Into worlds beyond the capital, talks between youth at night and the signs of giving too much

We talk about social entrepreneurship in the hot morning sun at the arrival centre. Us – no more volunteers, but humans with ideas, jobs and lives. I remember that we’re empathetic, we relate, when we act from our whole being. Caring, then setting boundaries. But this day also brings me down to the bottom of reality. In German we say “aus den Augen aus dem Sinn”. Out of sight, out of mind. We’re not responsible, we don’t know, this is not our job, we follow the rules, there’s no more that we can do, this can’t be, there must be a solution in place. But I’ve already pluged into worlds beyond the capital.

O. arrived to the centre from the northern tip of the country, before she approaches me while I’m jogging between the tables in the waiting area. There are another woman and a child with her. After landing in a distribution centre they were sent to live in a hotel – they call it a курятник, a hen house. The other woman is ready to go back, how can you live in such conditions, back to Kharkiv. I just listen to their request, ready to jump to the next task, but this hurts. From their story – the hotel houses 50 people, it’s old and dirty, and I wonder if it was closed cause of the pandemic or other reasons. 2 floors, people sleeping on the first floor which isn’t made for that, one toilet (besides some in the rooms, that don’t fit all?), two cooktops, two fridges and a kitchen sink for all. Imagine the queues, she says. A billard table. Food stored on random cupboards. Contorted, slippery, endless corridors in the dark. Elderly people left to their fate in this environment. No pharmacy in the village, kids shouting into the night, and the stories of having to hop on a bus to the neighboring village to get bread (if you cannot pay 3,5€ for a loaf, who can). I watch videos with rats and filth, and here I stop the story that at the start I find too hard to comprehend myself. A few discussions and a phonecall later there is a next step, but how can writing to some mail address with videos and photos attached feel like enough? The lack of knowledge, procedures, horizontal coordination, of transparency and faces to approach. Maybe the worst thing isn’t that this is happening, and that this wasn’t the only case, but that I-We don’t know about it, and the most vulnerable people we don’t see. As if this world didn’t exist, as if we had all the grounds to trust in the system beyond this microcosm that has been working since March 4th. But why would we. There are things that one can understand but not accept, this is one of them.

Scene cut.

After this, the other stories blend into the background, mums and kids, the deaf family, the deaf woman. Kharkiv, Mariupol. Shampoo, excel sheet, info sights forwarded, familar face, talks to understand why we don’t know, and lunch in the volunteer container. A constant exercise in staying firm, confident about your responsibility, and at the same time human and fair. I believe in justice – not equality, it’s hard to live it. And there’s summer outside.

Scene cut.

Conversations. I think that we’ve all had our own savior to helper story as volunteers. The frantic beginnings, going the extra step of the way with the people we were helping, feelings of sympathy and guilt and not doing enough, bonding beyond the professional, handing over personal mobile numbers to many more people than now, thoughts revolving around some situations or people we can’t forget for days. Then a certain alienation, and a return – slower, maybe stricter, with an own solidified understanding of one’s role as a helper. And a life to still uphold. “Ah my child? There’s also this yes”. It’s a marathon. What I’ve learned: to be fully present. And that we’re a team, an organisation, a little wonder (thanks to the people who set this up).

Scene cut.

The night at the train station a few days earlier. It’s a calm one, few people are arriving, I’m the only translator, things happen. The colleagues from the other organisation are sitting on two stools, one of them says what’s up with Ukraine, it has calmed down, one doesn’t hear “anything” anymore after all. Well..We talk. I’m always amazed by the rift in realities. Before, there’s the family that needs to go back to Ukraine cause of a medical emergency. The moments when you think why, how much pain can you bear? The tickets are very expensive, the free ones sold out. Then the drunk guy is annoying but it’s all part of the game, the volunteer pouring him a coffee laughs out hard when I translate. Mediation.

Late night talk with R. from Kiev, in his 20s, once the basic questions are clarified, the camp bed for the night is occupied and the station is unwelcomingly empty. Crafting French ceilings and drumming in a Christian community. From Kiev to Ternopil, Georgia, Vienna, now Germany – “to friends”. What would we do without them, the people who co-create our geography and give us something to hold on to in the unknown. The humans who gift us a bit of “home” away from home. There’s so much more, and I don’t have words left. We’re just doing what we can, we walk through the sleeping city to the night bus towards home, go back to work, jump between different realities, big respect for everyone.

Signs, rules, boundaries & motivation – What the supervision taught us

Friday afternoon on Zoom. Here some super quick takeaways.

  • If something irritates you, then that’s to be taken seriously. You have to feel good about your work. A negative emotion is a sign that we have been giving too much.
  • There’s always an organisational and a personal side to things πŸ˜‰ and to purpose. Remember the organisational question of what can we offer the people arriving, we have a specific function, we have a main task – everything else comes second and can be delegated (if there’s someone to delegate to), we’re not equally responsible for everything. Know exactly who you are and why you’re here – personally. Know your motivation.
  • Automatization of processes is important to reduce conflicts, an obviously increase clarity, in an organisation.
  • In all the helping, and doing things, and good emotions it’s always helpful to reflect why a person / situation made us feel in a certain way. And sometimes just be aware of when a bond is created or there’s manipulation happening. In the end, the endeavour is still about helping as many people as possible. Oh, the psychology!

As a writer you have huge responsibility, and I feel it with every word that I’m putting here. I hope that I respected it with the way I wrote this text. Volunteering can often produce an emotional cocktail of love, cooperation, irritation, indignation, duty, standing your ground. And there are no obvious answers.