It is not easy to reflect about my volunteer social year at the moment, because it is actually still happening. The experiences and memories are very fresh, I still feel very close to the group life and the rhythm of the institution. I live in a shared apartment in the village together with 3 seminarians and a colleague. (My final 12 days, I will live in the house, together with the people I have cared for—definitely an opportunity to get to know them from another perspective.) The Quellenhof Home lies in the beautiful surrounding area outside of the village (about 10 minutes by bike) with a big court, farm land, and cheese making facilities. In the house live all together 12 cared for adults: 9 upstairs and 3 downstairs. In the beginning, I had to put in a lot of effort in order to remember all of the names and to put faces to the names, but I was able to do this quickly.
My assignment is to accompany the residents in their everyday routines: help prepare breakfast and dinner, or cook lunch on the weekend, help with shopping and personal hygiene (shaving, brushing teeth, showering), accompany cared for persons to the workshop, go with them on a stroll during the free afternoons, do the night watch sometimes etc. The first stage (circa the first 2 months), during which the surroundings, people, everything felt new and foreign, was really hard. In my eagerness to help, I often took work away from people unknowingly (for example unloading the dishwasher, taking away dirty dishes and the like.) It took a bit of time (about 2-3 months) before I could understand what my job really meant. There are no severely physically disabled persons in the group; therefore most can be rather independent. To that end includes working in the household, kitchen, garden etc. For this reason, the emphasis is on socialisation, on the integration of persons into the group life, on being together. With this new knowledge, my eyes were opened. Because I had no previous experience in social therapy, I could now see my job from a total different perspective. I hung back with open eyes and ears and then only intervened when I had the feeling that someone really needed my help.
A second turning point was in the area of relationships. The Quellehof group is a terrific, diverse group, with different personalities. With most, I got along well right away, but with 2 women it took a bit longer until we could at the very least communicate and build-up a friendly relationship. I often looked for the mistake in myself: "what am I doing wrong, why can’t we come closer?" My team helped me to answer these questions. In team meetings (Wednesdays between 10:30 and 12 o’clock), they told me about the women, about their disabilities, and about their behavioural conduct that results from their disabilities. Through this, I got a different picture of the residents, and could then understand their behaviour better. Even when the communication stilted, I began to show more consideration for them and to work on myself. I had to work on my own feelings, better said on my inner energies. It was not easy. I find it very admirable, how “emotionally” intelligent the cared for persons are. Much more intelligent than we are. They perceive every small slight, and to be able to work with that is a challenging task.
But it pleases me a lot that the inner work has had good success, because today we communicate and come together well. I feel stronger inside, and don’t take certain expression necessarily personal, but instead try to understand the situation. Especially my relationship with Claudia (name changed) makes me happy, because this relationship was where my endurance ran short and I almost gave up on my hope for communication and a good relationship. Today I can say a bit proudly, that in winter, together with Claudia, we prepared a rising lemon foot bath to soothe a cold, together prepared a dessert, and that she has offered her room to me for my final 12 days. Is there a bigger gift, than the trust and friendship of another human being?
All in All…
When I look back at the year all together, then I see that my lows have turned into my highs. I discovered my boundaries and recognized that one can also expand them, that one can do a lot more than one thinks. There, where I felt my weaknesses, I was strengthened, where I was thick headed and stubborn, I’ve become more relaxed. I’ve become more open; I can reduce my biases and preconceptions and look more positively at life than before. I trust myself to do night watch, and to take on more responsibility. My self-confidence has been strengthened and I’ve learned to recognize my positive attributives and work on my negative ones. The various trips with the group and celebrating traditional German holidays at the institution meant for many intercultural experiences. To this also belongs the folk dance course, which we organised for the dance inclined residents. At home, I danced in a folk dance group, therefore it meant a lot to me to be able to do it here. I found it especially motivating to dance with disabled persons. One has to design everything differently to make the dances easier. But it was successful: it helped with bodily perception, the development of rhythmic feeling and last but not least we also performed little "shows" on May 1st and for parents‘ meetings. It really was a lot of fun.
My free time was never empty. I made many friends, and that made my world not so small anymore. From the long and deep discussions with my friends, I learned about German mentality and got to know the life of seminarians in Bingenheim a bit.
The unsureness I felt about the volunteer social year at the beginning has changed into sureness. I don’t question my decision to interrupt my studies to do a volunteer social year anymore. YES, it was worth it! So many colourful experiences and knowledge cannot be gotten at university. As for the future: I want to finish my studies at home (dissertation in Waldorf pedagogy), do more for anthroposophy and Waldorf pedagogy, and also be active in the area of social work.
For those, who are planning to do a volunteer year: take the chance and give a piece of yourself!
Volunteer from Romania