In March 2020, you had your high school diploma in your pocket – instead of starting an apprenticeship or studying right away, you decided to do volunteer service abroad. why?
This has always been clear to me. During the student exchange, I noticed that cultural exchange gives me a lot. It is also a good way to learn languages and become more independent. Moreover, I do not yet know what I want to study. Volunteering gives me time to find out.
How did you choose the site?
I made it based on on-site projects – I wanted to service with weltwärts and looked at potential assignments in Latin America and Africa. When I read about the training center in Benin, I knew I wanted to go there. Together with Kinderhilfe Westafrika, she has found a relatively small mission organization and maintains close contact with its volunteers. And that was important to me.
What are your current duties?
Literacy. I give private lessons in mathematics, physical education and French to 15 girls and women in a training center for weavers. Five of them can’t read yet, and we’re working on it. I’m also planning a health project with other volunteers, supposed to be about my period, contraception and pregnancy.
You have no educational training. Do you feel that you can still do a good job?
It was difficult at first. However, I made my way back then. I agree with the criticism that even in the countries of the Global South there is a need for more skilled workers than school leavers who have not received training.
Other volunteers also have negative experiences, feel bored or feel taken advantage of. Do you know this?
At first I felt exhausted. I was pretty much thrown into the deep end. They said: Here is the group, teach them. I had to develop my confidence and my style first. Also, my knowledge of French was not very good at first, which was also a challenge at first. Around Christmas, there was a lot to do in the textile mill and the apprentices did not have time for lessons. I had nothing to do there for about two months, it was so boring. I was already asking myself: What is the point of my being here? During this time I also learned how to weave.
Weaving how does it work?
Weaving consists of three steps: opening the threads, attaching the threads to the loom and then the actual weaving. I started with the lighter work and then worked my way up. It gave me a lot: I was able to immerse myself more in the culture and now I have a feeling that I understand women better.
What did you learn about the culture of the host country?
I’m an atheist, but I love going to church here. Religion and spirituality have a completely different meaning here. The service is also different from that in Germany. Here people gather, sing and dance for three hours. The cuisine is also different: corn porridge, for example, is often eaten here, which is prepared in a large cauldron over an open fire. It was also a challenge for me to carry such heavy loads on my head. I recently achieved a personal goal: to carry the 25 liter Bidoon to my host family’s home. After that I could no longer move my arm.
Being able to do voluntary service in Benin costs money. The federal government pays a portion, you have to raise 3000 euros yourself through donations. The money you pay can also finance a job.
Money is also taken on hand so that a cultural exchange can take place, so that one has an impression of what it is like on site. Through service one realizes once again that we all live in one world and we have to solve global problems. In addition, many volunteers are still involved in development policy after their service. In the end, I must say: Selfish impulses sometimes play a role, and service helps me in my personal development.
“If white people want to solve Africa’s problems, they have to start at home,” Rothomio Gabriel, director of social media at No White Saviors, says in an interview with ZEIT. Is there anything to that?
Personally, I have never aspired to solve Africa’s problems, nor have I ever seen myself as an assistant. I believe the service helps educate and raise awareness among young people and this can also be considered as ‘starting at home’. I can understand criticism of such voluntary services in general. Postcolonial patterns of thinking are also reproduced. I mean, you didn’t ask for volunteer boys. But Wiltorts also responds to the criticism: in addition to the “North-South Project” there is also the “South-North Project”. Volunteers from Benin can also provide the service in Germany.
Many volunteers also find their dream job through their service. You too?
No, unfortunately not. I would like to start studying in winter and I am currently applying for different courses. Since I’m still so far away and my head is somewhere else, it’s not easy to deal with.
To the point: volunteer service
Cultural exchange, doing something for others, learning languages, finding guidance, leaving their comfort zone—there are many reasons young adults decide to do volunteer service after they graduate from school. For Selma Weizmann, 20, it was clear: After graduating from high school in March 2020 in Kaiserslautern, she was going to Benin, West Africa, for a year. There is a wide range of voluntary services for school graduates: there are eight different services funded by the state. The most famous of these are probably the Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) and the Federal Voluntary Service. Selma Wiesemann chose “weltwärts”, the development policy service of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Through the program, volunteers between the ages of 18 and 28 travel to countries in the Global South for a period of six to 24 months. The work that is performed on site depends on the sending organization and the site to which you are applying. Salma decided on a project run by Aid Children West Africa that teaches weavers training in math, French and sports. The cost of the service is about 12,000 euros with accommodation, transportation, food and care for the volunteers. Three-quarters of the costs will be borne by the federal government, and the remaining €3,000 will be collected by volunteers as donations. Selma Weizmann and her friend bake themed cakes and sell them in the neighbourhood, or play the flute in the pedestrian zone of Kaiserslautern. While working, she writes a monthly newsletter for neighbors and relatives who support her. Anyone wishing to donate their work can do so at Kinderhilfe Westafrika eV; Sparkasse JERA JES IBAN No.: DE03 8305 0000 0000 6521 64; BIC Code: HELADEF1GER; Purpose: Selma / Webzentrum, donor name and address