Volunteering: Hope Placed Through Community Engagement

by Brigitta Balogh

I am a Hungarian-born Roma woman who currently resides in London, England. Back in 2010 after finishing high school but before starting university, I decided to take on a voluntary position in the Netherlands during my gap year to figure out my next move. I knew from a very young age I wanted to become a lawyer specialising in international human rights related matters. After participating in a one-month long leadership programme in the United States, I decided the way forward was to study abroad with the intention to excel in the profession and make sure no one would try to diminish or undermine my expert input based on my ethnic minority background. To this end, I signed up for an 8-month volunteering experience through ToGetThere (a sending organisation that since has been disbanded).

Through my placement I worked with disadvantaged children who were between the ages of 4 and 14 years, living in one of the poorest district in The Hague.  My fellow volunteer partner and I organised interactive activities and set up cultural and educational programmes for the children. The organisation, amongst other things, aimed to prevent the youngsters from joining gangs or becoming juvenile offenders as it was a potential risk in that particular area. I had a great year. I made friends for life, and am thankful, due to the different social media applications, that I am still in touch with them. Looking back, there is one story I feel will stuck with me for life as it has been in my mind since, regardless of the years gone by.

Every Friday between 6 and 9pm we organised a youth club for the teenagers. The theme and the activities were different every week. On one occasion during a friendly football tournament one of the teenage boys tried to block me by using unnecessary physical power. Long story short, he twisted my arm. Within seconds my boss interfered and before the end of the night I had to punish him as a consequence of his actions. I was advised that for such action I could ban him from the centre for 2 weeks minimum. However, I knew he was familiar with punishments and was considered to be a bad behaving boy. Therefore I decided to tell him that he must come to the centre and help with decorating the Christmas tree as it was near the holiday season. Obviously, it was not a real punishment as he could spend more time in the centre with us. I guess some might think that I was soft, and I should have disciplined him. But I would argue with those and explain to them that I’ve always believed in second chances and rehabilitation. I passed the sentence with the hope that if I respond to his negative action with a positive reaction it was going to have an impact later on his life. Perhaps when thinking back he will remember what it felt like and make better choices in his adult life. Who would know better what it is like to be considered an outsider if not me anyway?

On a concluding note, I believe invested effort eventually pays itself off. Volunteering amongst many other things is hope. Hope in the idea that community cooperation can overrule the roles assigned to us by society.

The Traveling Volunteer’s note: Brigitta is set to become Britain’s first Roma barrister on Brexit insecurity and racism. You may follow her story on Twitter @hellobrigitta.