Stepping out of her comfort zone


Place of assignment: Gisenyi, Rwanda

Organisation: Friends of Rwanda

Leonie Husar completed her volunteer service from December 2020 to December 2021 at the Love and Care project in Gisenyi, Rwanda. This project helps mothers and their children with disabilities or impairments to have greater involvement in society. Leonie explains how she decided to go to Rwanda as a weltwärts volunteer. She talks about the things she experienced there and her plans for the future.

Where and when did you take part in your volunteer service? How did you come up with the idea of completing a volunteer service?

Four other volunteers and I had the opportunity to complete my weltwärts volunteer service in Gisenyi, Rwanda, between December 2020 and December 2021. My sending organisation, the Friends of Ruanda e.V., is based near me in Bad Boll. I was interested because a friend of mine had also volunteered there the previous year.

Some women from the project are sitting together in a circle. One woman is standing and appears to be explaining something. The other women are looking attentively at her. Leonie and her fellow volunteers are sitting and listening to the woman.
Mothers also meet for seminars at the Love and Care project. They use these to exchange ideas on the topic of menstruation.

Why did you decide to take part in a volunteer service?

I was in a similar position to most other school leavers when I’d completed my Abitur in summer 2020. I had certainly addressed questions about my future before then, but the time had suddenly come when I had to make decisions. The volunteer service was a brilliant opportunity for me to gain some insights into social work as a career, and to see exactly which direction I want to take. On top of that, my curiosity and my desire to see more of the world, to meet new people, and to gain an insight into and learn from another culture with a different language played a big part. I was also motivated by stepping out my comfort zone and becoming more independent.

I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and become more independent.

What should be considered before submitting an application?

It’s important to think about the country in which you intend to take part in voluntary service, or whether you can even imagine being away from home for a longer period of time. I also think it’s vital to prepare for an assignment in an unfamiliar country (by engaging with the history of the country, for example, attending preparatory seminars, and so on).

What was your family’s reaction when they heard you were going to Rwanda for your volunteer service?

My family have always been very supportive of my decision to take part in a volunteer service, which I still really appreciate. My older sister previously spent time as a volunteer in Bosnia and had very positive experiences there, so their attitude towards my voluntary service was also good. I should however add that my parents in particular were a bit concerned that I chose Rwanda as my country of assignment. They were of course worried about what I’d do if I didn’t feel well or if something went wrong when I was so far from home. They couldn't just drop by at short notice to support me. Nevertheless, they trusted me to spend a year in a country that wasn’t familiar to me and were convinced that a volunteer service would be a great opportunity for me.

A woman from the project and Leonie are both holding a menstrual cup. They are carefully examining the cup and appear to be attempting to fold it.
Deutsche Aidshilfe provides menstrual cups and other hygiene products for the menstruation seminar.

What are the financial conditions for a weltwärts volunteer service?

The costs incurred for travel, insurances, preliminary medical examinations, and local rental costs are all covered by weltwärts. We’re also given monthly pocket money which is sufficient for most things. Preparatory seminars are financed at the start of our volunteer service, as are seminars after our return.

What did you expect from your weltwärts year before you left?

The preparatory seminars enabled us to spend a lot of time with former volunteers, so these conversations and photos gave us a good idea of what to expect. They covered the neighbours that awaited us, the music that people listen to there, our work colleagues, and the local projects. I had mixed feelings of anticipation and uncertainty.

These conversations and photos gave us a good idea of what to expect.

How were your first two weeks?

My initial time in Rwanda was really exciting. Everything was new and unusual, but totally positive. At first I lived in a shared apartment and from the very start I got on really well with my fellow volunteers, which was very important to me. I remember the first week, when every day we visited one of the projects and met some of the people who supported us more or less throughout the year. Despite the euphoria we all felt, I was of course also confronted with situations where I (as a privileged white person) wasn’t sure if my behaviour was correct or incorrect.

Did you find it easy to make contact with the locals?

Yes. Beforehand, I was actually a bit concerned about the language barrier. There were challenges of course, but mostly our communication worked well. I found it easy to form friendships and connect with my work colleagues, since most people there were truly open and friendly.

The women are huddled together in a tight circle. We can only see their backs. They all appear to be holding something in the middle of the circle.
The women in the project were very open, receptive and friendly to Leonie.

Do you think you’ll benefit in the future from having worked as a volunteer?

Yes, I really do think that I will. The fact that I had to step out of my comfort zone so often this year means that I basically take a more open approach to new and unfamiliar situations.

I now take a more open approach to new and unfamiliar situations.

What were the first things you did once you’d arrived back in Germany?

I’ve been back in Germany for around three months now and am currently jobbing. I’m actually going back to Rwanda for a while at the end of next month because I liked it so much. The prevailing COVID situation during my volunteer service meant that we couldn’t travel to neighbouring countries, which is something I’d like to catch up on this time. I’ll also pay a visit to the projects I was working on there, and meet up again with some friends. My plan after that is to start social studies in the coming winter semester.