By Martina Camilleri
As cliché as it may sound, finding solutions together is possible and still counts. My background is not in social work as such – I’ve been involved in and studying the arts and culture for most of my educational and professional life, but around two years ago a good friend and my now coordinator at YMCA introduced me to the organisation. I’ll briefly dissect this three-word phrase as I share my experiences with YMCA since then.
In writing this short piece, I had to put quite some thought into how I could convince people who have not ever volunteered an hour in their life, that they should. I concluded that I cannot manage to do this. I also cannot convince you that when volunteering, you re-discover yourself since it is not a magical portal to your inner self. What I can do is vouch for the experience, and motivate those who have been considering it.
I have to honestly admit – with the risk of being looked down on, that there are times when I say to myself, ‘Tina, why are you doing this?’ This question especially crops up when I am financially strapped, when I am at the peak of time restraints, when the future seems blurry – and volunteering seems to solve none of these factors. What it does do is give perspective on them.
Volunteering at a place like YMCA has had me meet with diverse realities, ones which I would have otherwise stayed unaware of. Undoubtedly this has given me a profound perspective and taught me volumes of lessons – both through the implementation of projects at YMCA, which has been the welcoming incubation centre for a number of my own and other volunteers’ projects for years, as well as through the people the projects have been implemented with.
Many know YMCA solely for its active and much appreciated residential shelter ‘Dar Niki Cassar’ which constantly strives to get people back on their feet during a rough patch. One of the other very active initiatives is the Youth Empowerment Project. This project is unique in the way it exploits the different levels of the organisational structure and motivates youth towards applying or better yet finding their skills while implementing projects they have at heart.
It’s not the easiest thing to find your place in the world, and again volunteering isn’t a sure way about this. This might not even be a struggle for everyone, but I may confidently say that for those who have a tough time of it or know anyone who does, volunteering may be a solid solution. Frankly, one doesn’t have to be doing soul searching to end up in volunteering, but a good dose of reason is required to keep yourself active.
It might be a solution to use up free time, for some, a form of redemption. Maybe it solves loneliness. Perhaps there’s a subject you eagerly want to know more of and eureka – volunteering for an organisation provides you with sources of information. Then there is the pure intention of helping others and there will surely be an organisation eager to help you solve that. With YMCA, it is very much about there being something for everyone. With a focus on finding solutions in a sustainable, productive way, volunteers may come up with projects they want to see become a reality, and work towards doing so.
What is the point?
Well, when we create something from scratch and bond with the idea, we evolve. It strengthens the character as we face the challenges and the achievements gained from the experience. Going through this process – especially when the project is aimed towards a more just society, no matter how indirectly, is in itself striving towards that more just society. For myself, planning and carrying out workshops based on non-formal learning has been the best source of informal learning. With music and art being very dear to me – workshops with these topics as their backbone have given me insight on working with a vast array of participants, of finding participants in the first place – they have given me the opportunity to face issues I will undoubtedly face as I go along in my career. Everyone starts off from somewhere, after all. YMCA was a superb space to do so.
During my studies in the arts, I have constantly been attracted to and thrilled by the concept of co-creation. The collaborative approach that goes into a project from its very start means that the result – be it a workshop, functional, artistic product or the bettering of an organisation as a whole will be accomplished as well as enjoyed by those who will utilise it in the long run. Luckily, at YMCA such a method is encouraged. The characters involved are so diverse that the amount of growth which is a result of this process is at a constant rise – and it is this learning from each other that truly leads to a successful project.
‘What About..?’, a critical thinking, discussion workshop with 12 to 16 year olds, and ‘Soundlabs – Rhythm of Life’ a series of sound and visual exploration workshops with participants from Aġenzija Sapport, are two principal examples. Although going with a plan and structure – this is solely there to juice out as much involvement and interaction from the participants as possible. The results, reached together always remain unique to the group that went through the process. This has taught me things I would never get through books or years of study – that generally we cannot live in a ‘one size fits all’ society as it simply doesn’t, and taking the time to amend and tweak to perfect for those involved will lead to an improved quality of life.
It does take a bit more time, and it means that we have to shrug off presumptions when going into a situation with new people – no matter where they’re from or how they got here, but when there is the intention of finding solutions together – there is a high chance you would not have thought of it alone.