I was a volunteer at the DW in Mülheim in the 1980s, supporting the work with asylum seekers. I took care of a number of families from Lebanon and Afghanistan. To some extent even up till today.
After 40 years in a technical profession, I opted for an early retirement in 2007, and thus wanted to volunteer again. It was important to me to do something new and to spend time with people. This is why I chose to work in “legal support” – admittedly a very demanding type of volunteer work. I support people who can no longer fully or partially attend to their affairs because of mental illnesses or other disabilities, especially with regard to legal matters. All of this, of course, happens in accordance with their own wishes as long as they can voice them. I am assigned a client per court order and have to submit annual reports about my work. My wards are a unique mixture of physically and mentally challenged people, illiterates, vegetative patients, people who suffer from dementia, emotionally disturbed patients, people of German, Italian, and Turkish nationality. I have joined the caregiving society of the Diakonie, where I received training, help and support, and further information on a regular basis. I often exchange my knowledge and experience with other volunteers who provide legal support.
I enjoy taking up these tasks, because I gain insight into many very different types of lives and fates, which I would have otherwise never been able to see. My work also greatly impacts the way I deal with people and institutions of all kinds, authorities, courts, insurance companies, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. But one of the most important aspects to me – and this may sound antiquated when I refer to my duties and responsibilities as a public servant – is to actively work against the rising number of not so legal attempts of some agencies: This means double-checking and if necessary challenging the official notifications my wards receive. Taking matters to court if my wards’ claims cannot be satisfied without it. I truly enjoy and consider it a great affirmation when a court order states that funding agency has to provide a service they previously refused. At first I had to read up on some issues to make up for some knowledge gaps I still had. As a volunteer, I could not afford specialized training, but I managed to attend lectures in Social Law and particularly Social Administrative Law at the catholic university of Freiburg, and received practical, systematic legal knowledge.
Social counselling is another volunteer service I offer to the residents of my home town. I am part of the task force “Dialog Islam-Christentum” (Dialogue Islam-Christianity). I volunteer my time and knowledge in helping to create a wiki for internal knowledge management at the SKM (catholic club for social services for the archdiocese of Freiburg)
Working as a volunteer in the professional world, I gained the impression that I appeared to be a nuisance in the work day for many, or as cheap labor in a time of declining financial funding. Not everyone acknowledges that unpaid volunteer work is important and should be pursued and supported by organizations. Volunteer work benefits both sides. The recognition of volunteer work and the mutual appreciation is essential. This secures well-working cooperation and keeps volunteers committed. This is something I learned at the Diakonie. As a volunteer, I do see myself as a “specialist” for certain issues, problems, and tasks in some institutions, but also as a corrective influence from the outside, sometimes as a generator of necessary impulses. I think, organizations who work with volunteers would greatly benefit from making clear offers, encourage personal exchange on a regular basis and spelling out their expectations and wishes for their volunteers.