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Regular version of the site

Culture Café: Make a Change

We all can change our world… Contribute to its development and make it a better place. There are no limits and everything is possible if we really want it. Our first winter Culture Café was quite unusual, we were inspired by the example of people who have already made the world a better place by volunteering across the globe.



Many thanks to HSE students: Anna Sokolova, Nikita Chichkin, Ekaterina Dunyushkina, Olga Leschenko and Beso Shengelia, who shared their experience with us and motivated us a lot. Let’s take a closer look at every story.

The first speaker was Anna Sokolova, who shared her volunteering experience in Germany, which was truly unique and fascinating.


E: Anna, could you please tell us, where did you go and why? 

Anna: I was volunteering abroad, in Germany, in a place called Ravensbrück. It is located in the north of Berlin and used to be a German concentration camp during the World War II (Ravensbrück concentration camp). My family, as many families in Russia and all over the world, was touched by the World War II: my great-grandfather went through a concentration camp, and my other relative’s entire family was murdered there. It was important for me to commemorate the victims at the site and to tell my story. 

E: A German concentration camp definitely sounds like such an unusual place. However, what were the expectations for the upcoming experience? 

Anna: I would not say I had great expectations about forthcoming volunteering. I thought it would be like “work, work, work, little rest and back to work”. It was a very pleasant surprise that my volunteering turned out to be very informative, so it gave me priceless knowledge and experience. I was also a bit afraid that people like team leaders and administration of the site would treat volunteers poorly, like a cheap workforce. Turned out we got amazingly warm and caring welcoming! Of course, I expected that being at the site with such history would be emotionally difficult and depressing. However, the fact that the site is preserved, that people from Germany and other countries come here to commemorate, that the youth is given educational workshops here – all of that gave me the feeling that the victims of this terrible tragedy are remembered and valued.

E: What did you actually do there? What were your responsibilities? 

Anna: It was a “work camp”, which appeared to be more about the study. Other participants and I were given different kinds of educational workshops for locals and of course were learning themselves. Also during one of the workshops we were playing…chairs! Can you believe it? 

E: I bet not many people in the world can use chairs as a musical instrument or ever thought about it! But what was your “change” that you made? 

Anna: We were performing our music (using chairs, shaking beans etc) to the survives. And you know, it made a huge impact on people. They rethought their feelings. Students were thinking about something very personal and important. Looking into their eyes, full of sincere interest and excitement, that was one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced. They thanked us a lot and this is how I “made a change”. 

E: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. There are a lot of students, who are inspired by you but still have some doubts. Could you give them some recommendations? 

Anna: To those who want to volunteer but are still in doubt I would say “go forward”! But, to my mind, it is very important to choose carefully the programme and to check simple conditions. Despite the project being extremely interesting you do not have a shower at the site, your experience might be less than perfect.

Our next speaker was Nikita Chichkin, who had not one, but two volunteering experiences, so obviously, he had a lot to tell us. 

E: Nikita, what was your experience, why did you participant in that? 

Nikita: I participated in two different work camps: the first one was in Germany in a Medieval Castle and the second one took place in Serbia.  

E: What were your expectations about the program and what did you find there? 

Nikita: As for the first experience, there is only one expectation that did not materialize. I thought there would be a limit for people from each country, so I was a little bit disappointed when I saw a lot of Russians and Ukrainians since one of my objectives was to practice my English. Though, it was very memorable. It was amazing, mainly because I’ve changed my daily routine and met a lot of interesting people there. 

E: What did you actually do there and how did you “make a change”? 

Nikita: I asked myself this question about the change after the work camp. I’ll describe our usual day to make it clear.  A group of volunteers came there and had some activities that were provided by local social leaders (such as grab some grass or build a new fence and so on). There was a particular reason for this, but we couldn’t understand it. Then, the social leader gave me a catalog about this volunteer project in a medieval castle, where we were volunteering, and the progress made through the years. I realized that included even photos from the 90s. I could see all the progress myself and all the work that was done. Volunteers contributed to the renovation of this masterpiece and nowadays all kinds of events are held there. This is actually how volunteers have changed the whole image by coming there year by year and doing simple work. 

E: You also had one more experience, could you tell us more about it? 

Nikita: I was so impressed by my first volunteer experience, so next year I wanted to do something the same. I chose Serbia. It was also a work camp, and I felt very enthusiastic about it. Skipping all the details I would say that application procedure was not complicated at all. This camp was a little bit different since there were people only from Europe, whereas the previous time there were students from all around the globe. Very soon, we became friends and had a nice time together. 

