was late to the project because I didn’t know about it existing until two weeks before I came – and I’m glad I could, because that gave me so many amazing experiences here. And in coming late, I still had the benefit of having roommates, who could take me through everything quickly and efficiently, help me get my tax code or tell me which cheese is best (for the first time, I did experiment with cheeses later on) in the supermarket. Even if I felt like I missed out on some important forming times for our little volunteer team, we made our own later on – with just a little bit of consciousness that we needed it, and a little bit of effort. Like I heard in a podcast I was listening to recently: we should be active in our friendship building, instead of taking it for granted.
So, late to the party or not, the ball started rolling for me very fast. From activity to activity, and through many many travels around Italy, which I loved wholeheartedly, months passed by fast. In the middle of an ESC project it’s a little difficult to look towards the end, since you’re enjoying the process so much, and there is always, always, something to learn and improve in. The middle part, let’s say most of it, was mind-blowing and fantastic.
I got used to the city of Milano, which I now feel like a new home, and I can’t exactly and fully imagine leaving, and after getting used to it, I fell in love with it. With its efficiency, and its connectedness, and the beautiful, awe-inspiring buildings in the city center, through the cute and green-filled terraces of the periphery, and the quiet serenity of the outskirts, where we live. I love the parks, best roamed with a bike, and I love the bookstores, in which I’ve spent countess hours lost in good fiction. I love how walkable it all is, made for people, and I love how much people in turn care for the place in which they live. I’ve grown to appreciate all aspects of Milano, not as a touristic destination but rather a wonderful home.
I got used to the volunteering tasks, which filled me with purpose and the desire to learn. Got used to them, and you can imagine, I fell in love with them and the people inside them. I’ve written about the project Recup and the joys of the strange market, but beyond that, for me some activities were so engaging and important, that they pushed me towards starting online courses, researching the topics in depth, and appearing to the youth center as if weaponized with new techniques to try out. I discovered (or maybe rediscovered) my fondness for teaching (and preparing the teaching material), since I had the chance to help some teenagers with their English; I learned a lot of non-verbal games and exercises, which gave me a little more access to the children we had art class with every Thursday. The lovely grandmas, which we saw every Wednesday morning, taught me how to knit, gave me a taste of the home-made Italian food, and told me so many stories, trusting me with their feelings and their hopes. The cookies we made with the bakers downstairs from where I’m writing this now, still remain in my head with the vivid scent of sweetness, and the giggle of the kids, playing with dough.
We traveled. We traveled so much, with the other volunteers – mostly with my roommates Tamara and Delia, and with Vasile, who lived next door, and with Luciano, who worked with us at the youth center. It feels like we visited every little spot in the north of Italy (we definitely didn’t), like we had time to freely get off at the little stations, for which you don’t have time if you’re in Italy for a week.
We spent days roaming around the small places that are around an hour or hour and a half with a train from Milano. We saw the big Places (with a big P) to be seen – Venice, the week before Valentine’s; Firenze with my sister; Bologna with Luciano; Genova with some guests from Georgia; Verona with a very close friend – and more to the south – Rome with our mid-term evaluation, Napoli for a summer getaway. Monza, on the first of May, with their giant and beautiful park, and not much else; Varenna, with it’s wonderful colors and a long walk to a secluded beach; Stresa and an almost-lost phone; Vigevano and a moving performance art piece; Lecco on a windy day with laptops for working; a painful sunburn and a fresh spritz right next to Lago di Garda; the most impressive monastery right next to Pavia. And many more, of course.
The months passed by fast, events stacking up, an impressive number of pictures resting in my phone. Fast forward through these months and that’s how I get to be still here, a month after the last volunteer before me left, with still a few days to go, The Last Roommate Standing.
