Volunteering? Saskia talks about her experience.

Saskia Grieser (29) is a volunteer from Germany. She came to Varna in May and I remember when I met her for the first time during Sonia’s personal project without realising the fact that actually she is the new volunteer we were waiting for. She has big experience in youth and volunteering sector. You can definitely notice it while watching her working for Varna 2017. This is why I was actually wondering what does she think about volunteering, how would she define it and how did it influence her.

Some of the international volunteers.

“Volunteering is not free labour as many people like to define it. Volunteering is kinda like donating your time.

Usually donators get a tax refund or some visible recognition for their contribution. Volunteers get something else. The possibility to acquire new skills and polish existing ones. Of course, it is as well for a bigger cause. There is a good definition in German: helfendes Lernen. It translate to learning during and because of helping.

I have been volunteering for most of my life. One of the biggest advantages is connecting with people you usually wouldn’t. Especially in Western Europe as people of all ages and walks of life volunteer. So you can benefit a lot from their experiences, skills and perspectives. Additionally, volunteering helps a lot in forming character and personal development-depending on the volunteering environment.

How it influence me? It changed my perspective and I learned a lot of skills I didn’t have before. Not here in Varna though. Volunteering in Varna reminded me again of some of the German virtues that make working with different people and difficult situations easier. If you are not too hung up on those virtues.”

After graduating her high school instead of going to the University, she decided to do something else. I don’t really know about Bulgaria but in Poland having a gap year is not the most popular choice youth make.

“I volunteered before in 2009. Right after high school. For 10 months in Ukraine. It was very different. The experience in Varna can’t compare with the one in Lugansk in any way. I worked with street children and in an orphanage and then with elderly people. Naturally, it was quite harsh at times. It changed a lot about how I see society, made me more resilient and humble. The organisation was less structured than in Varna (and in Varna it is not even that structured). Overall it was very enriching and I wouldn’t want to miss those experiences from my life.”

Saskia taking pictures, as part of her volunteer work.

In Varna, her work is different, she takes pictures for Social media and documentation as well as does some designs of booklets, flyers, posters and the like. It is highly possible that you have already seen some results of her work being hung all around the city. The city in which her first day was a mess.

One of the designs that Saskia created!

“I arrived around noon and it rained. I was picked up by my mentor. When we arrived at the flat we couldn’t open the building door as the key didn’t fit. After my neighbour opened up and we got her key we went on a hunt for a key maker. It turned out to be quite challenging-it was public holiday after all. After around 2 hours of walking around we managed to find one. So my first day was more or less walking around Varna in the rain to get a key.”

As I mentioned before, she works for Varna 2017, the association responsible for what is happening during the Varna European Youth Capital 2017.

“The idea of the Youth Capital is a great one and it can be a big opportunity for the cities if used well. Varna is the right city in Bulgaria to hold the title European Youth Capital. Many youngsters and opportunities for them to explore here.

The team tried hard and some events were really good. Others not so much. But that how such work usually is; some things work out – while others don’t. The people I work with are really great. Most of them look out for us volunteers.”

But volunteering in Varna is not just about the city or voluntary work. It is also about how do we start to perceive Bulgaria after having a chance to live here for some time.

“I like the small little shops around that more or less sell just one product. There are shops just for lamps, doors or even picture frames. It is kinda interesting how they can still survive. Then I like the landscapes, the traditions, the food and the conflicted sense of pride young Bulgarians have for their country.

A few things come to my mind that I don’t particularly appreciate. One would be people love to complain here about nothing and everything. It is socially very acceptable and it was kinda confusing at first why people bring their ‘personal issues’ to work. It seems to be a way of socialising.”