Volunteering is about refusing the urge to make oneself small. Tell me, are you still asking questions?

The words drown in the heatwave. It’s funny how when you’re part of the system, when you work for it, you stop asking questions. Your feed: assumptions from within, instructions from above. Strange, startling, shameful, stationary. The volunteers, the ones who care about what’s happening outside of what some want to see, who reach out to bring realities to the light of day and demand change, who question, who understand what is needed, who look for solutions themselves.

It’s funny when we sit together in the summer air behind the container. High spirits, vivacious fun. If you don’t stick with your “no’s” you won’t be able to honor the “yes’s”. Quote of a volunteer. Conversations, between Piter, Moscow, Kherson, Dnepr, Vienna 23rd district and what else etched somewhere into my memory. Switching roles (are you aware of which ones you get stuck in?), between Russian-speaking volunteer and German-speaking human. In between.

Very funny when a translator colleague shows me a scene from a popular old series. It’s funny when the paramedics make a blue-elephant-balloon with the curly tail for the 4-year-old-girl that eats too much icecream. A standard practice they learn during their training as they tell me. The elephant is a world-class gymnast, she sticks a finger into its balloon-skin trunk and makes it dip into the balloon.

It’s funny-meaning-strange and unsettling to learn how your world is not those of others helping. Understanding the connections and motivations that shape one’s experience, it’s the community in the end, communities living side by side. How a different-cultural upbringing changes everything, and a multi-cultural upbringing adds a complexity kaleidoscope on top if it. Maybe if you never really belong to a place, you really understand what it feels like to have lost a life. It’s funnily unsettling when someone tells me my Russian/German etc. is so perfect or that I learned it so well. Thank you but no thank you. It’s unsettling when the Ukrainian woman speaking English and French with her neighborhoods wants to know how the hell to make them realize that the invasion of Ukraine is a threat to the whole of Europe. “Do they not write it in your news?”. Battle of narratives that I don’t want to fight.

It’s dangerous when you give up. On seeing, on changing realities beyond the little world fenced off by someone else. Someone, in this life-quality-socalled-progressive-we’re-in-control country, not doing their job. The civil society that the state would be nothing without. Isn’t it time we had a big discussion on which narratives “we” (you know what I mean) splash it with and jeopardise its power that makes it unique? It’s dangerous to stop seeing the unfairness and not stand up with one’s allies.

Individuals – connected to the world, overcoming barriers. The general inertia that permeates everything. Heartache, exhaustion, insecurity, institutional obstacles and constraints of one’s own life plans, parallel realities around and what not. In the end, you’re putting yourself out there and you know that you won’t come out of it unchanged. It takes courage, will power (do we have enough of it?), trust in everyone regardless of their age and background. Even if it feels like you lose yourself in helping, volunteering is all about your core as a human. Though the signal might take time to travel.

Volunteering is a constant exercise in refusing the urge to make oneself small – and to get stuck protecting one’s little world. And do the things that need to be done, in a watchful balance between taking responsibility and letting go. Just to come back to it – to whatever you’re doing to not ignore a war, soon.


I’ve given up on forcing texts to flow when everything’s just stuck or meandering through space, cushioned by sweltering summer days brought to you by human-induced climate change. So “enjoy” the mind-racing fragments. 19.6. – Vienna