It has been a strange couple of months. The beginning of the leavings started with Luciano still in August (even though he didn’t live with us, him not being here could really be felt, coupled with the longest waiting for a metro while waving goodbye on the opposite sides of the tracks), and then the ‘end of the project’ vibe settled in, while slowly picking out other volunteers we knew, sending them away to their new adventures, picking out one, then a second roommate from our house, and in the end – our neighbor Vasile too.
That on its own is a rollercoaster – saying goodbye to so many friends and waving bye again and again while everyone leaves, while you stay behind over and over again. At some point it felt like a petulant reluctance on my end – why am I not ‘growing up’ and leaving too? Obviously, because I need to finish my project, and because I was sure I could enjoy some time alone in Milano in a different way than I had with everyone else.
I had friends over to keep me company, of course, but in-between arrivals and departures and wonderful times with friends, I spent a not-insignificant amount of time dealing with an unusual quiet and what that means for my own personal world; writing and reading a whole lot; occupying spaces at home in new and creative ways, as to feel them as less void of company. In that month alone (I don’t want to repeat alone again and again, so just imagine it here and there, artistically sprinkled), I had many more long walks, while listening to audiobooks and podcasts; I got to discover some beautiful streets and neighborhoods I’d never seen before; I got to look at the city and its inhabitants with more care and attention, and put more thought into what I want the future to hold for me, how I would like these 11 months to impact me. Because of the persisting rain, I also had some pretty sub-par days, in which I felt very holed up, with a lot of things to do but little desire for anything but long YouTube videos and definitely longer books to read, but those passed fast.
And now I’m in the last draw, less than 10 days remaining, with melancholia sweeping around me in increasingly narrower circles, making me anticipate and dread the day of departure. I feel like I don’t have unfinished business to keep me here, and there are so many things waiting for me to take care of, so many things ripe for developing, so many new opportunities. But I know that I will miss these amazing people I spent the biggest part of the party with, the people who made the party worth it, and I know I will miss Italy and its beauties all the time.
With the last roommate standing shutting off the lights on her way out, instead of feeling like I’m looking back with a desperate reach to stay, I almost feel a little sad about our home, filled to the brim with warmth, friendship, laughter, love, memories, and the plushies we collected over the months. The apartment which will no longer be ours but will keep in one way or another the energy we spent here, in work and joy, in exercising and recharging.
I want to make my case about why being the Last Roommate Standing could actually be a positive, a real positive for me. See, this is the second year I spend abroad (last time, I was finishing my studies in Greece), and the second time I am out of the apartment last. The previous time it was on purpose, and seeing how I did have the choice to leave early if I wanted to, this time I chose it too. Why? Because it gives time for much-needed self-reflection. I had time to calmly go through all parts of our apartment, throw away everything that isn’t needed, reminisce, laugh at forgotten pieces of memorabilia, and pack in peace. I spent some time making lists (I love lists) of what I want to do while I’m here and what I want to do when I’m not. I got to look at the clothes left over from everyone, pick out the ones I will not need, and combine them for a charity drive. I got to re-create the space I’ve lived in for the last 10 months, even for a little bit, but with the ideas of what it means to live alone, especially in the context of most of your friends no longer being a coffee-break away. I made a box for the next ones to come, filling it up with well-wishes and some precious collected items (keep them safe!), thinking about what I wish I’d gotten when I first came here.
All of this is to say: to the next Last Roommate Standing, take up the challenge! Make the most out of this strange experience, and if you manage to make it any more melancholic than I have in those last couple of pages, I will give you a reward!
L’estate e passata talmente velocemente che mi viene difficile credere che mi restano solo cinque giorni in Italia. Non mi sono preparata per la fine e quindi non sento gli emozioni ancora e lo so che nei prossimi giorni saro occupata con i bagagli e le preparazioni. Comunque, provo di ricordarmi come mi sentivo quando sono arrivata qui, undici mesi fa.
