Before I started my volunteer service, I took part in some business start-up programmes in Peru that were quite popular at the time. On these programmes I learned how important economic growth and the free market as well as foreign investment are for the development of a country and the well-being of its people. I watched the news on television about mining conflicts in Peru and I was convinced that the protesters’ demands were hiding political interests that actually were more hostile to progress. Against this background, I applied to Color Esperanza and the Archdiocese of Freiburg to work as a volunteer in Germany, a “developed” country, for one year.
New political experiences...
I did not do my volunteer service with either of these two organisations however. Instead, my place of assignment was with the One World Forum Freiburg, a network of organisations that promote development that is sustainable and fair on a global scale. During my very first week of working I took part in a Degrowth conference in Leipzig. This event discussed the effects of economic growth on society and the environment. However, instead of seeking to address problems such as lack of resources, pollution and poverty, the conference suggested questioning the dogma of economic growth in order to avoid these problems even arising – and to do so from an anti-capitalist standpoint.
I had a number of difficulties to really find my place in this setting during the initial months. I took part in demos, campaigns and fairs. Everyone always made it clear that if I didn’t agree with anything, I didn’t have to get involved. During these activities I also met “passionate opponents of the system” who enjoyed being rebellious. In Peru the police would have treated many of these groups very differently – typically they would be arrested, investigated and purposely linked to terrorist groups that are allegedly seeking to destabilise the country. This was where I would be spending the rest of the year...
I had to go abroad before I discovered that many of indigenous people are being marginalised by the oil industry, that mining projects and large companies are putting pressure on the state.
… lead to gaining new perspectives.
At first, Freiburg seemed like a little green island with people riding about on bikes, operating solar plants buying organic and fair-trade products, eating salad and attempting to save the world. As time went by it of course became clear to me that Freiburg can’t be compared to all of Germany – it’s just the part of Germany that I got to know.
And in return, I also learned a lot about Peru: I had to go abroad before I discovered that many of indigenous people are being marginalised by the oil industry, that mining projects and large companies are putting pressure on the state. For example, at that time a video was released which used false pretences to portray protesting farmers as criminals. There was no discussion of such motives in my corner of Peru. This also led me to change my perspective: in a city where the Left was a significant political player, I saw that left-wingers are not terrorists.
Since returning, I have become very involved in human rights campaigns and I actively practise responsible consumerism, or at least I try to do so.
Start with yourself.
At first, Freiburg seemed like a little green island with people riding about on bikes, operating A year living and working with Claudia, Barbara, Thomas, Dagmar and Susann and all my colleagues showed me that it is important to live according to my own convictions – and that my actions in one country can have an impact on people in another country. Above all, though, it showed me that making changes can start with myself and in my immediate surroundings.
Since returning, I have become very involved in human rights campaigns and I actively practise responsible consumerism, or at least I try to do so. We also talked to other returning volunteers and decided together to get more involved in the implementation of the South-North component of the weltwärts programme. For example, we set up the returnees association Yanapachikun Immer (Quechua and German construct; in English: Always help). We focus our attention on environmental protection and have plenty more ideas and projects that we would like to pursue.