”Volunteering is not only about working, but there is also free time to travel”

In 2018, just before finishing my graduate in psychology, I began to wonder what my next step would be. The idea of ​​taking a master’s degree was drawn vaguely in my future, but the fact of continuing to study another year was not too attractive: I wanted to take some time off. One day, talking with a friend of mine, I was presented with the idea of ​​volunteering, an option I knew nothing about, and just after hearing it, I knew that was what I wanted to do the following year.

After several difficult moments and moments of uncertainty, I was selected to volunteer in Bologna, Italy.

The project I selected was related to my studies, psychology: I would volunteer at a center with people with mental disorders and disabilities, a good opportunity to put into practice everything I had learned during my four years of intensive study.

One of the first days I had the pleasure of visiting two of the centers of the cooperative Casa Santa Chiara: Montechiaro and Colunga. The first one was near the mountains; it was a large house with many rooms and a small piece of land with rabbits, chickens and goats, a lovely place in the middle of the mountains. This center was dedicated to the production of honey, candles, and salamoia. Colunga, on the other hand, was on the outland of Bologna. This center was a large house with two stories, each floor operated independently with its own users. This center was dedicated to the production of wine, and clay and wooden figures with religious motifs. My workplace would be the second one, Colunga.

A normal workday begins at eight in the morning: by car, we pick up the users, either in their homes or in their residences, and we go to the outskirts of the city, to Colunga. The day starts with a coffee, following the Italian tradition. About ten we start working or doing different activities, depending on the day. At eleven o’clock there is a small break for the second breakfast and then continue with the activities until one, when the meal takes place. After that, it is time to rest until half-past three, which is when the working day ends.

Among the activities, we do throughout the week are small tasks like: cooking, such as making jams or baking some cakes; going to the grocery store for supplies; setting the table and picking it up; dancing classes or going to visit parish churches. But the most important work done here is the creation of icons, that is, small wooden boards or plaster figures with religious motifs, which are later sold to small parishes to contribute to the maintenance of the institution. The users of the center are responsible for painting, cutting, molding and waxing these icons.

The first days were a bit confusing, but as the weeks went by I realized that the days were marked by the same pattern because the creation of habits is very important for people with mental disorders. The confusion with the Italian language diminished, the connection with the users increased, and every day I am happier in the center since they treat me very well and care a lot about me.

But volunteering is not only about working, but there is also free time to travel, to go out, but especially to rest.

Most of the free time is spent in Barbieri, in the flat I share with three more girls. We usually spend a lot of time together; watching Netflix, drawing, eating or going for a walk.

Apart from my roommates, I had the pleasure of meeting other volunteers from other parts of Italy, this being very important since it allows you to travel to other places more economically. In this way, I have visited other towns such as Mantova, Rome, Genoa, and Putignano.

Without a doubt, volunteering is an experience that should not be missed, and thanks to which I am living one of the best years of my life.