Mi ricordo che ero contentissima di aver la possibilita di fare un lavoro col senso e di vivere fra delle persone con esperienza e sopratutto con entusiasmo. I primi giorni sono stata fascinata dall’associazione con tutti i suoi progetti ed i suoi volontari. Dall’altra parte, mi ricordo che avevo paura di non essere utile, di non essere capace di fare bene il mio lavoro, di non imparare l’italiano abastanza bene, ero anche un po’ stanca di condividere la stanza con delle persone che non conosco.
Adesso, alla fine, vedo che le mie aspettative sono state soddisfate – ho imparato un sacco di cose e ho piu fiducia nelle mie capacita – ho incontrato della gente chi fa delle cose stupende, con una creativita straordinaria. Ho fatto anche delle cose che non avrei mai pensato di fare – come il corso di canto o come la raccolta di frutta e verdura al mercato.
Le mie paure sono scomparse velocemente – ho trovato il mio posto nelle attivita ed ho provato di contribuire come ho potuto e con gli altri sve siamo stati una famiglia dove mi sono sentita davvero a casa, libera di condividere tutto e di essere me stessa.
Oltre le attivita e l’associazione, quest’anno con tutto il tempo libero che ho avuto, ho provato anche di capire la realta dove mi trovo, cioe la situazione politica del paese e della citta, la cultura con i libri, i film, la musica; ho viaggiato molto e ho visto dei posti bellissimi.
Penso che la piu grande sfida che ho avuto durante questo voluntariato e stata la gestione del tempo libero. Non ho mai avuto un anno con tanto tempo libero da quando ero piccolina ed sono passati abbastanza mesi fino a quando ho realisato che potrei utilizare questo tempo per svolgere un progetto personale struturato e coerente ed alora ho avuto dei momenti dove mi sono sentita inutile. Alla fine, penso che questa e stata una delle piu importante lezioni che ho imparato qui.
E ovvio che alla fine di una tale esperienza, la domanda e come sei cresciuto in questo tempo, e la prima risposta e che sono cresciuta senza accorgermi, in un modo naturale. Solo guardando come ero all’inizio posso dire che e stato un processo molto benefico per me, chi mi ha fatto aprirmi ed andare la dove non osavo, alle mie limite in alcuni momenti. Sono molto contenta e riconoscente e porto con me i sorrisi, i sguardi delle persone che ho incontrato qui, i colori e gli odori dei posti che ho frequentato e un pezzo dell’Italia, con la sua diversita e le sue contradizioni, nel mio cuore. Grazie!
Jarmila Knotek was 22 and czech. She smiled in her Auschwitz photo, even though she probably knew she was going to die soon.
She was born in the wrong time, I imagine – but then, which of the people that died then was born in the right time? Who was in the right place if she was in the wrong? The children, stripped of their shoes to be left in a pile for “better use” or the mother who watched her child die in front of her?
Maybe if Jarmila had lived, she would have become a freedom fighter, or an educator, or – honestly – whatever else, but I think she would have approached life with energy and positivity. She would have been a force for change, however big or small, with that smile.
It’s unfair that she died, that they all died for nothing worthwhile. It is a waste and a shame, and sadly we can’t change any of it. However, we can try to stop the other unfair, uncalled for, early deaths, still happening today.
Emotions are easy to manipulate. That doesn’t mean to say that it makes us weak to have them, or they are wrong on principle , but manipulated emotions make people completely forget what they stand for as humans. People around the Jewish ghetto in Krakow, people who turned jewish neighbors in to the nazi regime, people who supported the ruling party with all their efforts – I imagine most of them were blinded by strong emotions. Fear of the “others”, fear of the economic situation and the uncertain future, fear of repercussions, desire to protect the closest to you (your family, your children) from the threats of the “bad elements”, or even the desire to keep and safeguard your values from being culturally pushes away.
Those people were driven by manipulated emotions, fueled by propaganda, supported by the lack of proper understanding and education.
