[Out of respect for the policy of the hosting organization of Medina, faces other than hers had to be blurred in the pictures of this article]
Just like that, you wake up one day and you feel energetic for a new adventure, new feelings and emotions, the desire to explore the world and everything around your own small comfortable box. Your goal since you were a little child was to grow up, graduate and travel. To travel around beautiful countries, to learn new languages, to meet new people and all these clichés which are super important for your own growth. Well, being born in Kosovo, in a country in the middle of Europe who needs a visa to go anywhere even for a 5-day vacation… Well, that`s not very helpful in your journey of growing and exploring, am I right?
After I finished with my studies at the University of Prishtina, in the department of Psychology, I felt like every other student who had just finished their studies would have feel: clueless, confused, scared and, most importantly, lost. I felt all these feelings and emotions that blocked me. What now? Should I continue with my master’s degree? Should I look for a job? Should I do this? That? So many questions without any answer…
Lucky for me that a very close friend of mine informed me about this wonderful program called “European Solidarity Corps”. He informed me in detail that this is a big structure which helps young people to develop their own selves, integrate with society and of course travel. This immediately got my attention. It took me only two days to find what I was looking for; an opportunity to practice my profession, to learn a new language and be part of a great cause with such great people. I applied for a long-term volunteering project in a mental house in Bologna, Italy called “Casa Santa Chiara”. I had two interviews with my current mentor, from my hosting organization “You-Net”, and then got that important email that changed everything in my life: “congratulations, you have been accepted”. Tears of joy fell down my cheeks, it felt unreal, a dream coming true, something I have always wanted and wished for. I immediately applied for my visa, which took me 4 months to get it, a mountain of documents and a lot of stressful moments, but it was all worth waiting for. I prepared myself for a wonderful journey, but little did I know that everything was going to be out of my imagination. When I came in Bologna, Italy and saw all this beautiful and antique buildings, stylish people, the smell of delicious pasta and pizza…Well, I felt like I was dreaming. Is this true? Am I really here?
Getting to know my roommates, meeting my colleagues, ordering new and delicious food, trying to learn important phrases in Italian such as “Can I order an ice-cream” … it was all like “wow”. That was my first reaction about everything; “wow”.
Unfortunately, one month after I came here, all that situation with corona virus happened. We had to stay inside for three months, only being allowed to go in the supermarket near our building. Hearing the police and ambulance sirens was terribly stressful and scary. We didn`t know what to expect, what to do, and most importantly how to react and what to feel. All of that was just a rollercoaster of different emotions. But being a human being it means adapting very easily in every situation, so of course I had to take advantage of the situation. I started to read challenging books, watch various documentaries and reflect on what is happening and how can I cope better with all of that.
After three months of being under quarantine, we were finally free to go outside and continue where we left off. I was so happy to go back at volunteering and to feel productive again. So back I was, with my ragazzi (translated in English, it means “guys”, and this is the term we use to refer to the people who have mental disabilities) and my colleagues at Casa Santa Chiara.
Casa Santa Chiara is a place for people who have different mental disabilities and their main goal is to integrate them in the best way possible, by helping them with everyday tasks, entertaining them with music and a lot of dancing. It is amazing how we can make other people’s lives better and cheerful just by treating them as we would like to be treated; with kindness and lots of love. I will always remember the first day I went there; everybody was so excited to welcome me, trying to speak a few words in English and making funny gestures just so I can understand better. It amazed me how I didn`t speak any words in Italian and they didn`t speak any words In English, but somehow we managed to understand each other perfectly and not only with the colleagues but also with our ‘ragazzi’. What unites us there is our motivation to improve, first ourselves and then everything around us. When you invest in your happiness, you also invest in other people’s happiness, and everything else is just collateral beauty. In Casa Santa Chiara,every day is different, very organized and very cheerful and happy. There is always something to do, either with art or gardening. We draw, we paint, we sing, we dance, we play games, we clean, and we also cook very delicious pasta and pizza.
This journey has taught me a lot of important things which I had no idea that I needed, and it is still teaching me. It is teaching me to be open-minded, to understand people even when they say things which may sound so absurd to me. It is teaching me to be patient and kind, to respect and love first myself and then everybody else around me. Is teaching me to be a better version of myself, and for this I will always be grateful. Each of us should once in their life time do this kind of project, because there are so many things you can do, so many things you can explore that you will start to feel like Alice in Wonderland. And hey, this will all be for free
– You can learn more about joining an ESC project abroad on this page –