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Portrait of the month : Mélodie, volunteer, has ended her mission (Oct. 2018)

We meet Mélodie, who wrote the newsletter until now…

For my last monthly experience as “writer” of the Newsletter, I am doing my self portrait! Next month, I will join the readers side… but before, let us talk about my year as a volunteer in civic service. Happy reading!

Which path led me to do a civic service at Emmaus Iași?

I am  24, I did a degree in project management and development. I knew Emmaus when I did an internship in the community of Lyon, my birth city in France, two years ago. I liked so much the place that I stayed as a volunteer then. Later, in January 2017, I went to Brașov, in Romania, to do an internship to end my studies, in a romanian association. At the end of the internship, I realized two things: I wanted to stay in Romania to better know the country, and I wanted to work again with Emmaus. I have been lucky, because Emmaus also exists in Romania! So I paid a visit to the community of Iași. I met Gelu who told me that they were searching for volunteers in civic service. This is how my romanian adventure started again…

What were my missions in the Foundation?

At the beginning, I have been recruited to develop the relationships with the partners of the community, and to develop communications. It has been my main mission: to write the Newsletter each month, to keep in touch with the sponsors and keep them informed about our actions, to manage the Facebook page, to establish new local partnerships, to manage the partnership with the students of Iași, to implement presentations about Emmaus in the universities, to search for new volunteers, to keep in touch with them… But in the Foundation, there are plenty of things to do and we are a small team, so everybody does a lot of different things, eventually. I give a hand in the shop when needed, I organized our “library space”, for instance. The former volunteer, Clémentine, often offered to go to some cultural activities with the companions, this project sounded very interesting to me, so I carried on with it. I also participated to the local events, like the festivals and the international francophone colloquium, and to the regional events, like the Collectives Romania.

Which issues concerning communication have I dealt with? How the Newsletter could evolve according to me?

Given that I worked a short time as communications manager during my internship in Emmaus Lyon, I was quite confident about my mission in Iași, when I arrived. Even if I did not study this area, I thought at least I was able to manage the work concerning the social medias, how to give people interest, etc. However it is more complicated when you are in another country! On Facebook above all, people don’t react to the same means of communication. Some methods I used, which work well in France, didn’t work the same here. I had to adapt. For example, the customers who often come to the shop aren’t young anymore, whereas those who follow us on Facebook are much younger : how to do to communicate with both of them? There is a whole context that you have to analyse. This is the same to talk about Emmaus, in Romania: it is much less famous than in France, and we often observe some suspicion from some people who don’t know well or don’t know Emmaus at all. A foundation which owns a shop? That is shady. So we have to be careful when we talk about our action, we have to insist on telling that we don’t have any governmental help, that the companions don’t work to make Emmaus richer, but for themselves, for the community. It is important to be transparent, I think. In order to learn how to behave in this case, you have to understand how the romanian society works, to search about the history of the country, to understand some social rules. If you don’t do this, you might not be understood the way you wanted to.

Concerning the Newsletter, it is a project full of possibilities. I talked with the team, and we found a lot of good ideas. For example, we reflected on the role of the Newsletter: until now, the general tone was quite light, the aim was to inform the readers about our actuality. What if the aim was also to communicate about our current issues, to give something to think about together? Perhaps our readers, who generally are part of the Emmaus network, deal with the same issues. The Newsletter could then be a starting point to lead discussions, exchanges of experience. It would mean to go further that what was imagined at the beginning, keeping the link with the partners and people who are interested in knowing what we do. Those people might become subjects, and no just readers anymore. I look forward to see how the Newsletter will evolve.

Which projects did I prefer to implement? What was harder?

In the shop, I loved to see and participate to the evolution of the book-selling. When I arrived, in November 2017, there were only a few books, mostly in French, put on a single shelf. One day, we received a huge books donation and it has been put in a larger space, in beautiful pieces of furniture. I love reading, so I was very happy to sort the books, to arrange them trying to highlight them. It is a calmer space than the rest of the shop, it is set back, and relaxing. Well, even if you have to arrange it very often…

Through I stayed in this space, with my books boxes and my interminable piles, the customers started to talk to me, to ask me some questions, even to ask for advice, sometimes; it is nice to form a bond through reading. Even the companions, who are not very interesting in reading in general, sometimes they came to talk, they were curious to see what I was doing. Sometimes they skimmed through a book or two, there were special moments, I remember it.

