Portrait of the month: Eva and Maureen, volunteers at Emmaus Iasi (Sept. 2022)

At the end of August, our two civic services Eva and Maureen finished their mission in Emmaus Iasi at the same time. Eva, who was 20 years old at the beginning of her mission, was there for eight months, while Maureen, 25 years old, spent a year. This is an opportunity for us today to look back on their experience, find out what they remember and learn more about the association through their eyes.

Hello girls! First question: how did you hear about Emmaus Iași, and why join this organisation in particular?

Eva: I heard about it through the civic service website, I was looking for an internship for my training so I went on the government website to find an assignment. I knew I wanted a project abroad and I found the offer from Emmaus Iasi. I was interested in Romania, a country I had never been to before. I liked this assignment because there was an important link with the public and it was an organisation that I knew in France and whose values I shared. And it also fitted in with my internship, it was the same expectations from my school in relation to what the civic service offered.

Maureen: The same goes for me, I was in a bit of a transition period, I had just finished my studies and I thought that before looking for a job I wanted to do a social mission abroad. I came across this advert and I liked it because the activities were very diverse.

What were your main missions within the Foundation?

Eva: I took part in the street food program in January and this summer I was at Belvedere a lot, especially before the summer for the vegetable planting. With the war in Ukraine, I took part in unloading trucks, setting up the accommodation centre in Iasi and loading the material that was sent to Ukraine. In addition to that, I helped write the Emmaus newsletter, including the English translation. And otherwise, it’s more about daily life with the companions.

Maureen: The same, I was at Belvedere for a while, so I followed the development there and generally I did the same activities as the companions, the idea being to work with them, so sorting clothes, farming… and also be the driver. When I arrived I joined the team who were building two new rooms so that Costel and Viorel, the two companions who live there, would have a new comfortable place to stay. It took a while, one or two months, but it was going pretty fast in the sense that it was urgent because winter, which is quite harsh in Romania, was coming, so we had to hurry up. There was also the street food program.

Did the missions fit in with your interests? If so, how?

Eva: For me, it was just things I had never done before, except for the stret food program (I had already done it in other associations), but I had no experience in the field of agriculture, so it was really a discovery and I found it too good to do, I loved it. 

Didn’t you necessarily have any expectations in terms of the missions? 

Eva: Yes, in the relationship with the public and that’s something I found during these 8 months.

Maureen: For me, it was essentially about discovery in all the missions. Typically, agriculture was an area that I was interested in discovering, so I was happy to be able to participate. 

And so were you able to bring anything to your assignments that you liked or that you already knew? 

Eva: I was able to help with Ousmane’s asylum application (a young Guinean we took in for several months), which is something I had already done in another association.

Maureen: Since I have no knowledge in terms of social or other activities that are here, I didn’t bring anything personal, except for construction activities, in which I have skills and which I enjoyed sharing […].

What interested you most in this civic service? 

Eva: I liked discovering how an organisation I didn’t know worked and what’s more, abroad, because that’s exactly what my studies are about. The street program work was also very interesting.

Maureen: It’s hard for me to say, in the sense that what I really enjoyed most was simply discovering, everything was new to me so everything was interesting.

Eva: And what about discovering traditional food?

Maureen: Oh yes! And even outside work, just “living abroad”, which this civic service also allowed.

What did you think of life here in Iasi? And of the shared flat in Emmaus?

Eva: I thought it was great to live abroad in a country I didn’t know anything about, so I had no expectations, I was just discovering, it was really incredible. I have the impression that when you’re abroad you want to discover a lot more, so in 8 months I did a lot of things. I think it’s great to be in a flat share, because you have an anchor point and you have French people around you.

Maureen: It’s true that sharing a flat was really nice, I’d never done it before so it was a very positive first experience.About living here, I already knew Romania a little bit because I had already visited but it was the very touristy part, so it’s totally different. And the advantage is that there was Leïla with us, and Clémentine was there too, and as they have been here for a long time, there was really a way to discover the city and to get familiar with it. 

So it was all positive?

Eva: There is a language barrier at the beginning, it lasts for the first two weeks and then you manage to express yourself enough to be understood at least. So at the beginning, it can be a bit destabilising and that’s why it’s interesting to be in a flat share. 

