Pamela Alina Morales Conde has completed her volunteer service at the Eltern-Kind-Zentrum (Parent-Child Centre) in Stuttgart through the Bolivian Children’s Charity. She learned a lot from her work with the children. She learned to look at the world through the eyes of the children and developed solid social skills. She proudly applies her new skills to her job as well as her volunteer work.
Why did you decide to do volunteer service in Germany?
I had the opportunity to attend a German high school in Bolivia. I studied the basics of the language there and learned a few things about Germany. I remember vividly how at 13 I browsed through the pages of my German textbook and looked at colourful characters named Timo, a freckled boy, and Tanja, a girl on a skateboard. When I read about their adventures in various parts of a typical German city, I sighed and wondered: “Wow. Wouldn’t it be cool to have friends called Timo and Tanja?”
In 2018, I read in the news that Germany produced more electricity from renewable energy sources than it did from coal in the first half of the year. Having completed my B.A. in environmental technology, I felt I could learn a lot in Germany. This is why I applied for a weltwärts volunteer service at the Bolivian Children’s Charity.
What were your reasons for applying for this particular project?
The project that really intrigued me was the Parent-Child Centre in Stuttgart. When I looked at the website, I was surprised that there was a place where parents and children could get together. I didn’t know of any such centres in my country, and maternity leave times are much shorter than they are here. Parents can’t spend as much time with their children.
I imagined how I would talk to the parents in the hall about how their children were doing and how I would meet with mothers who were drinking coffee while their children attended a theatre class. It was simply magical when I found that this part of my dream came true. I got to know mothers and fathers with very different stories. Some of them enjoyed their time as parents to the maximum. They organised yoga classes for pregnant mothers or attended the summer concerts at the Centre; they came in the morning for the children’s singing and danced with the children in the afternoon.
There were also more difficult moments: I met parents who were going through a divorce, who couldn’t find work, didn’t understand the language or whose child was ill. Every father, every mother, every boy and every girl I met was unique, and I’ll never forget their stories and all that they taught me.
I’ll never forget their stories and all that they taught me.
What was your job at the Parent-Child Centre?
The Centre has a cafeteria, a kitchen, the miniature kindergarten and the “Open Child Care” section. My boss told me immediately when I arrived that I’d be deployed in Open Child Care.
I like the work in childcare so much!
There were children from under a year old to 7-year-olds. Some children came regularly, others attended occasionally. My task consisted of opening the room, welcoming the children who arrived first, entering their name on the arrival list and getting information from their parents, if needed. I took care of the kids, changed diapers, brought them to the toilet, helped them with meals, played with them and read books to them.
I loved being there, taking care of the kids and making them laugh. Learning new words and new games was fun. Organising the children’s singing group on two mornings a week was my high point because I loved singing in German with the children.
My highpoint of the week was the children’s singing group
Is there anything you would have done differently?
Looking back, I would make it clear at the onset to colleagues and parents at the Centre that I’m a volunteer and not a kindergarten teacher. This would have spared me from taking on too much work and getting pretty tired on some days. It would have helped me to say “No” every once in a while, to be strong and say: I can’t right now, I’m busy with this child or: I don’t know how, please do it yourself.
It can be challenging to be away from your homeland and family for so long. How did you deal with homesickness?
I think you never stop missing your homeland and your family, no matter how well integrated you are. In the courses held by the Bolivian Children’s Charity, a psychologist told us that what we felt was normal and that there were many ways of coping with these feelings. In my case, both the mentoring and the monthly get-togethers with other volunteers helped me quite a lot. It helped me to describe my development in the reports.
During the Christmas season or when you’re sick or find certain rules in the host family or at work pretty strict, you are most vulnerable. What helped me was to call home and listen to cheerful Bolivian and Latin American music on the way to the train station. I remember how, on grey winter days, I listened to Cumbia with headphones; I imagined my entire reality in this rhythm. On other days I played children’s music and danced with the kids.
The monthly get-togethers with the other volunteers helped me.
Is there a funny or exciting anecdote from your volunteer service that you’d like to share with us?
There were definitely lots of laughs with my colleagues at the Open Child Care Centre. It was always funny to hear the jokes the children told. There was a little boy, for instance, who asked each time we played a board game: “May I win?”
How would you describe the “weltwärts” programme in just one word?
What impact did the volunteer service have on you?
Over the course of my volunteer year, I acquired quite a few social skills. The work at the Parent-Child Centre helped develop my sensitivity. My awareness of the fact that there are parents behind every child who have good and bad times. And I learned a great deal from the children. They taught me to see things in a simpler way, to be curious and friendly. I learned to bend down and see the world at their level, through their eyes. At this height, everything looks larger, and we adults are the creatures they trust the most. This is the feeling guiding me today. I want to be the adult a child can trust.
I learned to bend down and see the world at their level, through their eyes.
Now that I’m about to graduate from the University of Stuttgart in Environmental Engineering, I can proudly make use of these skills. I’m on the Board of the Bolivian Children’s Charity, where I take care of the affairs of the child centres we have in Bolivia. I also worked as an assistant at the University Diversity Office. Soon I’ll begin an internship at a company that deals with environmental projects in Latin America. All the things I learned this year provided me with skills that will differentiate me from others.
Do you have any advice for other South-North volunteers?
Unlike the volunteers from Germany, many of the volunteers from the Global South already have a B.A. My worry is that the knowledge of these professionals is sometimes not used due to the language barrier. So this is my piece of advice: Learn German! Prepare, try to learn the language, take advantage of the courses that the volunteer German teachers are holding. Learn at night and try to talk to the children. They’re the best teachers. If you speak the language, you can arrange for more projects of your own.
And it’s essential for you to take care of yourself. You can only be helpful when things go well with you.
It’s essential for you to take care of yourself.
Don’t forget to show gratitude and a sense of responsibility at work and at home. It is true that we come as volunteers, but the projects rely on our support. Be grateful because, just like at home, there are many people who unselfishly open up doors. Some habits in the families differ from ours, but everything can be resolved by open communication, mutual respect and a bit of humility.