We were truly moved when Ivan, a boy from Russia, gifted us each with a colorful handmade wristband. “Spasiba,” we thanked him with the little broken Russian we knew. However, what we said hardly mattered. We didn’t need words to perfectly understand each other.
A short while ago, we decided to assist with a social project under our employer Wayfair’s initiative Social Days. Our team of six people went to the industrial district past Spandau to spend a day with refugee children at adventure playground. We wanted to offer the kids some variety – they mostly spent their time with the shelter supervisor. We gave them the opportunity to leave the secluded housing and see more than four walls.
Natascha Tepass, the founder of the charitable organization VISIONEERS accompanied us that day. We were all very excited, but we didn’t know what to expect. Do the children speak German? Can we converse with them? Where do they come from? What are their stories? These were just some of the questions that troubled us. But our worries were completely unnecessary. Soon after the short introductions, we knew the children’s names, ages and home-countries. As everyone overcame the initial shyness, each Wayfair member took a kid by the hand, and just like that, we marched to the playground. We weren’t completely unprepared as we really wanted the kids to have a good time. We brought snacks, drinks and numerous games.
On the playground, the kids won us over in a flash. That meant quite eventful few hours of climbing, running, sliding, climbing, digging, painting, blowing bubbles, digging, and climbing. As a break, we managed to eat something, and then continued with badminton, table tennis, football, and more.
It was great to see the kids having a wonderful time. It was a lovely opportunity for us too – we fooled around and played. We were impressed by how well we all understood each other, even though we didn’t speak the same language. With hands, feet and interpretation skills, we overcame this small hurdle. Everyone was so different – we, the late-twenty-year-olds from Germany, and the children, ages 3-12, from Russia, Bosnia, Albania, and Syria. We understood each other so fast and spent a wonderful afternoon together.
We had to go back after a couple of hours that went by really fast. Back at the refugee shelter, Natascha showed us the accommodation, and we had the chance to meet the manager and ask our questions. The stories of the inhabitants left us open-mouthed. We were also surprised by how light-hearted the kids were.
On the way home, we were all quite beaten up and tired but also satisfied with our day and the experiences we had. Our goal was to make the children happy and that we managed. In the meantime, we had a wonderful day too and concluded that volunteering didn’t require much. All needed was time and initiative to meet people and contribute to something bigger. And sometimes to take someone by the hand and make the first step. It was the team of VISIONEERS which showed us that help could be simple. The event was only a kickoff for our team. We will continue participating in other social projects.
Visit the VISIONEERS website for services and different volunteering opportunities.