Wednesday, May 05, 2010

BVS volunteers in Europe reflect on their experiences.

Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) currently has 12 volunteers serving in six European countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. Below are excerpts from three volunteer reports in the most recent BVS Europe newsletter:

Sarah Hurst, who completed her BVS service a few weeks ago, explains Quaker Cottage in N. Ireland, for others who may work there in the future: This year we were lucky enough to have had the worst winter Belfast has seen in the last 50 years, or so many people have told me. Since the volunteers live up on the mountain, right beside the cottage, they are the first ones who will know about any snow/ice lying on the roads.

When this happens, you then get to enjoy the lovely job of "gritting the road." Grit is a combination of sand and salt that you sprinkle on the road to melt the snow and ice so the buses can make it up and down the mountain. Once you learn how to do it effectively, it should take no more than 40 minutes to grit the road and walk back up. Believe me, by the time you leave Quakers you will become a professional at gritting.

You will get to experience a lovely Christmas here. Quakers gets donations from families and companies of food and toys. We dedicate the two rooms upstairs for these donations and it takes the entire staff to sort and categorize the food and toys. After everything is sorted, hampers are made to give out to current and past families.

The Tuesday younger afterschool group mails letters to Santa at the Christmas market and then gets a visit and a wee toy from him as well. The preteen and older afterschool group gets a visit from a "silly Santa"--usually one of the staff and the children know it. This is to protect any of those who may believe in Santa from being teased. All in all it’s a brilliant time for everyone to enjoy themselves.

Summer, on the other hand, is a bit different. The summer program is a very important time for the children, who in most families do not get to experience half the things we do in the summer. There are definitely challenges that they face and often times they will act out because they’re scared. It is such an important time for us to build up our relationships with these children and really gain their trust so we can boost their confidence.

The main thing at Quakers is to be flexible and patient. If you really embrace the work, the extra hours do not seem that bad and you will enjoy your time here so much more. Good luck and have fun; it’s truly an experience you will not forget!

Jill Piebiak writes from the European Office of the World Christian Student Federation (WCSF) in Budapest, Hungary: I don’t think that I can really say how happy I am to be working for this organization. Although the job is filled with many ups and downs and sometimes incredibly frustrating moments, I am so glad to be working somewhere that fits with my goal, career aspirations, and values.

I work with a regional committee of volunteers who are so enthusiastic and very committed to the organization. I am the staff representative on the preparatory committee working on our theological conference in Berlin, "Religion, Ethics, and Politics--God and the Use of Power." We are expecting approximately 60 youth from across Europe, a student from Africa, and one from the Asia Pacific regions of the WSCF.

I also am helping to promote the World Council of Churches’ Lenten Study, "Cries of Anguish, Stories of Hope." My role is to try to get WSCF members to participate online in discussions about the weekly Bible studies. This means that it has become part of my Lent. Each week my boss and I sit down for about an hour to study the Bible, watch the videos, and reflect on violence against women.

Our organization has responded in solidarity to three issues since I have been here. First, with a student in Belarus who had been thrown out of university for attending a European Union conference on civil society. The second was for the people of Haiti and in particular the local Student Christian Movement there. Finally, we have written the government of the Philippines condemning them for the illegal arrest and torture of Dr. Alexis Montes, uncle to the regional secretary of WSCF Asia Pacific, and 43 other medical professionals.

I feel that my work matters, not only individually in terms of the organization but also the organization’s work really matters and makes a difference in the world.

Katie Hampton reports about her adventures with Internet radio at the OKC Abrasevic Youth Cultural Center in Bosnia-Herzegovina: A dominant experience of my fall and winter has been "Abras Radio," an Internet radio station. I helped write a grant for this project. As the BVS volunteer in OKC, I decided to host a radio show about "sevdah" traditional Bosnian music, which I adore.

Someone wrote a description for my show: "Most of us grew up listening to ‘sevdah’ on the radio. Katie didn't. She grew up on a farm in Oregon. ‘Sevdah’ on Wednesdays with Katie."

My friend Dolores, who sings "sevdah," promised to help. I then had two weeks to create six radio shows. I was going to America for a month and needed to leave play lists and interviews that staff could put on in my absence. I had an amazing time interviewing different people from Mostar--young people, old people, musicians.

At the end of January, we had a final event and promotion of Abras Radio, and Abras Media in general. Young Mostar heavy metal bands played (some of the band members lead a metal show on Abras Radio), we featured a local hip-hopper who also leads a radio show, and there was a presentation of the Internet portal and radio site. Some of the young people decided they were interested in video too, and worked with me to film interviews and the concert, and later edited the footage. By this point, the number of young volunteers had grown to about 15 and there were about 10 different weekly radio shows.

This project was a coming together, not only of Croat and Bosniak young people, but also punk rockers and metalheads, which is even more amazing! In the end the project really did what it said that it would: create an alternative media space, truly open to members of the community, bringing together youth from both sides of a divided city, uniting them through radio, music, and activism.

The money for the project is basically all spent, so the future is uncertain. We are writing other grants, hoping they will be approved. We desperately need more equipment--the studio doesn't even have proper microphones and our video camera is practically not functioning. What will the future hold for Abras Media?

In terms of my own volunteering, I am beginning to train young people to continue with video work in Abras Media--hoping to leave something behind, to contribute something more lasting.

Source: 5/5/2010 Newsline

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