By Jovan Leshev
If you have done any sort of volunteering work in any capacity, inevitably you have been asked how or why you would be doing paid work without being paid.
It is never easy to explain why or how one decides to spend a year in a foreign country to serve as a volunteer. The positive experiences, the people I met, and the challenges I had to overcome while living and serving as an ESC volunteer in the Netherlands were more than enough reasons why I want to share my story.
When I was selected as a volunteer from the Rock Solid Foundation to serve in their social restaurant Aan Tafel I was beyond excited. It was one of my long-standing wishes to live abroad, and this was the perfect opportunity to do just that. Aan Tafel is a social restaurant in the small town of Lunteren run entirely by volunteers and staffed by people with disabilities. Having worked in hospitality for a number of years, I thought this would be one of the easiest challenges I have faced, but the reality proved different. I had never shared working space with people with special needs and although challenging my time there taught me patience, compassion, and solidarity – qualities that every human being should possess if we want to live in a better world.
My time in Lunteren and in Aan Tafel resulted in opportunities to learn, improve myself, and develop skills that I never thought I needed. In addition, great opportunities to meet, work alongside, and nurture relationships with people from all over the world, different age groups and cultural backgrounds, while helping me understand how astonishingly similar we all are when it comes to our core values.
My long-term volunteering was not just limited to restaurant work. Rock Solid Foundation provided me and my fellow volunteers with opportunities to do meaningful volunteer work on a number of other projects, such as collecting food and clothes for people in need and organizing creative workshops for the elderly and people with disabilities. Along the way, I participated in various other activities they had going on in which we met and shared experiences with other volunteers in the Netherlands resulting in a bigger network of people and creating even more friendships along the way.
It was not just working and learning, however. During the one year I spent as a volunteer, I got to immerse myself in a culture entirely different from my own, travel, learn a new language and visit places I had never seen before. I even got a chance to join a local choir and create even more experiences that are positive for me. So, yeah. If any youth is looking for a chance to do something meaningful and create some wonderful new experiences while living abroad and meeting people from all over the world, this is the perfect opportunity for you. Do not hesitate to volunteer, whether it is your time, your knowledge, or sometimes just your positive attitude. In the social restaurant Aan Tafel in Lunteren there is a quote hanging on the dining room wall: “When you have more than you need – build a bigger table, not a higher fence.