Portrait of the month: Leïla and Maureen talk about their experience as volunteers (Sept. 2018)

Interview with Leïla and Maureen

Leïla and Maureen are both volunteers in civic service charged of the agro-ecological project. Leïla has been volunteer since October 2017, and her experience as volunteer will end soon. Maureen has been volunteer since February 2018. What is their history, which missions do they have, what is their reflection about Emmaus?

Hello girls! First question: how did you hear about Un Coup de Main d’Emmaüs Iași ?

Leïla: I did one year of Erasmus in Iași four years ago, I studied Biology/Ecology, starting in September 2014. During this Erasmus year, I had the opportunity to be involved in a building project, the building of a greenhouse made with recycled materials, with the companions of Emmaus, in Popești (editor’s note: the Foundation has a farm and a welcome center in this town located at 40km from Iași). I lived two streets from the Foundation, but at the time, I didn’t know that Emmaus was in Romania. Emmaus is a kind of consumption I like. In France, I often go to the Emmaus shops. So when we learned of Emmaus here, we went to buy there, with my roomates. We met and get on with the volunteer who worked in the Foundation, Timothée. The project of the greenhouse was born thanks to Timothée and a student’s friend. This project started from the students.

Maureen: I already knew Emmaus in France, through the second-hand shops. I didn’t know the Emmaus project in details, though. I wanted to do a volunteering in civic service and I read the offer written by Emmaus Iași at the beginning of this year. The missions seemed interesting to me, so I applied. Thanks to this civic service, I knew the Foundation and I learned more about the Emmaus project.

What are your missions in the Foundation?

Leïla: We have been recruited on the mission in Popești, so on the agro-ecological project. It means that we work for the agricultural development of the Foundation, mostly the gardening. But we both work in Popești and in Iași, with sometimes administrative tasks, or tasks in the shop, or in the stockroom. Even in Popești, we don’t do only gardening: there is the shop, the cleaning, the cooking… Maureen and I, we don’t do the same things necessarily.

Maureen: As Leïla said, we have been recruited on the agro-ecological mission, but in fact, as the Foundation needs a lot of skills and people, we do plenty of different things, in Iași like in Popești, administrative work as well as field work.

Leïla: Indeed, before starting the volunteering, you don’t expect to do cleaning. On the other hand, you also translate customs documents when the trucks of donations come.

Maureen: You both can be involved in a festival and have a stand, and cook zucchinis we cultivate in Popești!

Leïla: Our work is about sowing vegetables as well as teaching the companions how to clean the house properly, or bringing them to a healthy diet.

Maureen: You can talk with the companions about their life projects, but also participate to a collective reflection, with the whole team, about how we could reorganize the Foundation juridically.  

What do you have most interest for in this civic service? Which project(s) do you want most to develop?

Maureen: I don’t think one mission in particular seems more interesting to me. This is the point, I rather like to have the opportunity to try various tasks, the multidiscilinary approach of the work. I can try different things and truly do a field work, like we said, working with the companions, etc. and at the same time, I can think about what is Emmaus, work with Emmaus Europe and Emmaus International, think about the migratory issues, poverty, or the integration of the marginalized people. I find this ambivalence between the field and the reflection very interesting.

Also the global project of Emmaus is so interesting. I have the impression that at the beginning, this project was based on an emergency: they had to welcome the companions, give them a home and a job… Now, what is exciting is to think about long term, and what we provide them beyond the basic needs. At the start, the agricultural project motivated me a lot, and this is still the case, but I realised that I am more enthusiastic to work on the companions’ training.

Leïla: Like Maureen, I like the side where you are both on the field, in something very concrete, and still in the reflection. We are now in a period of Emmaus Iași where we think about content, and this is very interesting, because we are part of the discussion and of the decision. On the field work, what I like most is the agricultural project, this is what I like, and this is my field of training. I would have loved to work more on it, but on the other hand, I think my mission is not only about it. I like to clean the pod (editor’s note: attic in Romanian, where we stock the donations), and to clean in general, because I like things to be organized.

To come back to the agricultural project, it is also very important for me because I think that the food sovereignty is something essential. In Popești, we have not reach the food autonomy yet, but trying to approach it, this is essential, for Emmaus, because I think that this is completely part of the movement’s spirit, which is to help people take back their autonomy. This is the same for the environmentally sustainable practices, which match with the principles I care for. I like this whole thing, to try to reach the autonomy, to have something ours, and not depend on somebody else.

