In 2018, instead of completing my final year of university I chose to apply to be one of the first Marist volunteers from South Africa to do volunteer work in Mindelheim, Germany. I had no idea what I would be getting myself into nor did I have any expectations for my time as a volunteer in a foreign country, all I knew is that I wanted and needed a change of scenery and I had a passion for community service. No one can prepare for what it feels like to be out of your country and comfort zone, nor can they tell you how you should navigate your way through new culture, language and people.
They say that it take 2 months to fully get settled into a new environment and routine, nothing truer could be said about my time as a volunteer in Mindelheim. The first months are filled with all sorts of uncertainties. Staying with host families was an opportunity that I am grateful that I got to experience as it exposed me to the German culture, food and language head first. I appreciate the way my host families put effort into my experience here by including me in family events and taking me on various fun and unforgettable outings to places I ‘had to see’ before I left southern Germany. In between confusion at work and with the German language in the beginning , having a friendly and welcoming host family helped more than I realised at the time.
Since May, I have been working in Marcellin Champagnat Kindergarten as a volunteer/intern. The work I have been doing includes looking after, playing and generally attending to any needs the children have. Working in the kindergarten was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I’ve grown a new appreciation for children and their rights. I have never seen myself as somebody who wanted to work with children but this year has changed my mind. A lot of my experience in Germany to working at the kindergarten with people who showed me respect, kindness, patience and trust which I think is essential in any working environment. Not to mention that the kids I believe is the biggest contributor to my learning of German relatively quickly. Working in a kindergarten means that I can have fun every day and enjoy life through the eyes of a child with I ask you new questions that seem simple to you but have bigger meaning for them and that’s beautiful to see. I think that once the children were able to see past the colour of my skin and that it is different from theirs, and then see that I was just like any other adult working there, we were able to create relationships which has made my work worthwhile but is also what will make it so much harder for me to leave.
The reflection of my time here can not be written without the mention of the reason why me and the first place which is Marist, and everything that it encompasses. I feel privileged to be a part of a community which is really all about serving. I believe that that is true and all the different countries and communities where the Marist brothers situated. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of really good people during my time as a volunteer, people who admitting me defied and broke down stereotypes that I had previously had in my mind.
But although my time in Mindelheim has at times felt like a dream, no experience is ever perfect since being in Germany we’ve had to encounter some racial tensions and discriminations which was not always evident to other people but always felt real to us. There was nothing they could have prepared us to experience some of the things that we have but in hindsight I can only say that it further helped us grow as people and I’d like to think that the ignorant are in the minority.
Applying for the opportunity to come and be a volunteer in Mindelheim is the best decision I could have ever made for myself. I highly and thoroughly encourage other people to take a chance and apply. Coming from South Africa, having the chance to volunteer in a country a 13 hour flight always seems unattainable but for the three of us Marist made it possible. I believe that it is an opportunity that more people deserve, and I wish to keep the connections I’ve made this year. Doing a year of volunteer work both in Germany and South Africa has been essential to my growth as a person this year. I have learnt lessons in work ethic and independence and I wouldn’t have otherwise learned had I not been a part of this journey. I’m grateful that I was able to represent the South African Marist community and in turn have the impact on the community in Mindelheim in the way that I believe we did, Mindelheim and it’s people will always have a special place in my heart.
Reflection on Hermitage
As the 2018 CMI international volunteers, we were gifted the opportunity to embark on a journey to France to learn more about what it means to be Marist. Our host for the week, “Notre Dame de l’hermitage” not only provided a beautiful home for the few days we were there, but also began our look into the history of Marcellin Champagnat in his birth country.
Our programme at Saint Chamond was filled with visits to the birthplace of St. Marcelin Champagnat, where he grew up, the dynamics of his family, and the impact he left on people from all over the world. One of the most impactful parts of our trip was the moments we got to share about our own life experiences at Chambre de Marcellin, shared thoughts and/or views of religion and spirituality.
During our hermitage to France we were able to go to Lyon, one of France’s most beautiful cities. This was important in terms of its history and the strong influence of Mary in the church and throughout the town itself.
Being a part of this year’s group of volunteers felt particularly special because of the culmination of culture, language, nationality and race. Boundaries were non – existent. In true Marist fashion we always felt a sense of family spirit which was expressed in constant singing, music playing, praying and sharing meals together.
At the end of this experience, we left with a feeling of support in all its different forms. Through pur experience we are reminded of support by the history of Champagnat, his work, by the history of Marist brothers as well as Marist communities all around the world. Lastly, we are supported by each other, young volunteers who have chosen to follow a calling to serve and be of service wherever we can. L’hermitage was an opportunity we do not take for granted; a truly blessed and unforgettable trip.