Bettina from Cameroon was one of the first people to take part in the new South-North component of the weltwärts programme. As a volunteer with the Internationalen Bund Kassel, she is looking after children with learning difficulties. In the interview, we asked her about her experiences.
What is your daily routine like?
Bettina: For the most part, I supervise a boy at the August Fricke School. The work varies from day to day. On Tuesdays, for example, we always first of all get together in a morning circle to talk about the previous day. Then we all have breakfast together. After that, we go to the swimming pool. The child that I look after cannot swim and is a little afraid of water, which is why I assist him. We then go back to the school. Although in principle I am only looking after one child, I nevertheless also keep an eye on what the class as a whole is doing, and can thus also help others if needed.
How did you hear about weltwärts?
Bettina: When I was at university, there were weltwärts volunteers from Germany living next door for some time. That was a very interesting arrangement, and we are still friends as it happens. They had come to Cameroon to participate in development projects in my country and get to know our culture. And the idea that I could come to Germany to study something really appealed to me.
Can you remember having any special experiences in Germany?
Bettina: There have already been many beautiful moments, but unfortunately also times where I did not feel so good. This partly had to do with racism, as some people think that since you come from Africa you must be uneducated, or that you come here just because you need help. But I also experienced some very beautiful moments - in school, for example. My class teacher is wonderful and very nice. Most of the people there are very open. That kind of thing is encouraging and helps you to keep going in difficult moments. The teaching staff, how shall I put it, has become somewhat of a second family, or rather: simply very, very good friends. What I also especially like to do here is to go bicycling and experience the forests and nature.
There have already been many beautiful moments, but unfortunately also times where I did not feel so good.
What do you miss in Germany?
Bettina: Delicious, fried fish. I would love to eat some again, sometimes I even dream about it. I miss our natural, healthy and organic and simply delicious food. What I also miss is being able to easily and directly strike up a conversation with people on the street whom I don’t necessarily know very well. Simply asking the person next to me on the bus, for example: “Hey there, hello, how are you?” or even being addressed by passers-by myself.
What do people in Germany know about Cameroon?
Bettina: When I tell them I’m from Cameroon, they usually say “Ahh, a football country!” Most people don’t really know where exactly Cameroon is located, but somehow they associate something positive, a good feeling, with the country and want to know what there is to see, what it looks like there. So they're interested. I think it is normal for things like culture and way of life to seem different and strange at first glance when you go to a country so far away from your home. These differences are talked about a lot, perhaps too much. For I have also learned that we all have the same basic human needs. And what we all have in common in the end is our heart. That is what connects and then helps me overcome linguistic and cultural barriers, which of course also exist, and allows me to understand things in spite of all the differences.
What would you like to accomplish with your volunteer service?
Bettina: I think I've already been able to accomplish a few things. For example, the teacher I work with asked me if I could imagine staying until the end of the school year, even though my period of service actually ends in March. I was very happy about this request. And as for the boy who I am above all looking after in the end, other teachers also tell me that I have really been able to make a difference: they feel he has changed, become calmer, that he understands more and is cooperating more now. I certainly hope that he continues to develop like this. I can now also understand people a lot better although the German language was a bit difficult at first. And thanks to my work and the children, I have already become acquainted with many aspects of life here. I think that no matter where life takes me from here, especially professionally, I can greatly benefit from this one year. Especially the social aspect, the warmth people have shown me could end up helping me for the rest of my life.