I think this is one of the better ways to move forward: with the thought that if only:
If only people were educated that there was nothing to fear from Jarmila Knotek, or from any jewish, roma, slav, gay person who died too soon;
If only people understood they wouldn’t disturb their lives or their well-being, that the economic situation would not be worsened by their life;
If only people saw that diversity in all forms is what pushes humanity into progress,
Then maybe people wouldn’t be pulled in the propaganda; education would prevent the blatant misdirection and malicious influence over a society.
Then maybe people wouldn’t blindly believe that refugees are bad and bring only problems with them; that muslims are a terrifying threat, or any of the other modern exclusionary language.
Peace exists in understanding and humanity. I’d like to think that the way to stop the unfair, horrible early deaths which happen every day around us, is through understanding.
And understanding is achieved through compassion and education.
Mi ricordo la sera quando ho ricevuto un messaggio da Vale ‘domani devo dirti una cosa’ e non sapevo se c’era qualcosa di positivo o negativo. Il giorno dopo la notizia è stata molto più positiva di quanto mi aspettavo: tra due settimane faremo anche noi, Raya e io, l’esperienza del Treno della Memoria. Non sapevo niente rispetto a questa cosa, madopo ho scoperto che è una roba davvero complessa e benorganizzata.
Anche prima di partire, il Treno della Memoria ci ha offerto delle emozioni intense, che abbiamo vissuto al Memoriale della Shoah di Milano, dove la guida ci ha spiegato come le popolazioni di ebrei aspettavano nel buio senza capire cosa succederà con loro quando saranno affollati nelle piccole carrozze. All ingresso del memoriale c’era una parola enorme scritta sull muro: indifferenza. Indifferenza perchè gli abitanti di Milano e l’intera popolazione sono stati dei spettatori di questa tragedia, sapendo che c’era una cosa terribile che succedeva vicino a loro, ma scegliendo di non vederla.
Con questa riflessione sull’ indiferenza siamo partiti in pullman, dove l’atmosfera è cambiata radicalmente, con la musica e le danze. Penso che era troppo deprimente di stare tristi per una settimana intera, quindi con i viaggi in pullman le emozioni si sono equilibrate un po’.
Venerdi mattina siamo arrivati a Berlino, dove abbiamo fatto una passeggiata per visitare qualche luogosegnatodalla storia del nazismo, per esempio abbiamo visto il memoriale delle vittime rom dello sterminio nazista. A Berlino abbiamo visto anche il museo della storia del nazismo, la Topografia del Terrore, dove abbiamo capito meglio il contesto sociale ed economico della Germania prima di Hitler e come è stata preparata la ‘soluzione finale’ dello sterminio degli ebrei attraverso delle leggi e politiche razziste. Abbiamo visitato vicino a Berlino il campo di concentramento di Sachsenhausen – costruito inizialmente per gli oppositori politici e poi anche per altre categorie di persone, tra queste gli ebrei. La guida ci ha spiegato come i prigionieri erano disumanizzati, la loro identità gli era tolta, ma loro trovavano diverse modalità creative e coraggiose di resistere. Mi è piaciuto che la guida ci ha letto delle testimonianze dei sopravvissuti – delle parole fortissime – e ci ha detto che se leggiamo due testimonianze di due personne che hanno vissuto nello stesso campo, diremmo che hanno vissuto in posti diversi – per me questa è una cosa molta suggestiva che prova il fatto che nonstante gli sforzi dei nazisti di togliere l’umanità di queste persone, non ci sono riusciti. A Berlino abbiamo visto anche la Porta di Brandeburgo ed il muro di Berlino, che hanno una conessione con la storia più recente – un segnale che ci sono ancora delle radici del male che minacciano il nostro presente e che dobbiamo sempre prendere cura dei nostri dirriti.