Of course, I loved working on the Newsletter. When I arrived, there was none, so I was very free to create its shape, the sections titles, to add my personal style. It is interesting because for the content, it is a team work actually, because we speak between volunteers, also with Gelu, and we do the list of what happened during the month. So you have to take some distance, and you are up on everything, even on the vegetables issues in Popești! Maureen, Leïla and Dana helped me a lot for the translation in English and in Romanian. As well as Iustina, the Foundation treasurer, who corrects the Newsletter in Romanian each month, with great efficacity. Above all I liked to write the column “The portrait of the month” which is a kind of interview each month, with someone related to Emmaus: a volunteer, a companion, a partner… I felt a little like a reporter. This work is challenging, but so interesting!

Eventually, I liked all the activities we did with the companions, even if sometimes it was complicated to organize it. I learnt more about the romanian culture, and it was a way to see the companion in a new context, you learn to know them better.

To talk about the harder times, I would say that it may be complicated to be accepted by the companions as a volunteer, moreover, a French volunteer. You have to prove your worth, and to be ready to receive critics. As I work a lot on communications, I often was in the office, and less in the shop, with them. And the work in the office is not seen very positively… But, finally, when you realize that you managed to form a strong bond with them despite everything, or simply when they say “thank you”, it is so rewarding, because it is not easy to reach this point, trust takes time to be real.

At the beginning, I didn’t understand well when Gelu and Florin (ed. note: comanagers in Iași) spoke about a “large family” sometimes to speak about the Foundation. Even if you form bonds when time goes, for me, Emmaus was mainly a working place, aimed at supporting vulnerable people. Not long ago, we spoke about it again, and I think I understood: even if you take some distance – which is necessary according to me, if we want to do a good job -, you can’t just consider the Foundation like a simple working place. We work with people who suffered huge lacks in their families, so, although it is not the starting aim, indeed we are a kind of family for them, because we are the people that the companions see every day of the week, we eat with them, we work with them, they talk to us, and as we understand what they suffered, the bond is going stronger. Even in the staff team, we support each other, we all are very committed to work. Concerning the volunteers, we are roomates! This is not a conventional place of work. This is much richer.

What are my most striking memories?

First, the first Collective Romania I was involved in, in Roanne in France, was memorable for me. I had not even started my volunteering, but as the Collective was taking place near Lyon, where I lived then, Gelu offered me to come to see how Emmaus was working in Romania and at the european level, and to meet some partners of the Foundation of Iași. Gelu, thank you so much for this opportunity! It was very interesting to follow the actualities and the discussions, and beyond that, you realize that things are changing, you see how it is organized, you see how huge the Emmaus movement is. It is truly motivating, to be part of a team with people working to change things.

Another striking memory, is when I realized, by searching on Internet, through some books, talking with companions and employees, how the daily life of the children in Children houses under Ceausescu looked like (ed.note: the companions grew up in Children houses, mostly during the dictatorship). It means only a small access to education, daily precarity, no love at all… Obviously, those things have consequences, even when they are adults. Some time ago, one of our female companions has started some classes in romanian and mathematics with a volunteer. She bought an exercise book and I was moved because she showed it to everybody, she was very proud. When you see some children complaining for having to go to school and that this kind of behaviour is considered something normal in our privileged society, once you have seen an adult woman happy to learn something, an opportunity which she didn’t have when she was younger, this is a strong feeling.

This is quite similar for the interviews I did with the companions: they tell you about what they lived before they knew Emmaus and in front of such histories, you really learn to put things into perspective concerning your daily issues. The society rejected them, but it is impressive to see how they resisted. And this is Emmaus: you have the opportunity to find in people who used to be despised, plenty of reasons to see what is beautiful into them… more than into some people who are perfectly integrated in the society!

This year has been exceptional. Thank you Emmaus Iași!

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