Trying to make myself conscious about a shortened voluntary year
Volunteering cannot be planned. Especially not if it leads you to another place with things to do you are not experienced in. When I look back, way further than the beginning of my own voluntary service in the Permaculture project of GAIA in Boževce/Kosovo, I have a different picture of this topic. I see myself answering the question: And what will you do after finishing school? My typical answer is: Maybe go somewhere abroad doing international volunteering… Or something like this? The term ‘voluntary work’ is not connected to any values or higher ideas to me. I just take my bigger sister and other volunteers of her age as an example to avoid the pressure of an unanswered question. And besides, many young people are doing such a voluntary year after school. But as I get closer to the point of actually deciding what I want, the better I can figure out more of my own motivation. I know that I want to bring myself in to something related to environmental protection, since I see it as one of the central issues of our time. I explore volunteering as a possibility to find a way apart from the used paths of academic education, a way to step a bit out of the machinery that takes people to make them fit in our system of labour. Connected to this, I feel that my desire to leave Germany behind is satisfied. I see this country as a place where they claim “infinite possibilities”, but where a society expects you to identify yourself with its rules, where real alternatives are rare and where many people are left behind at the same time. But together with this view of international volunteering as a way to step out of this I also have doubts. First of all, I understand that it is a privilege to travel, to choose your place of living and to have the possibility to try out something new. I see that I have a freedom that others cannot enjoy, when I can join a project without knowledge or skills but with the security of being insured and financed. By whom? Right: the German state. I am conscious of choosing the way of a typical high-school graduate who can afford not to start “serious” life immediately. And is it moral to go somewhere abroad just to emphasise my criticism of the German way of life, or even mentality? On whose back am I doing my experiences? But I feel that I can only solve those controversies if I actually try out this object of insecurities and bring myself in contact with all those questions.
Just asking: Why Kosovo? Without knowing anything about the country I only have a mysterious sympathy with the Balkans, and Kosovo is a Balkan state. What I am looking for is the confirmation of my stereotype that people in the Balkans are not as strict and narrow-minded as I am used to and that there is more tolerance of imperfection. Maybe I am also looking for a more honest life. Because that is what volunteering offers to me: A change of your life in a more or less radical way, limited by time, and therefore like a test how it would be to live differently. The Permaculture project of GAIA is such an opportunity. If I want to recall what I have learned during my voluntary service I would start with the place. Boževce as a village is something new for me as a person that has always lived in cities. It gives access to a beautiful landscape, opens a view of the valley and offers details for the astonished observer. It sounds cheesy, but since we are working and living mostly outside, I am experiencing nature more directly. May it be a cold winter morning or the open sky during the night. If there is no rain, there will be no water for drinking, cooking or for the garden. It is good to notice those things. Life in Boževce seems to be less focused on destroying or exploiting something, as I have the feeling when I live in cities. It aims more at creating, letting grow or transforming. I do not feel guilty when I consume something in this place, and I am closer to the source of what I consume. It is good to see that this has to be connected to hard work. If I take a shovel, a hammer or a watering can and do some physical work for some hours everyday, I get out of the vicious circle of complaining and doing nothing. It educates me with some truly useful knowledge and skills, and in the end I am more responsible for myself and more independent. Examples are the ability to build a home or to provide yourself. This might be important in the future and I think it already is.
What I have noticed is that in Boževce my view on work changed. So far, I have always worked for someone or something. May it be grades in school, my teachers or some reward like money. In Boževce I work for my personal development and because things have to function. There is no-one to blame you for mistakes and no assessment, no-one that counts your hours of work. If something does not function, I should do it again properly, because it bothers if it does not. I work because I am convinced and see some sense behind it. Those aspects give a lot of motivation and strength. For me, it is the reason to do voluntary work and it is the core of those programs. And it opens one question to me: How would the world look like if people could dare to work what they want to and to have space for creativity in it? If work is more connected to giving a sense to life, and actually is life? In GAIA’s project, work is strongly connected to daily life. This also includes to live together with a group of people. I always had the feeling to have too much for my own, to live in abundance and egoism. The size of my luggage when I arrived is a good picture to illustrate how many things I thought I would need. I am now more confident to live together with others and to share one kitchen, meals and goods. I did not feel like lacking anything. But I also have the luxury to choose, not as somebody, who really is forced into a life of missing. To conclude: Boževce is a place that gives a lot to me and where I wanted to stay for at least six more months. I was just at the half of this voluntary year and I was waiting for spring, to bring myself in with own ideas.
But something got in-between. Even though the coronavirus was almost everywhere, I did not feel much affected by it in Boževce. Things seemed to go more or less the same, and we were anyway staying mostly at the place. Actually, permaculture felt like the best option for a situation like this – No reason to panic. But institutions had a different view. The ministry which runs my volunteering program, the German partner organisation of GAIA, and the German embassy thought it to be the best to fly all international volunteers back to their country. All Germans. For me, the decision did not make much sense, because I felt safer where I was than in a city. Besides, French government decided to leave all volunteers where they were. The geographically close distance of Germany and France made it hard to accept these completely different solutions. I wanted to stay and tried to convince the persons that wanted me to leave. In the end there were two ways: Either I would stay, losing security provided by the embassy and by my volunteering program through a contract. Or I would stay, doing my own thing with GAIA, and concluding my voluntary service, probably without much difference. Pressure was put by the forecast, that flights would get rarer in the next days. I was tempted by giving up my insurances and to find a possibility to live in Boževce without the state’s program. And I was not attracted to the fact that I should not chose by myself where I wanted to live. Was it worth it to be stubborn? In the end I surrendered, gave up my principle not to take planes and was brought back to Germany with help of the embassy’s driver. I felt privileged again. Privileged to be taken in account by a worldwide calling-back action. Privileged, that someone would take me to the airport and pay my ticket. I did not feel comfortable. If I think about those many people who are not taken into account, who no-one cares about and who do not have support, even though they are in much worse situations. I wished the efforts would be done for them instead of me. I can enjoy privileges because of my place of birth, something I never did anything for. Something I cannot choose.
What about the next few months? At home, I am a little bit afraid that I will go back to my old reality and habits. I would like to keep the motivation and spirit from Boževce and to implement its values to my current existence. I want to remember what I learned and to find a way to continue it. If I could choose, I would go back to GAIA’s permaculture project as soon as possible. It cannot be planned.