La tappa successiva del Treno della Memoria è stata Cracovia, dove abbiamo visitato la Fabbrica di Schindler – abbiamo ricevuto un esempio di come si può fare qualcosa per gli altri, l’opposto dell’indifferenza. Nello stesso tempo la guida ci ha descritto come i nazisti hanno occupato Cracovia e come hanno trattato la popolazione di ebrei – fine a chiuderli in un ghetto circondato dei muri sotto forma di tombe. Abbiamo visitato il quartiere ebreo ed abbiamo visto la piazza dove siano stati sterminati gli ultimi 2000 ebrei che non sono stati inviati ad Auschwitz. Adesso in questo posto c’è un monumento che rappresenta delle sedie vuote – davanti a queste sedie si può soltanto guardare in silenzio e riflettere.
Il momento forte del nostro viaggio è stato la visita ad Auschwitz e Birkenau, un immenso cimitero dove milioni di persone sono state uccise in una maniera crudele, ma sopratutto efficiente, burocratica, come in una fabbrica, questa è la cosa la più scioccante: tutti i meccanismi sviluppati per sterminare il più grande numero di persone nel più corto tempo. La guida ci ha spiegato che stavamo marciando sulla cenere delle vittime; i nazisti hanno costretto i prigionieri ad incenerire le persone sterminate, e ci sono innumerevoli esempi di quanto erano diaboliche le idee dei nazisti. La guida ci ha detto che i nazisti hanno ridotto gli ebrei a numeri e che dobbiamo fare sempre attenzione a questa cosa che succede anche nel presente. Come gesto simbolico, abbiamo tutti i 450 participanti pronunciato il nome di una vittima morta ad Auschwitz, dicendo io ti ricordo, perchè per noi loro non sono dei numeri, ma delle persone con una storia individuale e con un’anima, delle persone che hanno lasciato un vuoto nella nostra umanità.
Durante il viaggio, i responsabili ci hanno detto che abbiamo una responsabilità di portare a casa le cose che abbiamo visto, sentito ed imparato. Come prime testimonianze abbiamo avuto già dei momenti di scambio in gruppo e con gli altri paricipanti, dove ognuno ha avuto la possibilità di esprimere quello che ha vissuto. Un’altra testimonianza che abbiamo portato è il flashmob che abbiamo fatto a Vienna – un piccolo manifesto contro i poteri che opprimono diversi gruppi di persone, ma anche la speranza che insieme possiamo lottare contro un futuro che ripeta i stessi errori.
Siamo tutti consapevoli che anche in presente ci sono tante persone oppresse e tante ingiustizie. Forse ci sono poche persone che sono d’accordo con queste cose, ma stiamo tutti davanti alla parola indifferenza e siamo tutti davanti a questa scelta. Dopo questa settimana vissuta con tanti giovani attivi nel sociale, io ho speranza.
It was 13th of October when I arrived here in Milano. It was a bright, sunny day and I was a little bit confused, a little bit happy and a little bit lost in my life. When I made the decision to relocate from Georgia to Italy it was not easy. The idea of leaving my beloved friends and family it always makes me feel like having a limb cut off, but in other hand I’m adventurer at heart and crazy about new stories in my life, so I’m happy that I made this decision, but what does it feel like to live in a foreign country from the begining? – having a culture shock, country sickness, language barrier, mild panic attacks? YES, exactly, but it’s possible to find beauty in those bad moments and it really doesn’t matter where you are, because you can make any space feel like home and I made my space feel like home.
I came back to Milano from Passignano sul Trasimeno just one day ago and I’m full of emotions. Let me tell you about a Walk to Start Again and Passignano. A Walk to Start Again is the process of thinking and growing as a person, walking for one week or one month which is helping to think. We spent two days in Passignano to drew up a walking plans, first meeting was incredible with those people, we had tipical Italian diner, which means : spageti, wine and noise, I adore Italian diner, it’s something more than eating, it’s a comunication, friendship and fun. On a second day we worked the whole day as I said for a project’s plan, it was little bit hard because I’m still learning Italian but in other hand it was interesting and funny how I was trying to catch the words and then we went to the city. City is amazing, Passignano is different from Milan, life is calm and air is fresh, walking around lake makes you feel harmony.
