5 things our volunteers taught us about inclusion

by volpower
5 years ago

Included, accepted, appreciated. Excluded, rejected, lonely.

Blog post by Francesca Lori, APIS Institute

Every day we identify with one or the other set of feelings, if not both. Such feelings are way too familiar to us and influence the way we perceive our lives as members of the communities we live in. But what are the factors that contribute to us feeling in one or either way?

The Volpower project explores how volunteering in artistic, cultural or sport activities impacts the integration and empowerment of young third-country nationals and Europeans. In the last few weeks Erasmus University Rotterdam (the Netherlands), EURAC research (Italy), APIS Institute (Slovenia) and SOS Malta (Malta) have been conducting focus groups among selected volunteers in each of these countries. Such focus groups constitute one of the first steps in the co-designing approach, aimed at developing innovative inclusive approaches to volunteering in the field of Creative Arts and Culture.

Last week at the APIS Institute, the partner organisation for Volpower in Slovenia, we asked our volunteers what comes to their mind when they hear the term “inclusion”. As a result, we learned quite a few lessons about this concept and its underlying factors.

1. Language Matters

When it comes to living in another country, the knowledge of the local language is crucial. According to our volunteer Serena, even speaking a few words can help you win the hearts of the locals. To Neva, knowing the language is absolutely fundamental to understand the culture it is related to. That’s why volunteering organisations set up dedicated language activities, like the course of Slovene language organized by Slovene Philanthropy.

While you learn Slovene – which might reveal to be quite a challenge – resorting to vehicular languages can make things easier. As in RogLab, where the deployment of English favors the participation of foreign volunteers in daily activities. 

And if you’re lucky enough, you might even get to speak your own language with people sharing your mother tongue or during Language Exchanges. One example is offered by Tandem, an initiative by the social enterprise Skuhna, which consists of an informal course where participants have the chance to learn different languages from one another. 

2. Eat & Drink!

It is a fact that sharing food and drinks is a universal socializing ritual. Meeting and connecting with people is much more enjoyable if it happens during a meal. And the more diverse the offer, the better! 

That’s why our volunteer Markos, together with his colleagues at Kantina MSUM, decided to bring people together to enjoy different culinary experiences:

  • the Eritrean coffee ceremony;
  • thematic dinners during which different countries of the world are represented.

Representing different cuisines of the world, and of the so-called Global South, in particular, is the main pillar of Skuhna’s concept; the restaurant offers different country menus every day of the week.

3. Sport Is a Universal Language

It turns out that our volunteers in Creative Arts and Culture are very sporty, as well! During the focus group, Ibrahim and Markos recognized the power of sports to bring people together. Sports, they believe, can overcome language barriers by using movement as an immediate and effective communication tool. 

Also, carrying out some sports activities can prevent a meeting from getting boring. That is why Cirkokrog, the Slovene association using circus as a medium to work with different people, regularly add some fun to their meetings by resorting to sports activities. And, to be true, that’s also what we did during the International Volunteer Event in Zagreb, alternating our social media sessions with some games.

Photo by Asia de Lorenzi

Sports play an even bigger role in Slovenia, where people are very much dedicated to their practice and engage in tournaments and competitions. As observed by Sein, taking part in sports competitions can offer an excuse to get in touch with people sharing your same passion and interests and, thus, make new friends.

4. Love Helps

Being in a relationship with a local can be a very relevant factor in making you feel more included in a certain place. As our volunteers Neva and Sein explained, having a Slovene partner can help you extend your social network while offering you precious support. Such a person will also provide you with an inside view to help you interpret and understand the new reality you are living in.

In general, being surrounded by people you can rely on and ask for help is recognized to be vital by our volunteers; such a support system being often identified within the very organisations they volunteer for.

5. Diversity Is Richness

Inclusion is not a uni-directional process and, despite being often interpreted as the adaptation of newcomers to the pre-existing structure, it goes the other way as well. 

The knowledge, understanding, and recognition of different realities, cultures and mindsets is indeed an integral part of an inclusive society, Markos believes. Skuhna, Kantina MSUM, Slovene Philanthropy, and Studio XXV work hard to present cuisines, stories, music genres, and dances from different countries. 

The result is a rainbow of different colors: people coming from diverse backgrounds, presenting several perspectives and dancing to varied rhythms, all complementing each other.

Photo by Asia de Lorenzi

Do you want to learn more about the Volpower project, know our volunteers?! Visit our website, follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Volpower Project Youtube Channel!

Original hero image by Michael Frattaroli on Unsplash