What is the most striking memory you have from your volunteering experience?

Maureen: There are plenty! The guests (partners, volunteers) left their mark, for example.

Leïla: The Migrations Collective in Bosnia, and the Collective Romania in Iași. It is good memories.

Maureen: All the moments when I realised that Emmaus Iași was evolving, or that some things had to be changed. It is not always good memories, but still, it made me think. For instance, when I realised that some values I thought everybody had, like sharing, are not obvious if you didn’t receive a proper education when you were child. When we are eating, and you see the companions taking all for them, for example… But if you are aware of their whole history, you realise that this is a normal thing that they developed such a behaviour. On the contrary, all the moments when I talked with the companions, when I saw the evolution in our relationship, those moments were important for me. At the beginning, they don’t talk to you, some of them are withdrawn, and step by step, when you see them at the shop, you see them laughing, when you hear them speak about their projects for the future, you think that our work really helps them.

Also, the weekly staff meetings make me see it: you realise that things are progressing.

Leïla: When the companions admit your work, also, it is important. You must not wait for gratitude, we are not here for that, but when they say “thank you for what you do”, it is really sincere.

Maureen: Especially because at the beginning, you have to prove your worth. So when things evolve, we are happy.

Leïla: Another thing that I remember: one time, I was walking in the street, and I was speaking French. In front of me, there was Cornel (editor’s note: a homeless man which is one of the beneficiaries of the street outreach program). He can’t see well. And he recognized me with my voice, he said “Oh, Leïla!” although I was two meters behind him. This is not a huge thing, this was not a big speech, but when people just recognize you, like a friend, it leaves you a mark.

Also: when it was time to leave for holidays, those who left have had a car break down in the middle of the road. Maureen was sending me messages, I knew the main steps: “3pm: we are leaving. 4pm: we had a car break down, Florin is trying to fix it.” Then one hour later: “Florin is still trying to fix it.” And finally: “Help, we need you to come!”. So we went there like saviours.

What did this volunteering experience give you?

Leïla: I became much more patient! More self-confident too, because you have to manage establish yourself, explain things and make sure it is done, but at the same time, you have to do an exchange, to talk with people. This volunteering experience also gave me humility, because you have a thousand of wishes, at the beginning, you want to change everything in the way Emmaus is working, then you realise that things are hard to change.

Maureen: Freedom of action, even if we have limited possibilities. But this is incredible, the freedom you have in your work. This is exactly what I looked for in a volunteering experience: an experience on the field. Moreover, we can think at a bigger scale, thanks to the Emmaus network. You really have the possibility to do what you like: if you love agro-ecology and gardening, you work a lot on it and you can implement projects. It is hard, because you have to make people follow you, but still you can do it, and it gives you autonomy, and spirit of initiative. You also become more human, because you have a daily contact with people that have not had an easy life, so it keeps your feet firmly on the ground. When you are in the street, and you give some soup to people knowing it must be their only meal in the day, or when you talk with a companion and you see that his history was not easy, even if it is not always easy to work together, you understand that it has been a true path until he comes at this point today, so you take a step back. Moreover I met great colleagues and roomates!

Some projects for the future?

Leïla: I have wished to stay for some time. One year, this is very short, and I am very enthusiastic about the project in Popești. Like they need a second manager in Popești, they offered me the job of co-manager in Popești, and I accepted. I think this is a huge opportunity: it frightens me although I think this could be amazing. So I go for at least two or three years more in Emmaus Iași!

Maureen: Why not staying in Emmaus Iași, for a bit more time? My volunteering experience will end in four months, and this is frustrating to stay no more than one year, because the work here is quite cyclic. So it could be interesting to stay in order to test again the projects. At the beginning, I had the project to start a training so I would sit an examination for the national institutions competition, and start an entrepreneurship project in France, in my birth place.

Do you want to add something?

Both: Thank you, Emmaus Iași! And thank you Mélodie for this interview.

Maureen: I would like to add that this year of volunteering duo with Leïla was great. I am happy she stays!

Leïla: We have a very good team, with a good atmosphere. It was enriching, in spite of the difficulties. Now, two new volunteers are going to come, we can’t wait!

Maureen: I hope they do cleaning! (laughs)

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

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