BIR – my days in Bir usually are starting after lunch or it depends. I’m always happy to go there, staff are always ready to help you and they are more friends than colleagues. Before ”Erasmus+” application deadline for KA1, I was busy to write an youth exchange projects and after that I’m helping to organize documents. They are helping me to learn Italian faster and because of that two days in week I have an Italian lessons, but I’m still going piano, piano.
The best thing what you can do in your life is go on an adventure and try something new, don’t be afraid to move abroad and make a long-term EVS, it’s full of possibilities to learn, discover and also life never been such an amazing as now.
In my life so far, working has meant a lot of time behind a computer screen, researching, writing, creating – as those were my qualifications, and my job demanded just that. I loved it completely – I felt competent, I could solve most problems which came my way, and I imagined that was the future too. I was working for good causes, even from afar, being efficient, drafting reports and finding ways for improvement. While I know that gave me great fulfillment, I can’t help but think that there was something missing, something that pushed me to volunteering – which is how I found myself in BiR. Maybe something is missing from your life as well, and this could be a good practice of sorts.
Something specific, which changed when I came to BiR was the direct contact with a great number of people. Upon coming here, the first project I joined (which I still can’t quite imagine could work this well anywhere else) is Recup, in which we (volunteers) go to the daily pop-up markets in Milano as they are about to close, and we ask the vendors to donate any food, which might be on its way to going bad and which they believe they will not be able to sell, for the disadvantaged. We collect that food and redistribute it, mostly through setting shop of our own in the market, and sometimes by giving what is ultimately left to a food bank.
What fascinates me about the markets, and about Recup as an idea, is how willing people are to participate in this endeavor – and especially how many vendors reach out to us! How open they are to directly help with whatever they can, and how useful that is to the people who come to take some of the produce we’ve collected.
What is important in Recup, I think, is the humanity of it, the relationships and the connections we make, the smiles and the genuine desire to be of any use, be that with a couple of tangerines or with a box full of good bananas, with the end result being the feeling of immense satisfaction, usefulness to the community and a tangible contribution. While the result is quick to see, it is also as fleeting as the expiration dates of the donated food, which makes the activity in a way, bitter-sweet – the people will still have daily issues with getting food, but we have helped at least a little.
This work – on the field, fleeting, directly useful, is something which gives a completely different satisfaction. And since it is so easy on time-consumption – we don’t spend more than 2 hours a day doing it, I think it is also an activity, which more people could potentially start to work on in different places. After all, it is a good idea to get away from the routine and what we know we are good at, and reach out a hand to see how togetherness and empathy could improve people’s lives directly. The volunteers in Recup here are a very mixed crowd as well – some are unemployed, some are refugees, and some are taking time away from their studies or even their work to come for a bit.
I wonder how many activities, such as Recup, could also be incorporated almost seamlessly in our every-day lives. Even in a country unlike Italy (where the culture of volunteering is really well-developed), for example my home-country of Bulgaria, this could be a fairly easy way to jump-start it – having activities, which visibly help, while they demand just some time and the sense of community.
While working and excelling in our own fields, maybe we should also think about how we can complement that usefulness with these small acts of humanity, and improve both our own lives, and other people’s – if not with food specifically, then in the many other different ways others have thought of to create. Any ideas?
Raya, volunteer with BiR
Eh, già… è arrivato il momento di partire.
Non so nemmeno io come descrivere a parole il mio stato d’animo attuale. Ieri sera parlando con Sergio del più e del meno a un certo punto gli dico: “Mi sento strana, lo sai? Tu come ti senti?” e lui: “Eh Fiore, so bene quali siano le tue sensazioni… provo lo stesso anch’io”. E infatti è proprio come se solo adesso, a cinque giorni dalla fine dello Sve, realizzassimo che la nostra esperienza stia per volgere al termine.
