My Belgian Vacation and Vocation
Hello everyone! My name is Halia and my super power is communication. That’s why when I am writing I imagine a large audience like TED conference, and I am standing in front of it sharing the precious memories of my volunteering project. This 8-months trip started in October 2019. Back then a Finnish girl, a German boy and me met each other in this tremendously large Universe to dive deeply into Belgian culture. The meeting point was in Genappe, a picturesque town on the south, a small one (15 minutes to cross the city), multicultural (here you would meet different nationalities: Italians, French, Moroccans, Pakistanis etc), and so native and dear to me.
The topic of our project was culture and creativity. Our main task was to promote culture on the local level, so we took a camera, recorders and lights and started exploring different cultural institutions. We made interviews with locals who create the artistic atmosphere in Genappe; we helped the technical staff of Le Monty theater (I liked this part the most because I performed some manual work which was unknown to me before); we also worked in a small eco shop. For a person who has never worked in a store, such experience was totally new; people were coming to us with their own paper and tissue bags, glass jars, containers, they weighted their goods on their own, and the only thing we did was standing at the cash desk and checking all the payments (no cash, card only). I have never seen that before in person, only on YouTube, so this was my first-hand experience. Belgium surprised me in a good way.
The weeks were passing and I got a new eco mindset: five trash bins in the house, our own tissue bags for products, throwing organic waste into the special place…To be honest, my half-Belgian heart is falling apart each time I am using one trash bin for every sort of waste here in Ukraine.
When you live in the southern part of Belgium you must visit the north at least once: all the beautiful cities are located there (sorry my dear Wallonia): Gent, Antwerp, Bruges... Together with my flat mates we were travelling across the country and abroad. This is how I discovered beautiful Hague (now it is №1 on my list of the best cities for cycling), cold and cool Rotterdam (it is Europe's largest seaport), mysterious Liege (in fact all the cities with large bridges are a sort of mystery for me), and I fell in love with Brussels (which was untypically warm and not rainy). Actually if the quarantine hadn’t happened, we would have travelled around Belgium by our bicycles. This is what makes me sad all the time - our plans that didn’t come true.
And if you still think that volunteering is a total carelessness, rainbows and unicorns, I have to tell you something: life will always interrupt your plans and crash even the most beautiful fairy tale. My project wasn’t an exception, so what went wrong?
During our first seminar for volunteers I didn’t give a d*mn of what they were saying to us due to my poor French which I started to learn four weeks before coming to Belgium. I felt extremely stressed because nearly 90% of people were speaking French and only French. But I decided to be courageous and asked for English translation. Believe me or not, but it worked. So here is a very important conclusion: don’t hesitate to ask for help.
My camera was stolen. This was the biggest disappointment of mine in the course of 8 months; moreover, the camera has been stolen from our own apartment which made the situation even more detective. But now I consider this as a life experience and a story that can be shared among my friends.
This merdique corona virus (sorry for my French) and the quarantine. We hadn’t been prepared for that and I doubt whether anyone had. That’s why my project was cancelled earlier than anticipated. And this is the reason why our international team (Germany-Ukraine-Finland) didn’t implement a couple of projects which had been planned a long before.
Now I am slowly adjusting to Ukrainian life style and I feel such a nostalgy for all the beautiful people I’ve met, my mentors, CBB coordinators, staff of Le Monty and Cultural Centre, genapperians (I’ve just coined a new word), volunteers from all around the world and my dear flat mates. This project has become a gift from heaven: I’ve grown much more than during my school years or years of work. I managed to overcome a lot of fears (for example, fear of being misunderstood), I discovered a new culture which I can call mine (I guess I have the right for that now). And the biggest lesson I’ve received, is to be open to anything new: at least now I am sure that volunteers run the world!
Halyna Safronieva, 28 y.o., Lviv-Genappe