Nevertheless, every work camp has advantages and disadvantages as well. On one hand, we went to different small villages, explored the neighborhood area when we had some free time, but on the other hand, nobody really understood what we were supposed to do. Literally, even leaders and organizers did not have an exact purpose, it was unclear why they organized this camp. 

One interesting thing that I discovered was that I did not really need English to communicate with Serbians because we could use a mixture of Russian and Serbian, so that was enough. 

As for a real change, I  was supposed to make there, this is controversial. The second work camp motivated me to apply as a potential social leader for work camps that are held in Russia, and I do hope that I can contribute to the development of volunteering movement in Russia. 

E: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us! Could you please give some piece of advice to those, who still have doubts about whether to volunteer or not? 

Nikita: The main idea is that you can volunteer in multiple ways and organizations do not usually require volunteering experience. You can even become a camp leader if you want to. So if you feel like going somewhere, and that you are good at organizing or communicating, you are always welcome to volunteer and motivate people all around the globe.

After Nikita’s inspiring speech, the next speaker Ekaterina Dunyushkina was ready to tell her story about her volunteering in Italy. 

E: Ekaterina, what was your first experience like? 

Ekaterina: When I first joined AIESEC (a platform for young people), I asked what this company may do for my personality. The answer was activating my leadership by a chance to get an experience with this organization in Sicily island during the summer. 

As for my first impression, it was a right step, because I really wanted to make this happen in my life. At the same time, it was challenging for me enough to move from one place to another, find good conditions for both sides in the house. You become more flexible and ambitious enough to believe you can make a positive impact in this world through volunteering towards the UN Global Goals. 

E:  What was the purpose of this program and what did you do there? What was your personal “change”? 

Ekaterina: The objective was to give a better prospect for children in their future. I was teaching them English. We started every lesson in a school with a question: “What are you curious about?” In the end of the summer, these kids came to me and shared the changes in their personal views. Engaging all kinds of people to achieve a goal bigger than the previous one, this is how you can empower others. 

E: Thank you so much for this touching story. And the last thing, have you got any recommendations for those, who are planning to volunteer? 

Ekaterina: Yes, for sure. Here are some tips for you. We ask and are asked thousands of questions in our life but only a few of those drive us to do something beyond ourselves. You find a right question when you are surrounded by right people! Are they challenging you enough? What am I deeply passionate about? What have I experienced in my life which was powerful beyond comparison? Would you do anything different in your life if you knew that you could fail? What is holding you back? Volunteering abroad is not easy, but surpassing challenges is what makes it worth it. You learn how to be solution-oriented. Making your contribution and seeing your impact in real-time will show you that you can indeed make a difference in the world. Become that world citizen. Going beyond what you know opens up new worlds for you. Find your values, explore your passions, and become more self-aware.

The last speaker’s speech was very special. Olga Leschenko is a volunteer in Russia, and she “makes her change” on a daily basis. She volunteers in a Centre of adaptation refugee kids. Olga teaches Math, Russian, and English for 5 kids from Kazakhstan, Syria, Afghanistan, Angola. 


K: Olya, what motivates you to do such an important work? 

Olga: My main motivation is to provide kids with the education they all have rights to. They came here to live with us so it is very important for them to know better life in Russia, Russian language and to be able to do the same things every Russian citizen does. Volunteering in the refugee center brought into my life many things - I have never thought that I can actually teach Russian and Math. I think that you not only volunteer for them, you also volunteer for yourself and develop a lot of personal skills. 

K: That sounds very interesting and obviously has a huge impact. That would be wonderful if more volunteers do the same. Do you have something to say to those who are willing to do the same? 

Olga: For new volunteers, I would advise going for everything they want with no fear, it is going to worth it anyway. 

There was a special atmosphere in the room so that one person suddenly decided to share his own experience. Beso Shengelia told us about his projects in Georgia and shared some future plans in Russia. By repeating “JUST DO IT”, he encouraged us to drop all our doubts, get rid of our shyness and make all our dreams come true. 

As we can see, heroes are among us. We have heard these inspiring stories, and now it is time to start. Everybody can contribute to something very special and “make a change” in his or her own unique way. Do what you love and love what you do! 


Author: Ekaterina Kravtsova
Editor: Irina Klimova
Proofreader: Kaelyn Cook