Tutti i preparativi, gli ultimi saluti, le ultime passeggiate nel meraviglioso Parcul Circului, gli ultimi preziosi momenti con i bambini e con Ana, impeccabile guida e supporto nel corso di quest’avventura, nonché grande amica e fonte di ispirazione.
Restano solo tre giorni da trascorrere con i bambini prima della nostra partenza ed è come se adesso volessi trovare un modo per riuscire a rallentare il tempo o addirittura fermarlo…devo assolutamente godermi appieno le ultime briciole della nostra torta. Eh si, perché la nostra è una torta speciale con tantissimi piani. L’abbiamo preparata insieme partendo dalla base e giorno dopo giorno è diventata sempre più alta. Abbiamo scelto di decorarla con i colori più belli e sgargianti e con la panna più dolce che ci sia. Ogni piano è stato pensato, costruito insieme dosando bene tutti gli ingredienti del composto.
Non dimenticherò mai i vostri sorrisi e la vostra incredibile energia di ogni mattina, quando io invece avevo bisogno ancora di qualche caffè per riprendermi dal sonno. Le vostre premure, il vostro affetto incondizionato. Il centro di Obor per me è stato un luogo magico, un nido d’amore in cui si comunica col cuore e ci si prende continuamente cura l’uno dell’altro.
Sono sicura che non sarà affatto facile abituarci all’idea di non vederci più ogni settimana ma al tempo stesso abbiamo la consapevolezza di aver reso la nostra torta così bella attraverso un percorso di crescita comune, creando delle basi solide per fare in modo che diventi ancora più alta e resistente!
Grazie di cuore.
Fiorella, SVE a Bucarest
Jail Volunteering with BeccaBIR
My Mondays were usually starting late and finishing late. Around 14:45 I would meet with other volunteers in front of the Carcere Minorile Beccaria. After a little talk on the bench in front of the imposing building we used to press the ring button in order to be let in. The first step was to leave our IDs, our things and mobile-phones, then, another two doors were necessary to be passed in order to reach the side of the building where our activities took place. We were usually 5 or 6 volunteers, some being in their 3rd or 4th year of jail volunteering, others, being juniors like me. On Mondays’ afternoons we helped in implementing a project called Porta Fuori, who had as purpose to build, through arts, a connecting bridge between the inside reality and the outside one. There were many actors involved in this project, us, the BIR volunteers, teachers, high school volunteers, and, of course, the boys.
Inside, the teachers were waiting for us and a group of high school volunteers were taking also part in the activities, in a scholastic process, which in Italy is called alternanza scuola lavoro. As we were waiting for the boys to arrive in the corridor, we were planning a little bit the activities of the afternoon, some of us were doing painting, some photography and others creative writing. As photography is one of my oldest hobbies I have gladly helped in creating and implementing some photographic concepts. The first weeks of the project were shaped around debating and exploring different photography techniques and choosing what ideas could we bring to live with the resources we had inside. But most importantly, the first weeks of the project were about getting to know the boys, their group-dynamics, understanding different methods to get them engaged and making them feel active part of the whole process.
And there were laughs and there were good photos and plenty of moved and blurred photos. And they were taking the cameras and having fun while trying to understand how the lens worked, and they shared our music with us and took fun group pictures. As the project was getting to an end, we knew that it was not about taking the greatest pictures nor becoming photographers, was about making them feel good and comfortable with being part of something else, completely different than their daily routine.
I usually got out of jail around 17:45-18:00, went home to rest for a little and then I prepared for my weekly Monday meeting.
Every Monday evening a group of motivated and active volunteers has their weekly meeting in order to plan and implement different big and small initiatives for the organization. This is my group of QDLini, or, as the acronym says Quelli di Lunedi (The Ones from Monday). I have started to participate to these meeting from my first week here, and, despite the initial language barrier, I have found myself welcomed by open, hard-working young people, willing to share their free time for small and big initiatives of the NGO.
