VOLUNTEER’S BLOG – December 2019
We are the new volunteers Lydia (18), Hannah (18) and Lana (19) and we work in the Svitac (Firefly Bosnia). Two of us, Lydia and Lana, do the voluntary service with the “weltwärts” programme which enables young people to do a voluntary service related to development policy abroad. We arrived here in September 2019 after a long bus trip and will work in Brcko till August 2020. Hannah is sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina with the “European Solidarity Corps”, a new European Union initiative that creates opportunities for young people to volunteer. She arrived on month after us two and will stay till the beginning of April 2020, so all in all for six months.
Although all three of us come from Germany, we didn´t know each other before. Our main work takes place in the morning from 11am till 1pm where we support workshops with children at the age of three to seven. The workshops include arts and crafts, music, story-telling, learning letters and playing together and often treat the topics of friendship, respect or helpfulness. We do not just work together, but also live together in a shared house not far away from the Youth Centre. We all have our own room and share the kitchen and bathroom. For all of us, this is a new experience and we are surprised as well how the habits we had, have changed now because we had to adapt to each other. It starts with who has to wash the dishes when, who is going when into the bathroom to shower, who is cleaning which part of the house, who brings the garbage out,… And it definitely takes a bit of time to decide on everything and get a routine for life together. Because we see each other every day it is also important for us to have some time alone when we get home from work. It is funny how everyone goes into their room when we get home. After a few hours of privacy, we often meet each other in the evenings in the kitchen, when we become hungry. Sometimes we cook for all of us but we realised that it is hard to cook for everyone´s taste. So mostly we cook only for ourselves. Especially now, in December we spent a lot of time together baking biscuits for hours, listening to Christmas music and getting ready by this for our Christmas holidays with our family and friends in Germany.
So what are we actually doing here? Our day usually begins at 10:15am at the youth centre. Luckily it is just five minutes away from our house so we don’t have to get up that early. At the “Youth Centre,” we meet Adin – the daily coordinator, Almira – a local volunteer and Dina – the coordinator of the Youth Centre activities. Sometimes there are also local volunteers from the town. Until 11am we prepare the programme for the day: setting up the chairs and tables, preparing materials if we do arts and crafts and last but not least deciding who is going to do the greetings. So as the small children (from age 4-7) arrive they can choose how they want to be greeted, by a hug, dancing or high five. After the ‘Dobro jutro! Kako ste?’ (‘Good morning! How are you?’) and energizer we start with the programme. Each day we are doing something different. Monday is arts and crafts day, on Tuesday we learn letters, Wednesdays we do music, on Thursday it is story time and on Friday we watch cartoons and play social games. On annual International Days, we make topics like Human Rights understandable for young children. At the beginning of December, we worked with the participants on the topics of tolerance and acceptance as we implemented three weeks of tolerance project.
This part takes place until 12:00am. Then the children go wash their hands while we carry the stools to the dancing room. Sitting in a circle the children have snacks and drinks. Afterwards, we play some games until their parents come to take them home at 1:00pm. On Mondays and Fridays, we three help Dina with her German workshops. We usually help the teenagers with their homework or we even discuss the difference between tolerance and acceptance as we did as a part of the tolerance week. At 2:00pm we are pretty hungry and go get something to eat in town during our one hour break. From 3:00 pm to 3:30pm we have language lessons with Adin where we learn vocabulary for our everyday life.
On Tuesday mornings our alarm clocks ring a bit earlier. A part of our voluntary service is, of course, to learn the local languages (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian). So at 9:00am we make our way to the office where Milos has the task to teach us grammatically and in general the languages.
After one and a half hours of trying to learn the seven (!!!) cases, we hurry up to go to the youth centre where our daily routine begins. But after 1:00pm we already have our break and start at 2:00 pm again. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lana and Lydia have workshops for 12+ children, an eco-project and calendar making. But these workshops will fully start in January. At the moment we are planning the programme for the next days or special occasions like the Halloween or New Year’s Party. That is pretty much our workday so far.
Sometimes we work out of our ‘usual’ work time as well, for example on the Halloween or New Year’s Party. A few weeks ago we supervised the preparation for the German test in the high school next to the Youth Centre. We spent six hours there for two days to prevent them from cheating and stopping the preparation time. It was interesting but also a really long time. So after work we are usually tired and head straight home, just sometimes we go to the town shopping or drinking coffee.
Our free time: It’s December! Christmas market time!
We were really glad to hear that Brčko is going to have a Christmas market this year! The city was decorated beautifully, one musician was playing live music with his guitar, and we could see many little cabins with sweets or kuhano vino (mulled wine) and a lot more. Even though it was starting to get really cold we enjoyed our time. Additionally, we visit Sambas’ workshops every Thursday and Friday, where we play the drums and talk to each other. There we got to know some local people of our age.
Someone told us that the Christmas market in Zagreb (capital of Croatia) is something you have to see. So let’s go! We booked our bus tickets and our hostel and started our trip on a Saturday morning. It was a really nice and easy trip. We would definitely recommend taking the bus and just travel a bit in the Balkan area. And as they told – not only one but at least three Christmas markets and the whole city was fully decorated and completely in a wintry Christmas mood. We were able to see everything we wanted e.g. two museums (museum of broken relationships and museum of illusion), the huge cathedral of Zagreb and the tunnel Grič which was wonderfully filled with Christmas trees and snowflakes … and all this in only two days. On Sunday evening we drove about five hours back to Brčko.
A couple of weeks ago we went to a classical concert with a soprano and a pianist organized by the Austrian culture forum. It was a mixed programme starting with Mozart and ending with Ferek-Petrić. Afterwards, Lydia even got the opportunity to play on a piano in Dom Kulture and sing! It was a really nice evening where we had the opportunity to get ready and dressed more elegant than we do at work. After the concert, a big buffet was set up in the Jelena Hotel. All in all, it was an exciting experience.
If we are not too tired after work we often go to the city to get a coffee or a piece of cake in one of the many little cafés – we can highly recommend Halils’ place Smyrna or for example the Coffee Bar. During the week Hannah and Lydia are going to the fitness centre which is only about 5 to 10 minutes away by foot or Lana is taking part of the Zumba class which is really cool but exhausting at the same time so that we have a good balance of work and free time activity.
We are happy to write soon again about our experiences! But till now from all of us: Happy New Year!