Judith (Madrid)

Sharing your appartment with children and teenagers

I made my voluntary service in Madrid, Spain, where I worked with children and teenagers who cannot live with their families. The reasons are different, but very often it’s about violence, abuse and drugs. The project consists of three flats, each of it with 2 educators (one for the afternoons and one for the nights) and a volunteer who are taking care of the children and youths. Part from this „family“ is also two cookers. Furthermore, the Foundation „Alicia Koplowitz“ consists also of another house with 8 children outside of Madrid and a fourth flat for boys who lived in the project but as they are now over 18, they had to move.

The three flats with the volunteers are very close to each other in an area near Plaza de Castilla, in the north of Madrid. While at Plaza de Castilla there is a business area, in our district the inhabitants consist of “Spanish” people, migrants from Morocco or Latin America and gypsies.
In my flat there were first three children, a 16 year old girl called Margarita and the siblings Juana, 15 years old, and Jesús who was 13 years old. They were really nice and helpful, from the first day on and with them it was also easy to improve my Spanish because they helped me a lot and gave me the confidence to speak in Spanish. After the first weeks there came a new, 7 year old boy who from now on lived with us. This is not very unusually in such projects, it can happen every day as well as the visits from the youth welfare office, to look if the homes are conform and hygienically.
I had my own room which was small, but okay. Over the weekends the two other volunteers from Germany and the Czech Republic and I moved together in one flat which also means that the girl from Germany and I had to move every Friday until Sunday but you get used to it. Many children went to their families over the weekends and the other ones stayed with an educator in another flat.



Experiencing the city and working with children in difficult situations

The first weekends we visited the city together which has more than 3 million inhabitants and in September and the beginning of October it was still summer in Madrid. For nearly one week there was also the On-arrival training in the mountains near Madrid where we not only got information about the Youthpass etc. but also got to know many other volunteers from Madrid. To have this contacts can be very important as we were all in the same situation and could do things together because it´s also easier than to get in contact with local people, even though or maybe also because you are living in a big city. So in my first month of course everything was new, exciting and everyday was kind of different.

The next months I remember kind of hard, because there was not only getting a routine into the project, but also the new boy, who also had a very difficult family situation, had to learn that there are rules and that he has to respect the others. As I was the volunteer and the educator was kind of helpless and did not really know what to do, I spent much time with him. Somehow, with much patience and love, I managed not only to gain his respect but also his confidence in me. From that time on, he wanted to play and spend time with me the whole day. But of course there were also difficult or bad days when he was shouting through the whole street, insulting or doing quite the opposite of what you have said him. In this time, also the other kids in my flat where suffering a lot, because the new, small one got all the attention. So I tried to use all the moments which I could spent with the others to show them, how important they are to me. And I also learned to understand and reflect the behaviour of Salva, the 7 year-old boy, and one of the most important things, I learned that I should not take all the insults and bad words of him personal, I was able to be more calm or with less fear in difficult situations and therefore, I could also work with him, show him opportunities or other ways to resolve conflicts. And in the end I can say that especially in the last months of my voluntary service we two got a very good team.

A good help were not only my family and friends, but also the youths in my flat and the other volunteers who worked in the other houses, but could understand my situation. A problem for all three of us was that most of the educators where not really able to work with such children and their traumas. After some time we found out, that nearly all of them are nuns, and that they have no special education of pedagogy. This was impossible to say because the whole Foundation war very religious and they had their own, as we found, often not very realistic vision of the kids. But at least we were not alone with our thoughts and especially for the children and youths it is important to have volunteers who not only help but also understand them.

During Christmas I went home and got new energy for the last months. A highlight in this time was definitely the Mid-term Training in Mollina, near Málaga. Volunteers from all over Europe and even Asia and South America who were working in all parts of Spain, including also Ceuta and the Canary Islands came together. We were about 130 people in a youth centre with many houses, so the area of the centre looked like a small village. But the meeting was very good organized, so apart from the meals you did not really notice that we were so many people. And it was a great opportunity to get to know many different, motivated and friendly people.

A multiple learning experience

Of course we also noticed the crisis situation in Spain, like demonstrations, the strike of the garbage disposal in Madrid or police who ejected people of their houses. But I learned also that many Spanish people are very optimistic and it doesn´t matter how bad the situation is they try to enjoy their lives as good as they can.
In our free time, we went to the cinema or visited museums and spent some time with friends together. It was also a good opportunity to travel around Spain, for instance I went to Toledo, Bilbao, Valencia, Santiago de Compostela and La Coruna.


In the last month I wrote my Youthpass, the certificate of the European Voluntary Service, and tried to spend my time useful, we visited some of our favourite places in Madrid, including restaurants and shops, bought Spanish movies and self-made cookies from a unique store called „Afris Cookies“. Furthermore, also the children realized that soon I will be leaving and they showed me how important I am for them and gave me even more hugs than before. So I tried to enjoy the time with them as much as possible and that they are having fun between their stressful routine.

In the end I can say that I have learned a lot, about education, pedagogy and how to work with children with difficulties and traumas. I´ve also realized that working with children and teenagers means that you have to be open to new situations, patient and everything you do you have to do with much respect and love. Furthermore, I learned things for my personal live and I think the voluntary service offers many possibilities, because you are doing some social work, but you also get to know many new people, new cultures and it definitely broads your horizon.

Judith Umathum

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