5 Ways Volunteering at C4R has Changed My Life

#Capoeira #DavisProjectsforPeace

In fall 2014, I studied abroad in Amman Jordan, where I discovered the Afro-Brazilian art form of Capoeira. It changed my life.

I was living in a new country and a new culture, it gave me a community and friends, and allowed me to express myself physically and creatively in a way that I never had been able to before. I don’t think I missed a single training the entire semester, I spent most of my time with my capoeira group, and as my time in Amman was winding down, I kept thinking, “I have to share this with everyone!”

At the end of my semester, I got an email requesting a call for grants from a program called Davis Projects for Peace. This program gave me an opportunity to design a peace-building project and implement it the following summer. I jumped at the opportunity to return to Amman! At that point, I had made friends with many different capoeiristas in the region, and I asked them how I could use this grant to create a positive impact using capoeira. From the feedback they gave me, I designed a women-focused capoeira program that developed leadership and capoeira skills for host Jordanian women to use to support refugees coming in from Syria. A few months later, after a stressful interview for the shortlist of the grant, too many frantic meetings scraping advice from my professors, and the general impending sense of freedom/doom that comes with finishing your last semester of university, I received the email: “Congratulations! Your Project Selected for Funding as a Davis Project for Peace!” I screamed. I laughed. I cried.

Fast forward a few months later, I’ve invited my best friend to come with me, successfully matched the grant through a crowd-funding campaign, bought capoeira instruments and flights, graduated from UC Berkeley, and all of a sudden I’m back under the scorching Amman sun.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last 6 months:

1. Volunteering is like yoga: It teaches flexibility, discipline, patience

I’ve volunteered abroad before, but each country, each organization, each moment in time is so different. I came with a detailed plan, a budget, and a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm. I arrived with my best friend Alice, and everything we had wanted to do changed. Our intention was to create a women’s project that started in June and lasted until August, developing women for a Training of Trainers Program. What I got was Ramadan in July, 30 plus Celsius weather everyday, and the now-seemingly obvious information that a Training of Trainers program can take a year to even single out willing participants.  Alice and I, being avid yoga enthusiasts, bent, stretched, breathed through the pain, and now the programs are running successfully in Amman at ActionAid, at Ruwwad in Jabal Nadheef, and in Azraq with Care ☺ We even have a new women’s program at Emirati Jordanian Camp!

2. Everything you hear about the refugees is wrong.

I work with women and children every week who have undergone incredible hardship; women who long for their homes, their land, the familiarity of the streets they grew up on. I work with children who know more about and have lived longer in a refugee camp than the country in which they were born. I have a core group of women in my class at Emirati Jordanian Camp, and the diversity is phenomenal: mothers, teenagers, wives, aspiring fighter pilots and lawyers, dancers and singers. I have one student who is worried about a family member she hasn’t seen in years, who is in Syria fighting. The same woman, though talks to me things that I also worry about, like weight loss, and looking nice for your partner. The refugees are ordinary humans who have been forced to leave the danger in their country.

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3.SO much work goes into creating a peace-building project

There is a huge difference between volunteering for something, and actually creating a project, and designing and implementing my own project was HARD WORK. There is so much administrative work that goes into creating social change projects that you never get to see. The end result of a capoeira project is a trainer or two giving beautiful, organized classes to a full group of students. What happens behind the scenes was so much more than I ever expected. So many people put in work to create a single class; we have amazing staff members building relationships with donors and partners, fundraising, managing logistics and finances, keeping social media up-to-date on what’s going on. There are so many details that need to be attended to, from how a project will be funded, to whose making sure there’s lunch .

4. Not everyone will support you. And that’s okay.

Many people, friends, family and strangers, were shocked and terrified when I told them I would travel to Jordan to volunteer. I’ve been told many times that psychosocial support for refugee youth should not be a priority, I should be doing something better or important, like giving people food. And, that’s okay, and also true. And if I could give food to those who don’t have, I would. According to WorldHunger.Org, the world produces enough food to feed everyone, so shouldn’t we all be feeding those who don’t have? I’ve seen capoeira transform the lives and attitudes of kids who, fortunately enough, do have food and shelter in the camp they live in, but not much else. I give what I am capable of, and at C4R, I’m enabled to give a safe space for music, sport and play.

5. Regardless of what I gave, I got so much more back.

I came with funds and a plan, the drive to learn and create, and the attitude of the “ideal volunteer.” 😉 What I’ve gotten back though, far surpasses what I came with. I’ve learned so much from so many different people with incredible experience. The team at C4R is so diverse, and I’ve been able to soak up so much knowledge from this team, especially our incredible leadership team, who started the organization themselves in Syria. I’ve learned how to work with people from all over the world, and I’ve received valuable trainings on child protection and working with people in conflict zones. I have had the opportunity to support, participate, lead and learn about all parts of the organization, from field work, to M&E, donor & partner communications, fundraising, social media, etc. I feel so prepared to continue in the development field with the support of my colleagues and with the experience I’ve gained volunteering here.

So, now that you know five ways volunteering at C4R volunteering at C4R has changed my life,  check out this article on how YOU can get involved.

Twitter @kasandralexis

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