Undoubtedly, the volunteers are the soul of each non-governmental organization, and the mission and values of a NGO are always shared through their voice. This year we created so many nice things together, just to name a few: banquettes, Christmas fundraising in a cozy library, a Facebook campaign in order to promote our summer camps, the famous BIR Lottery and the long-waited Spring Party. For sure there was a lot of work and a lot of fun!
My Tuesdays were usually spent in the office, helping with different office-work activities or learning Italian. BIR gave me a great opportunity, to get accustomed with the format and structure of European Projects, especially from a financial and administrative point of view. As my studies were in the economic field, I found it very interesting to understand how the project management for such projects works and how the budget is distributed.
One very keen project for me in which I was involved for a long time is called Me and You and Everyone We Know, a project which aims at preventing sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools and which took place in four different countries. Besides giving a hand in the administrative side, I also participated as an observer in school workshops, which was a very interesting, multi-cultural experience, especially because of the topics confronted.
Wednesdays and Fridays
On Wednesdays and Fridays afternoons I volunteered at the youth center called Centro per Giovanni, where I did homework with children, usually aged between 12 and 15 years old.
I have to admit that it was a true challenge in the beginning, because as one can imagine, teenagers are not always so easy to handle. Therefore, besides having to get accustomed with different scholastic terms in Italian, especially technical ones from geometry or arithmetic, I also had to understand a group dynamic which was already established and to be very flexible in my way of working with them. I needed to prove adaptability and patience, as every child is different and has a different learning style, maybe some get bored more easily, maybe some get unfocused when the door opens or when a pen falls on the ground, maybe some don’t talk so much or don’t actively communicate with you when you put them a question or maybe some talk too much and even you lose track of their homework. You learn so many things from kids, sometimes even from just observing them.
On Thursdays afternoons, I used to frequent another social center, called Social Market which was an initiative to create a multi-purpose space for the local community, from where people could buy groceries at a small price or where children or pensioners could participate to different workshops and activities. Again, I used to work with children, doing together a variety of creative crafts.
Another group from BIR in which I was involved is called Testicom, the operative group which has as objective to promote in schools and youth communities our volunteering camps in Romania and Moldavia, altogether with the concept of being an active and global citizen. We usually met once a month, on a Thursday, having dinner together and then confronting our new school contacts or relating our closest testimonial experiences. I participated myself in some school testimonials which was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and speak in Italian in front of young people. At times, I talked about my own country, Romania, as many of the students had many questions and curiosities, sometimes triggered by social and cultural prejudices. I felt so happy to see that there is so much interest among young people to get actively involved and to be change agents both in their local environment but also in more vulnerable and less fortunate communities.
During some weekends I was involved in a formation progress called WIP (Walk in Progress) where, with other volunteers, we went together through a process of personal growth. As the weekends passed by, we got to understand more about ourselves as individuals, we shaped our values and we addressed topics such as teamwork, leadership styles or conflict management. WIP was a great opportunity to connect with so many people from BIR, to understand that despite our different experiences, we were triggered by common values and we all wanted to direct our actions towards creating good and towards diminishing the inequality gaps in our society.
On several Sundays, I used to participate in a project which had as purpose to promote positive team cheering in sports, moreover, during the matches of the basketball team Olimpia Milano. There, with a numerous group of kids that proudly worn on their face the colors of their Milanese team, we used to actively and harmoniously support the players. There was always a great atmosphere, as the kids were living each minute of the game at its fullness, and, of course, we, the “big” volunteers, tired but happy, were part of their symphony.
This was how my EVS weeks went by, but none of the weeks were the same, they were always sprinkled with a little bit of something else. Of course, we are in Italy, and here you’ll learn a lot about the power of flavors, not only in the kitchen, but also in the everyday life, everything is better by adding a little bit of spice, a little bit of joy and spontaneity, because as one Italian work colleague once told me “Iulia, la vita ha sempre più fantasia di noi”.