Maureen: I would say that it depends on the sensitivity of each person, but there is a different culture and there are certain things that you don’t necessarily understand in the behavior of others. And these are very stupid things, but for example the proximity of people globally, that is to say that when someone wants to pass by, he will run into you instead of avoiding you. These are things that I don’t understand but that are natural to them. You learn to get used to it but it feels weird at first. 

What is the most important memory you have of your volunteering?

Eva: The one that comes to mind is the day the war in Ukraine started. It was my older sister who told me the news because she was worried about the fact that we were not very far from Ukraine, whereas I didn’t know at all at that time that it had started. I think that after that there was quite a change, a lot of the activities turned to Ukraine, and a lot of new missions. 

Maureen: And I, I would say that it was in Baia Publica, former public baths that were refurbished as an emergency shelter for the homeless people in winter. As the winter ended, the city council determined that apparently it was no longer necessary to have a place to house people sleeping on the streets. So Baia publica was going to close. So we went there on the last evening to distribute food, clothes, towels, and a whole kit of essentials, before they went back out on the street. It was also an opportunity to discuss with them to see if we could not welcome some of them as companions. It was quite striking, because we interacted with everybody, and there were many of them. It was emotional, because at the same time it was a nice moment and at the same time you knew what it meant behind it (that they were going to be out again). So I remember it as something quite nice and at the same time, I admit it was sad. Like marauding in general, I have a mixed feeling about it.

Eva: Oh, and I think about the companions’ holiday! At that time, you live with them 24 hours a day for a week, so you get a different view of them. It was really an amazing experience that went really well.

Maureen: It reminds me of the week I spent living in the community with Ema. It was also a very, very nice experience, it was also a chance to get to know them in a different way.

What did this volunteering bring you?

Eva: First of all, just the fact that you’re going to a country where you don’t know the language and the culture, it allows you to develop a capacity of adaptation and communication which are always useful. Even if you are not going to use the Romanian language in France, for example, it means being able to express yourself, to explain what you want, to accept cultural differences and differences that you won’t find elsewhere than in associations or abroad. So yes, openness to communication, overcoming differences, adapting to a new culture, something of the order of tolerance.

Maureen: Above all, I would say, getting out of one’s comfort zone. We came here to discover something, so it’s really about adapting. Afterwards, I would say that it gave me patience, but I still lack a lot of it (laughs). But also an open-mindedness, that is to say another way of seeing many things globally…

For whom would you recommend this civic service and why?

Eva: For people who want to discover new things, meet people, it’s very important to be open to the idea of meeting people. And the desire to live a new experience, but it’s not necessarily an easy experience in the sense that you are abroad for several months. So you have to be ready for it and know that it won’t always be easy. But it’s a very nice experience and I think it’s open to everyone as long as you want to discover things. 

Maureen: Yes, you have to be at least open-minded and there are some difficult things you can face, even if it’s only adapting to a new way of life, so I would say that you shouldn’t be too sensitive (but what do we define as sensitive, it seems complicated to me)… But for the people who read us and who would be interested, if you go in a spirit of discovery, of surpassing yourself and you want to give your all to something, I think it’s ok.

Any plans for the future?

Eva: I’m in my third year of a bachelor’s degree in humanitarian project management […] and I’m going to do some internships in associations like Emmaus, I’m going to finish my studies and then I’ll be in charge of projects in humanitarian associations. So you could say that this civic service has strengthened me in that sense. 

Maureen: And personally, I had finished my studies in aeronautical maintenance and the idea would be to look for a job in this field when I returned to France.

Will this make it easier for you to go to Emmaus in France or not?

Maureen: Going as a consumer, yes, definitely. It wasn’t the case before, I was convinced that it was something that was reserved for people who couldn’t afford it.

Eva: I used to do it before, so it’s something I still do. I’ve already been there since I came back to France, to furnish my flat (Eva made this testimony on the phone, ed. note).

Last question, what is your favourite word in Romanian?

Eva: I like multumesc (thank you), because everyone has a hard time pronouncing it even though it’s a so common word.

Maureen: And for me it’s musafir (guest) but I can’t explain why I like this word. (laughs)

Anything to add?

Thank you Emmaus Iasi!

A big thank you to both of you for your time and involvement in this interview!