First Impressions of a Volunteer

We only can be present, not more and not less

On Sunday we arrived after 90 minutes of travelling by bus from the airport Catania in Ragusa. We met Katalina from Croatia and Pino from Luxemburg, they both left Ragusa on the day of our arrival In Italy there are many organizations, which work for refugees. CLC Italy has an agreement with an organization of the Catholic Church “Fondazione San Giovanni Battista” stating that six volunteers work for free for three weeks there during six months. Now in November we are the volunteers; our group consists of seven persons from Switzerland, Italy, France, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Germany. On Monday we visited two of the three centers, on Wednesday the third one.

The volunteers are introduced by the manager oft he refugee center

The volunteers are introduced by the manager oft he refugee center

Afterwards we decided, who will work in which center. Two women of us wnet to a center with nine women and three children, three other women will drive 30 minutes every day by car to a center outside the city where 40 men from Nigeria and Bangladesh live. I was the only man of the volunteers and so I went to the center in middle of the city, where 30 men of Nigeria and Gambia live; the operators of this center wished to have a man in their center and I will work there with Andreja from Slovenia.

Immediately I recognized that the refugees in these centers are named “guests” and I asked myself, why we in Germany have many names for the refugees, but we never call them guests and I feel that the following text of the Jewish Talmud fits to that:

pay attention to your feelings, they will become words.
pay attention to your words, because they will become doings.
pay attention to your doings, they will become habits.
pay attention to your habits, they will form your personality.
pay attention to your personality, it will determine your life.

In Italy there are two levels of housing: at the beginning the refugees are living in CAS centers, afterwards they live in SPRAR centers, where more integration is possible. We were working in SPRAR centers with some operators together, but most of them are not working the full day. The economic situation in Sicily is difficult and the operators of our center knew, that their center would be closed in December and then they probably won’t have a regular job. Also the guests knew, that the center will be closed and they probably won’t receive the documents. Therefore the mood of the refugees in this center “Carducci” was more depressed and the mood of the operators were more desolate. In this situation it was very difficult to present new ideas, because all would last only for a few weeks. Therefore Andreja and me decided to offer times of encounter , i.e. a workshop “baking bread”, one hour “table games” or a creative workshop “creating post cards”. In the first week we could join a soccer match between the teams of the two men centers. Naturally every team wanted to win and they played dedicated.

soccer match between the two teams of the men centers

soccer match between the two teams of the men centers

All guests have a health insurance card; at that I was really surprised, because in my country, Baden-Württemberg, we are discussing this for a long time, but it is not realized yet. The lunch is supplied in a canteen and the volunteers share this meal also.


I had conversations with men from Gambia and from Nigeria. All of them talk very positive about Germany, but they had many wrong ideas and messages how the life is in Germany. There are a lot of stories and often I did not know if I should only shake my head or have to adjust it. In most cases I do both and only the sequence is changing. I was really touched by a sentence I heard several times: “I feel lazy, but I am not lazy” from men who would like to work, but they are not allowed to work. Later I heard that some other guys work nevertheless.

On Sunday there was be a feast in the catholic parish: some people prepared an Italian lunch and the Nigerian men prepared their speacial meal. We were invited to go and I was glad to be there.

In this first week I learned that we will not reach the big goals, but we can be present in little moments. We can have a short time of talking or laughing together and forget the hopeless situation for some minutes. We only can be present, not more and not less.