A moment out of time at Don Bosco
Written by Chloé Jeanne
A volunteering project is a space “out of time”, an immersion in a completely new context with strangers who quickly become your only landmarks. Participating in a volunteering project means learning, meeting, but also reinventing yourself. Sometimes it’s about discovering new qualities and especially making unique encounters. A volunteer project is waking up every day with the feeling of being useful, of doing something good. It’s going to sleep, exhausted, feeling like you’ve been doing your best all day long. Maybe you are afraid to commit, maybe you are worried that you will not be up to the task? That the volunteering project does not meet your expectations. Maybe you are afraid to be alone or lost. These fears were mine at the start. Know that the moment you engage in a volunteering project, you are already doing well. That any project, no matter how difficult at times, will teach you something. You will never be alone; you might feel lost, but isn’t it sometimes more beautiful to get lost than to wander in the certainty? Finally, never let fear stop you from doing something you really care about.
The Don Bosco project: having fun and meeting
This project is above all a human experience. It is the warmth of encounters, the laughter of the children, the curiosity of the discovery and the light of sharing that give it its human dimension. The human dimension is to be faced with sometimes touching and sometimes difficult stories. The life stories of children, whose parents or grandparents have left everything to live a better life, but also the stories of volunteers that we are discovering little by little. Their life stories, which allowed them to develop this extraordinary desire to want to commit to the other. It is these human stories that we discover in a volunteering project that make it so intense.
Don Bosco is every morning taking the time to create, listen, express yourself, work as a team in order to plan great afternoon activities. It means accompanying children to have fun, to discover the gems of Brussels with them, to go for a walk and to make sure they have wonderful moments. It’s running, playing, laughing, sometimes scolding, then reconciling, but above all sharing.
As I said, you’re never alone on a project. Don Bosco is also a whole team behind you. We often talk about “fitting in” into a team or group. I believe integration goes both ways. A team will also have the task of integrating. Through its kindness, availability, warm atmosphere and the sensitivity of each member, Don Bosco’s team has this quality.
Finally, there is the group of volunteers. If you are worried that you might not feel included in the group, always remember that the other volunteers are in the same position. My group was completely multicultural. We were all together a mixture of elements of Moroccan, Indian, Gabonese, French and Belgian culture. I have been fortunate to be confronted with “culture shocks”. However, the word “shock” seems ill-chosen to me because it is rather the sense of surprise what I felt when faced with certain ideas or beliefs. I think it was mostly the surprise of religions for me. Muslim religion, Christianity and atheism met. Everyone had their own beliefs, and each one made others discover their own, always with kindness. This sharing allowed me to learn a lot about other religions and perspectives. I believe that learning is a first step in better understanding, tolerating differences and opening up to others.
Our cultural sharing did not stop there: it also focused on culinary issues or standards of “good manners”. While we had a lot to share about our differences, we also had a lot in common such as our motivation to give our sensitivity and ourselves to other humans. We got to know each other in moments like at bedtime when we shared giggles and then during those moments of reflection on the world during the evenings we spent together. Every evening we had this rather magical ritual where we would meet on Don Bosco’s roof at nightfall. We were chatting about everything and nothing over a drink, with a panorama of Brussels illuminated around us. Weekends are also rare times to strengthen the group. We set off to rediscover Belgian classics like the Atomium and Bruges together. These moments of sharing that form the group are ultimately more precious than any difference.
What attracted me to project coordination was being that person who can make sure everyone found his or her place. I was proud to have this responsibility to make sure everything ran smoothly. I wanted to be reassuring and attentive, to be there to discuss any tensions that might arise and to listen to everyone so that he or she expresses any doubts. I was worried at the beginning that I would not be up to the task of dealing with conflicts between volunteers. However, in the end, I realized that we were all adults and my responsibility was just to let everyone share a moment together, without having to carry the weight that everyone can agree or not about everything. In fact, the goal is rather to form a whole, together.
Coordinating means making sure to leave a place for each volunteer so that he or she can contribute to the project and to the life of the group. Benevolence, therefore, was the climate I was keen to create as a coordinator during this short period. Non-judgment, questioning each other’s points of view, listening and openness, the foundations of my future profession as a psychologist, are the values that inspired me in my role as coordinator.
Coordinating is also reassuring. Sometimes it means setting an example, giving your best, participating actively and overcoming your fears. From this experience, I was able to learn that I am quite good in my relationships with others and that the most beautiful thing that I can share is to be genuine. To be myself, to act according to my values. Be myself is ultimately to be caring and open to the riches of each person.
The Don Bosco project, like any volunteer project, is a unique experience. It means, for a few days, to step out of one’s own context, to dare diversity and sharing. Do not be afraid to meet the unknown, because the emotions experienced during these experiences leave a mark for a lifetime.
For having experienced it, I would like to thank the SCI team and its partners very deeply, because they are the ones who work to allow such wonderful encounters in a reassuring and humane context.
– Chloé Jeanne, Volunteer at SCI