John, 24, from London, volunteered with the Red Cross in Germany at an after-school centre for 360 children.
I was mostly interested in the Red Cross position because it was abroad – the opportunity to live and work in Germany seemed amazing and I was really enthusiastic about the projects available.
My project was working in a German Red Cross after-school centre called DRK Hort Abenteuerland. It's quite usual in Germany for primary-school kids to be cared for in the afternoon whilst their parents are still at work, in a ‘Kinderhort’. There are different activities organised daily and the children can choose what they'd like to do – for example, draw or paint something, play football with friends, hang out on sofas or read books in the library.
Cooking, cycling, cinema trips
Hort Abenteuerland had roughly 360 kids and it was my job to assist the staff in caring for them all! I helped to plan and run activities, accompany trips (to the cinema or park for example) and cook or prepare snacks. I also ran a personal project where I taught basic English through games and activities.
The placement was in a city called Halle, in the east of Germany. About two hours south of Berlin, it was large enough to have a healthy cultural and music scene, bars, cinemas and lots of parkland whilst being compact enough to reach everything by bike! The cost of living is low and there is a real desire for international input in the city – the German Red Cross and my project were extremely proud to be able to host ‘international volunteers’.
Part of the team
The volunteering role and the work itself were absolutely fantastic. Anyone who has worked with children or teenagers knows how much you can get back from them! I had an incredibly strong feeling of belonging to the team, and was made to feel completely welcome. I enjoyed going to work every day and felt like I was really able to support the staff and make a difference for the kids.
Even though I spoke German to some extent when I started the placement, I was able to improve considerably and the kids were particularly tolerant with my pronunciation and jumbled grammatical skills. I learnt a massive amount from the kids, who were ever eager to explain things to me!
I would recommend the volunteering experience to anyone with an open mind – it allowed me to view a different culture and country from a unique viewpoint and come into contact with people I would most certainly never have met otherwise.
The opportunities that arose alongside the work were just as interesting – I took part in a refugee role-play experience, a youth employment trade fair, helped in the wake of the 2013 flooding and met great people along the way.