What were the highlights for the 2013/14 volunteer generation? What challenged them? What did they particularly enjoy and what did they learn about British traditions and customs? Find out below....
"One worry was how the AJR members would react to me being German which is certainly a typical and unique ASF- question.
I don’t think my nationality mattered and if anything they were wondering why someone who was born 50 years after the end of the war should come to work with elderly survivors and refugees. I often heard “don’t you get bored spending your time with all these old people?”
I went to group meetings as a speaker to tell them about ASF's work and it was great to see how interested they all were! They asked me about my views and motivation and found it very impressive that young Germans still go out to spread a sign of reconciliation or atonement".
"Speaking of my understanding of history, especially my family and personal history, I believe that all the ARSP seminars helped me a lot to develop in this aspect.
Thanks to the workshops where we could exchange ideas with our German peers I learnt about different perception of the same events. The meetings we had connected with Jewish culture were also very valuable and, as they were most of the time connected to Jewish holidays we could experience the culture ourselves rather than listen to what it is like. The ARSP seminars are always great fun and even though we do a lot of work I enjoyed them a lot, the atmosphere of the seminars is always friendly and they are great team building time.
Our ARSP UK group was actually bilateral as we had only German and Polish people in the group. I am very happy to be part of this group and thankful to ARSP for making it possible for me to meet all my fantastic fellow volunteers, I believe we started some lifelong friendships thanks to this programme. Our group turned out to get on really well and I believe it was a great advantage that we had friends in the city which otherwise was strange to us".
"A bit of culture: Of carpets and tube etiquette
It’s always amusing when we volunteers start to debate about how exactly life in the UK differs from living in Germany or Poland. We even had group exercises at our seminar in Darsham in order to find similarities and differences and to talk about funny oddities. One of our favourite subjects to talk about when we’re together in our volunteer group is the English carpet obsession. We Polish and German volunteers don’t understand why you would have a carpet on stairs. Slippery accidents are inevitable!
Another funny oddity, which we volunteers don’t know from back home, is the tube etiquette, which apparently every Londoner knows by heart. One bewildering example is the following: The fuller the tube carriage the ruder it is to sit down, as you take away the possibility of sitting down for your fellow commuters. The solution: Everyone is standing squashed together inside the carriage and no one dares to take a seat. We volunteers can just shake our heads smiling about this behaviour and are of one opinion: If there’s a free seat, one sits down".
"The past 10 months were a great adventure for me. I learnt a lot about Roma culture, I gained experience in office work and I had to become more assertive and patient towards other people.
The demand for the services that our office offers is very high and can not always be met by us due to a small capacity. For that reason, my voluntary service was a great opportunity to develop interpersonal skills and to gain experience in working in a busy atmosphere of a small charity. I learnt a lot from my clients, who surprised me several times. I also had a chance to attend trainings about the benefit system in the UK, mental health and media, in which professional journalists taught me how to give a good interview as a representative of a charity. I really like the fact that besides regular office job and working in advice and advocacy I could also engage in other projects, such as the Support & Engagement Programme and the Oral History Project".
"After being in Coventry for a year one should think that I have a pretty clear idea of what reconciliation means, but of course it’s much more complex than that.
If this place has shown me anything then it is how hard reconciliation is. There is nothing like sitting in the same room as Muslim and Christian leaders from Nigeria, who are trying to work together to make the next elections in their country less violent, to put things intp perspective.
My personal approach to problems is more that of an idealistic activist, who angrily waves her protest banner and could jump out of her skin at the injustice she sees, believing that if only she is convincing enough people will see things here way and things will change, (and hopefully as quick as possible) because that is the only right way –isn’t it?
But even though it is a truth that I find hard to accept, I hope I might have started to see that reconciliation requires graciousness, hard work, patience and compromises – and time".