Since March 2021, Paula Lenart , the European Solidarity Corps volunteer, is doing her service at YMCA Siderno, Italia, in the project called F.R.I.E.N.D.S (Favorire Relazioni Inclusive Europee Non Discriminanti e Solidali). In this project she has a Spanish colleague, Luisa.

” The summer is really busy, and both me and Luisa are involved in a lot of activities.

During the past four months, I was equally faced with moments of joy and frustration. Being a volunteer in another culture is not easy at all, but I learned to appreciate the differences in language, values, and energies. Thinking back to my first couple of days, when talked with only 4 people in the organization seems like ages ago. It was a difficult time since as curious as I am, I like to ask lots of questions from people in my environment. It seemed torturous not to be able to understand what people say, but it gave me the opportunity to observe how people act, to recognize how group dynamics reflect in non-verbal communication.

Things never stay constant, so as I made progress in the language I was able to enjoy more the day-to-day interactions, and also step outside the YMCA and get to know more locals in Siderno. I recently joined an Italian book club and I also went to help out with a beach cleanup project organized by another local organization.

My days at the YMCA are filled with tasks, projects, and activities. Taking advantage of my basketball experience, I lead basketball practice twice a week for elementary-school-aged kids. I would never have thought that coaching is so hard, not to mention in language that I am just getting used to. But the kids teach me a lot about my communication style, how can I explain and teach better, and how to combat the part of my personality that is a bit control-freak and likes everything to be perfect. This is basically impossible with a group of 6-year-olds because they don’t care about perfection, they just like to have fun.
Besides, basketball I also help out in the YMCA Village. I enjoy the times when we take the children to the beach. It fills my heart with joy, when I see how freely they play, and enjoy simple things like water. Here too, I learn every day when I watch them interacting, playing, or being mischievous.

My personal project is going okay. In April I started a youth group called LevelUP, where I wanted to help teenagers with discovering their values and help them to practice leadership skills. We went through some experiential learning activities and discussions that were really meaningful, but I also face some difficulty in engaging them. At the moment, I am a bit stuck in terms of ideas and activities, but I hope I can continue to create a meaningful space for them.

All in all, it’s hard to capture the meaning of this experience, because it is so multifaceted. And while I enjoy all the activities, they sometimes leave me depleted by the end of the day. I think, I really learned to appreciate all the hard work that my educators and coaches did while I was young. Working with youth is equally challenging and fulfilling, and requires emotional intelligence, resilience, and the ability to let go of the seriousness of adult life.

I am incredibly grateful that we live in a beautiful little town, and I often find solace in the beauty of the sea and nature after a tiring day. I enjoy taking time to travel and see the magnificent cities and natural treasures of Calabria. These things keep my spirits high even when I feel frustrated about work, or sad that activity did not have the impact I imagined. It is not easy to be a volunteer, and as YMCA Romania prepared me, there are always ups and downs. One thing is sure, however, that I feel myself changing and transforming as I battle with the challenges.” shares Paula.

Her European Solidarity Corps service will end in February 2022.

We are very proud of you and thankful for your service  at YMCA Siderno. Go, Paula!