Syndicate content

Volunteering in times of Covid my real experience

Salut, (This means Hi in French)

In 2020, I was 29 years old. I had just gotten my Teaching French as a Foreign Language degree and needed to practice on the subject. I was also about to turn 30, approaching the age limit to do a voluntary work abroad and I really wanted to live this experience.. By chance, I met someone at a civil service meeting who told me about VIEWS International, an association which promotes international mobility, specifically, for the visually impaired - ages eighteen to thirty. After some research, I found out that it is possible to do an international voluntary service with them. And ask the universe and it will come, one half of the project is about teaching French to foreigners, and the other half, about writing articles in a newspaper. Two things that I really like and wanted to practice. My decision was made. In September, I would be arriving in Liège, in Belgium.

I started my project in a strange way. I arrived in Liège on 2nd September and was immediately under quarantine. The reason : my origins. No discrimination there, I simply come from France and at that time, my region L’Occitanie - in the south of France - was within the « red zone ». So it was understandable and I obviously respected these regulations.

Although spending the first fifteen days staring at the window is a strange way to discover a new country, I got to know my Italian room mate « Irid » ,and spent time talking about everything and anything. He told me about his political views, I told him about my belief in empowerment and free will. He shared his mamma’s Italian sauce into delicious pasta, I shared a red lentil Dahl meal that I like to cook, mostly because I like eating.

After the « liberation », we got to taste the belgian gastronomy: « Les boulettes-frites », « Les laquemants » - a sugar bomb - or « Les gaufres de Liège » - a cinnamon waffle. Moments of Pure happiness combined with the struggle of getting rid of the extra-calories. But it was a good reason to visit Liège, a cute industrial rainy town with one of the most beautiful stations I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, Irid had to leave the project earlier than planned, in December.

(Photo Irid and me)

Belgium was once again under a lockdown and under curfew. I came back to Montpellier in France for the Christmas holidays. France was also under lockdown. At that time, I wondered if there was a place where « living » was possible. Belgium remained under lockdown until May 8 2021.

Fortunately, the voluntary project continued and we were allowed to give french classes. In the morning, we taught to a small number of adults, and to adolescents in the afternoon. It was a really nice experience. Although I had gotten a degree to teach french as a foreign language, I’d never gotten the chance to do it before. And it was the perfect opportunity to practice. The students were really nice and I loved meeting them everyday. They came from many different countries and got along like old friends.. They were willing to help each other without caring about cultural differences. I saw how
impactful multiculturalism is. I loved participating in these courses. , I sharpened my teaching techniques while teaching a new language and in return I learnt things I will never forget.

VIEWS International also allowed me to lead an online conversation table in French. It was an interesting experience because, I was free to implement what I had read in books about teaching, learning and it is a good opportunity to try different teaching
methods. Most times, Theere were 5, 4 german people and one Spanish person. We often debated on societal matters. It’s a nice way to learn more about the common points and differences between our cultures. For exemple, while debating on gender equality, we learned that in France, « the pre-school » is called « L’école maternelle », while in Germany, it is called « L’école paternelle ». Interesting.

Otherwise, the other part of the voluntary project was great too. I had to write articles in the local newspaper. And one of them was an interview of a worker from « La Baraka », a youth club in Liège. Fadi is Syrian and had to flee his country because of the civil war. He was kind enough to share his immigration story. He took the road less travelled and it was an uphill journey to get here. He is really grateful to the Belgian state and motivated like never to build a new life here. He has a lot of projects for the future. I was amazed by his story and grateful to have met him..To me, he is an example of determination and he proved that when we deeply want something, we can endure anything that life throws at us. ..

Throughout the project, I often wondered if staying in Belgium was something I would like to do. People are, easy-going, open-minded and very nice overall. . The opposite of the weather. But thankfully, March came and brought along much better days. We were allowed to travel through Belgium and although voluntary meetings only took place online,, I was lucky enough to meet some of them. We got to visit many beautiful towns like Namur, Leuven, Anvers and of course Brussels. I fell in love with the charm of these places..

But,, my condition makes it difficult for me to walk long distances. Instead of choosing comfortable activities I had no choice but to visit these towns on foot. I remember that in Leuven, I climbed five floors to visit its famous majestic library and at the end of the day, I saw on my phone that I had walked 10 kilometers. Unbelievable for me. I sincerely don’t think that I would have done that without the pandemic limitations.

(Picture of me on the top of the library looking at the horizon)

At the end of the project, I met Vicky, a new VIEWS volunteer and my roommate. She is Greek and is a really nice girl. She is always smiling and she only sees the positive side of life. She taught me not to be stressed about being on time. As a rigid punctual french person, it is An interesting intercultural element that I liked approaching.

She also helped me to write this article in a better English and I help her with French, helping each other out is always nice.

Moreover, at the end of the month, I’ll get to meet my second roommate, Candice. She comes from France and is doing an internship at VIEWS international as a translator. She also will proof-read my article. After that, if you notice a mistake, it may be an optical illusion.

I could not finish this article without mentioning Solidarcité a Belgian association which provides youngsters with the opportunity to give some of their time as volunteers for community services. They helped me shop for groceries, accompanied me back home - a huge help for me - and on top of that, they are incredibly nice. I will never forget them.

To conclude, this VIEWS voluntary service was a really nice experience. It obviously wasn’t easy everyday with the constraints related to the pandemic but I got to meet inspiring people, among which volunteers, VIEWS employees, and people working at La Baraka. Fortunately, the voluntary project continued and allowed me to grow in my professional field. I decided that I would continue to do voluntary teaching and continue my studies in sociology with a master’s degree in immigration studies in Liège. This experience also showed me the growing needs in the field and I want to be able to do something to help. If I unfortunately can’t do much about my disability, I definitely can act for others. That’s the way I give meaning to my life.

À bientôt! (This means see you soon)