by Gracia Kleijnen

Not exactly knowing how and where to start kept me from exploring volunteering opportunities here in Berlin. Until this year. My current employer takes part in corporate volunteering via vostel.de. Hereby offering employees the chance to participate in social commitments during their work time. This dramatically lowered the threshold for me to jump in.

As a result, I have participated in a walk with seniors, designed lampshades for children, helped out at the mobile tours for homeless people, and offered a second pair of eyes at the buffet of an international youth meeting for blind and visually impaired people. The lampshades project only lasted for an hour, the others required you to invest half a day, or an afternoon and evening.

„This year has been a year of change for me on a personal level.“

This year has been a year of change for me on a personal level. I started tackling challenges and started doing activities I had already put on the shelves to collect dust. Some of these involved social interactions and moving far past my comfort zone. Being a somewhat shy bee, it took me a while to stop making excuses as to why I couldn’t just go and start or participate. I am very happy I now did. 🙂

„When it comes to volunteering, these few hours you invest have the potential to leave a lasting impact.“

When it comes to volunteering, these few hours you invest have the potential to leave a lasting impact. It can be that the project you’re giving your time to only needs support for a couple of hours. Without your input though, there might not have been enough man- or womanpower to even realise the event. Think about that. The projects can serve as a social lubricant. You will meet like-minded people, and depending on the project, people of very diverse ages and backgrounds. They can expose you to new things you’d otherwise never stop to think about or make you adjust your behaviour. My goal from the beginning was to take part in as diverse possible activities where I’d meet people from all walks of life.


Excursion with residents of a retirement home
volunteering

With the residents of a retirement home at the ice cream shop

This was my very first volunteering activity and the first time to directly interact with residents of a retirement home (read more about volunteering with elderly people here). I went in with an open mind and heart. The residents were split into groups. The volunteers were then each assigned a resident to walk with. They knew we would join them for a small adventure. Most of them had already gathered on the garden terrace when we arrived. We were encouraged by staff from vostel.de to join the residents and have a chat with them until it was time to head off. Not all residents were as mobile. Some were able to walk themselves, whereas others needed a buddy to push their wheelchair.

He or she gives you his or her trust, which I thought was a very special thing. Moreover, I realised caregivers deserve more respect than they get credited for.“

The ice cream shop we visited was not that far away. Nonetheless, pushing a wheelchair requires a lot of energy and muscle power. The person in the wheelchair needs to feel comfortable and at ease. He or she gives you his or her trust, which I thought was a very special thing. Moreover, I  realised caregivers deserve more respect than they get credited for. And that within each resident lies a sea of stories and wisdom, if you’re willing to connect with the individual and listen to what he or she has to say.

„What we need to take into account, and this was a reminder to me, is that our bodies partially dictate what we can or cannot do.“

Of course there are less colourful sides to it. I had a really extensive talk with the most lovely lady. She is not too mobile. We talked about life in general. I am always curious whether or not people are happy and satisfied with their lives. What really hit me, was that she still blamed the war (WW2) for creating chaos in her life, and how it changed everything. I had no idea how to respond to that. So instead, I listened.

She told me she has a far-away place she had always wanted to visit. I always try to persuade people around me to grab life by the horns, and do the things they like to do. Not because anyone tells them to, but just for the sheer joy of it, or because they want to. What we need to take into account, and this was a reminder to me, is that our bodies partially dictate what we can or cannot do.

If you are experiencing health issues, simple things might all of a sudden seem much harder to carry out or organise. By now it was time for her ‘Abendbrot’. I escorted her upstairs and shortly joined her for her meal. She insisted I’d go view her room to see how she lived. That filled me with warmth, as she was basically inviting me into her personal space. Later I learned that she has some illnesses, and sadness hit me again. Despite any odds, I hope that the wishes she spoke out to me about will be granted and that she manages to find a way.


Designing lampshades for children from „Die Arche e.V.“

Children from „Die Arche e.V.“ holding their designed lampshades

„Being able to do team building, letting all creativity run wild while designing lampshades, and hopefully brightening up someone else’s day (and room ceiling), this was a triple win.“

The vostel.de staff dropped a pack of simple Ikea lamps off at the office. Since the activity itself would only take an hour, nearly my entire department signed up to help out. Being able to do team building, letting all creativity run wild while designing lampshades, and hopefully brightening up someone else’s day (and room ceiling), this was a triple win. We received this picture of the children from „Die Arche e.V.“ holding their new lamp shades. They look happy. I hope they look up to it and think, ‘hah, cool, someone made that just for me’. The only bad thing about this activity, was that we were put on a very short timeline to create something nice. It is so much fun, that I would easily be able to design a bunch of lampshades all day. I could have continued haha.

I encountered this introduction with volunteering overall as very pleasant, thanks to the contributions of vostel.de staff, the people who were there during the activity itself, and the people who we were helping out.

By reading this blog text, I hope I was able to give you a good impression of my first volunteering experiences. Maybe you are considering to do some volunteering too. You can roam the vostel.de projects here and find one in your area.

A follow-up post is on its way, where I will tell you more about volunteering at the Mobile Tours, and how I experienced working with blind and visually impaired people.


Gracia is a ‘Wahlberlinerin’ and parttime cat lady who lived in different cities across the Netherlands, and in Western Germany, the UK and China. When she’s not tackling activities on her bucket list, she likes to go on spontaneous ‘bitpacking’ trips, learn new languages and take classes at the local dance studio.