Back in May of this year, Za’atar NGO celebrated its fourth anniversary. Four years through which we have learned and reflected a lot – on humanitarian work, what it means to volunteer, to empower, and so much more. That is why, on this occasion, we had the idea to share with potential volunteers and fellow NGO workers Four Lessons we learned these past four years.
Za’atar Summer Series 2020 – 1/4
Sitting on the bed of my first student flat, facing my phone camera, waiting a little nervously for the interview with a Za’atar NGO member to start, I remember asking myself again if this was what I wanted to do and why, if volunteering was the right thing for me, 18-year-old French political science student back then.
Learning about the “refugee crisis” from afar, through sensational media representation and apocalyptic political discourses, it is easy and somehow tempting, as a well-intentioned young person, to feel the will to take action, show solidarity and help. Volunteering is one great way to get involved – which nonetheless requires some preparatory reflection.
Determined to help people living in a precarious and unfair situation, one can indeed end up – more or less consciously imprisoning them in a passive and dependant position, cultivating a rather unhealthy relationship to volunteer work and its beneficiaries. Maintaining refugees and asylum seekers in such a state, considering them as weak and desperate people to be saved, will not help them.
A volunteer is there to inform, accompany and support, work with the beneficiary towards their autonomy and self-reliance. If they are indeed experiencing complex and harsh circumstances, refugee, asylum seeker and migrant people, have actually been through challenges and hardships we, European and Western volunteers, have not – and cannot imagine. They, therefore, are capable – and strong. They have left their home, land and loved ones, walked and travelled thousands of kilometres, crossed borders, deserts and seas. There is no doubt they can look for a job, fill a form or search on the Internet by themselves. They will ask for the help and information they need, which volunteers and organizations are meant to provide.
Volunteers are neither saviours nor superheroes. Volunteering for a month in an NGO will not change the world or anyone’s life – and that is not the goal. Volunteering is a job – with its tasks and constraints, codes and limits and a commitment. Volunteering is an enriching and important mission that demands humility, open-mindedness and self-questioning. Volunteering can be a profound and moving experience – from human to human, capable intelligent individual to capable intelligent individual.
If this resonates with you, then, go on. It is time to get ready for the adventure!
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