Online seminar for volunteering at Europe's (external) borders


9. Reflection & processing of the

volunteer work

Time spent in a project usually only leaves little time for stepping back and taking time to process Back home in familiar surroundings, many thoughts can therefore come at you at once. The repercussions of working in areas of humanitarian or political crisis and spending a lot of time with extremely vulnerable people can take time and energy. Not seldom does this lead to a loss of orientation or questioning of one’s identity when confronted with one’s “old reality”. We collected some suggestions for you, which might help you to process and reflect in order to prevent yourself from feeling overwhelmed. Just have a look at the different ideas and see if this is something you want to try.

The time afterwards...

What could happen?

Going home, packing your things, saying goodbye and getting on the train or plane- sounds easier than it often is. During the time spent as a volunteer with people on the move you hear, see and experience so much that there is usually little time to sit down, take a deep breath and process.

It might happen, that you will come back and immediately find yourself back in your old life. Maybe you are even immediately motivated to continue working for the interests of the people you have worked with, to demonstrate for their rights, to inform your fellow men about the situation or to support organisations on site or in your city.

But it can also happen that it takes a while to process all the things you have experienced and seen Maybe some thoughts occupy you even more than you would have expected before or during your time spent in the project.

You are by no means alone with this problem!

  • Over the past years, we at Brückenwind have talked to many people who have been working as volunteers or activistsin the context of humanitarian aid and support for people on the move at the European external borders. Many of them talk about how hard it was for them to come back after such an intense time and just pick up where they left off.

  • Many suddenly felt cut off from their environment and even from their friends and families due to the experiences they had made. They reported that they felt out of place or even useless in their job, studies or training. "Weltschmerz", frustration and the feeling of helplessness in the face of these immense human rights violations at Europe's borders are described here again and again. Also, one usually has to leave people in extremely vulnerable positions behind. Being able to leave and pick up where they left off usually confronts people hard with their own privileges as they might not have experienced it before.


Suggestions ro reflect and process

What to do?

Take your thoughts seriously and take care of yourself!

  • Since these thoughts and feelings often do not simply disappear, we recommend that you actively take time and space to process and reflect on your own experiences. Only then can you think about the consequences you might want to draw from this.
  • As simple as it may sound: It can be very helpful to adress your thoughts and feelings on paper or in any other way you like to express yourself and communicate them.

We have provided a few suggestions and templates for this process of reflection and processing below.
  • Click through the different impulses and see which format might be suitable for you.
  • Some of our ideas may seem a bit strange to you at first, but let us tell you from our experience: If you try to get involved with yourself by just writing and "expressing" a few thoughts, this can help you to organise, understand and digest your inner self a bit better. It will also give you some of your energy back which you can then use again otherwise.

  • Conversations and open exchange about your experiences is valuable in any case. Telling your environment about the situation you have volunteered or worked in not only helps to raise awareness of this important topic in your environment and motivate people to get involved.
  • It can also help you personally in order to process your confrontation with political crisis, inhumane conditions and trauma. In conversations with family and friends, it might happen that you do not feel completely understood or that you are missing important words to express yourself properly.
  • Therefore we find it especially helpful to network and exchange thoughts with people who have had similar experiences in volunteer work You will quickly notice that many feelings and thoughts are similar after your return home and that a common processing process can help you to feel less disoriented and maybe even lonely. Stay in contact with other volunteers from your organisations and get in touch with them after your return
  • If you do not know anyone, you want to talk to, you can also message our team!

  • It might have happened that you were in a memorable situation, or a story was told and for various reasons you may not be able or willing to share them with anyone. These may be personal stories that have been confided to you, feelings you may be ashamed of, conflicts with another person, or something else entirely.
  • But perhaps it is precisely these experiences that weigh most heavily on you. In order to get rid of some of this burden, it can help to write down your experiences and all the feelings that go along with them.
  • Maybe you would like to address yourself in a letter addressed to somebody (without having to send it), maybe you would like to write to yourself like a diary entry, maybe you address yourself to "unknown" in order to get rid of some of your thoughts. In all versions the following applies: No one but you should read this letter. If you feel more comfortable with it, you can also destroy it afterwards. The point is to organise your thoughts and to be able to "speak out" somehow.

  • The Mood Graph is about presenting your well-being, various events, thoughts and feelings - in short: your welfare - that you experienced during your time volunteering chronologically in the form of a graph.
  • The X-axis represents time, while the Y-axis represents your wellbeing, according to your own standards.
  • This can help you to identify special fluctuations and turning points, which you can then describe further, for example if they are linked to a special event.
  • This visualisation of your experiences and your well-being can help you to "play through" the whole time again and to filter out certain "sticking points" that might still be bothering you afterwards.
  • Furthermore, this presentation also allows you to identify and relive especially positive and impressive moments.

  • This mind map can help you to better understand your personal development during your volunteer work. If you have the feeling that you have changed and therefore have difficulties readjusting to your “old” life: Through such an exercise you might be able to better understand and reflect on your own personal process, and what actually changed about you.
  • Maybe you are especially proud of some knowledge, skills or personal development you have gained or developed. Also acknowledging negative changes about yourself might help you by using the reflection as a strength in the future.
  • You can fill in the points that seem important to you and add to them as you wish

Ideas for your mindmap: In which situations would I behave differently now? What would I like to have done differently? What have I learned about myself? What have I learned about teamwork? What have I learned about support work and the situation of People on the Move in the EU?

Unit 9_Reflection & processing of the volunteer work
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