Volunteer exchange programmeThe GIVE (Grundtvig Initiative on Volunteering in Europe for Seniors) programme, funded through the European Lifelong Learning programme, has given six people from Belfast the chance to take part in a volunteer exchange with older people living in Madrid.
Six people from Belfast were selected to spend six weeks with organisations in Madrid, learning and sharing their knowledge and experiences. In return, volunteers from Madrid visited Belfast.
The programme closed with a joint conference in Madrid where each volunteer gave a presentation on their experiences. It was a huge success and all have reported increased language skills, self confidence and cultural awareness.
The final report is now with the funders for approval.
A toolkit was produced by the project managers. It contains recruitment tools, induction procedures and evaluation processes. If you're developing a senior exchange project and interested in using the toolkit for your own programme, you can email Adele Faulkner on firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
BlogOur volunteers will be writing their own weekly information blog throughout the exchange.
Below you can read David and Isobel's blog about their stay in Madrid .
You can also read all our previous volunteers' blogs in our blog archive.
David and Isabel's blogs:
We are returning to Ireland exhausted mentally and physically but happy. The six weeks seem to have passed in a blur. The memories overlap each other and it will be some weeks to reflect on everything before we can enjoy them. Our experience has been very positive. During our time here we have received a lot of support from voluntary organizations, volunteers and the team at Voluntarios por Madrid. We have both shared in the generosity and hospitality of the volunteers at Rotary and also our social mentor José Luis.
On balance the positives much outweigh the negatives. This programme has given twelve volunteers the opportunity to experience with someone else different types of volunteer work in another country, in another culture and for several weeks to move outside our normal comfort zones. For this we are grateful.
For us our friendship has been exceptional. We have both learnt much about ourselves and also our different lives in Northern Ireland. For us both it has been a journey shared.
Isabel has enjoyed her work doing conversational English with the seniors, who surprised her at her final class when they showered her with praise and gifts. She was a bit disillusioned that due to the Festival de San Isidro she was unable to complete the planting of flowers and vegetables in the garden she had prepared for the seniors at Asispa.
For David it was his work with the young and adolescents that gave him most enjoyment. It made him draw on all his skills to fulfil the tasks. One certainty is that the high and low points of the trip are different for both of us.
For Isabel, the fact that her name appears on buildings, monuments and statues reflects the importance of women in society, particularly if you are called Isabel. On the other hand her most negative memory is that now, because she has knee problem, that she knows the number of steps in every tube station in Madrid. The other negative point is that David likes to eat all the things she doesn't, particularly offal and shellfish.
In contrast David likes the fact that David dances Argentine tango, Madrid is a tango heaven with good teachers and milongas. Also he enjoys the challenge of having to cook interesting food when he only has two hot plates. It was with some satisfaction that David, a daily irritant both to Isabel and the office of the Voluntarios was seen to regularly lose his belongings! For David the only negative thing was that for most of the our time here the weather was similar to Ireland, other than there was no snow. Perhaps tomorrow!
Thanks from both of us to everybody for helping to make this a fantastic experience for us.
Where did the time go! The Irish weather is starting to go and the temperature is rising. By Thursday we had gone from fine afternoons to 28 degrees C. The evening walks in Retiro Park were lovely. The whole of Madrid seems to be out. One evening I made a Labrador dog very happy when I dropped my ice cream in front of him.
I finally finished planting the potatoes but still have had no additional help. With another public holiday next week, St Isidro patron saint of Madrid I am worried I may not be able to finish planting the garden. If they have the plants David and I are going to go over and finish it on Tuesday.
The seniors seem to be enjoying their English lessons and gave me a round of applause at the end of this weeks' class.
On Thursday the hot weather reduced the numbers we fed a St Vincent de Paul by 40. As we finished early Pedro instead of going by the tunnel (M30) Pedro took me back to base over ground. It was a nice way go see Madrid.
We had a new experience on Friday when we went to a charity concert in Joy
Eslava, a night club near Sol. There were four great bands, gospel, rock and a
Spanish version of Madness (Almedadosoulna)who were very slick. The
audience went home happy.
With the end of our visit in sight David and I had a look over Madrid on Monday from the cable car. With a 2km journey, the views are spectacular and you realise the size of Casa de Campo Park. What a wonderful public amenity in the centre of the City.
What can I add? As with Isabel, the numbers being fed at StVdeP were down due to the heat. The heat in the Dining Room from the kitchen and bodies, whilst conducive to losing weight, sapped our energies.
On Thursday at Pinardi I was tasked with trying, in two weeks, to give four students, two Ecuadorian and two Moroccan, enough English to be waiters. After initial protests from one that he wanted to do something else, they all threw themselves into the lesson with gusto. At the end they said that they had enjoyed it and were sorry that I was only going to be there for two weeks. This, I told them, should really focus their attention and that to maximise the benefits of next weeks' lesson they had better look at the information sheets I had prepared for them. The quid pro quo was that I have to learn some Arabic greetings for next week.
The high spot of the Friday concert for me was Los Petersellers, a three piece satirical rock band. They were musically tight with songs with very amusing lyrics. The more positive aspect was I was introduced to Martín Lomas Alvarez, chief executive of Opción3. This is the first time in Madrid that I have come across an organisation that works with marginalised young people in similar way to YouthAction, my organisation in Belfast. I hope to meet him next week, our last, to compare notes and see if there is a possibility of doing something jointly in future.
This week the distribution of food was disrupted by a flat battery on the wagon, a common occurrence. We eventually found a van that worked and made it around the circuit.
David and I had a very enjoyable visit to the Reine Sophia Museum on Saturday where we of course saw Guernice and part of the modern collection before having a nice lunch in the restaurant. I thought the portions were a little small.
In the evening, we had a relaxing night in the company of Maria and her husband, Celso, who had both visited us in Belfast. The evening finished with coffee in the Café Oriente, a small traditional mirrored bar close to the Opera House.
The journey to Segovia on Sunday was memorable for the green fields and the snow on the hills. I thought was viaduct and the Cathedral were beautiful.
Having missed a day digging in the garden this week due to the public holidays I am concerned that it will not be completed before I go home.
The tennis on Monday was memorable for David once again misplacing something and the resulting panic. This time it was his lunch ticket. His back pack is a bit like the Bermuda Triangle. Things go into it and are never seen again. Finally we found it - fallen out his pocket and on his seat. We had a wonderful meal, great tennis.
Finally we had a fine day. Until now, the weather has been like a typical Irish spring, wet and grey, something almost unhead of in Madrid. It made our visit to the Madrid Open Tennis very pleasant. The Williams sisters are awesome athletes but the power of the men has to be seen to be believed. The tennis they play bearts little resemblance to my game other than the kit and the racquet.
Lunch in the VIP Club, whilst exceptional, emphasised the gap between the haves and the 250 people that we feed lunch to on Fridays at St Vincent de Paul.
On Sunday two volunteers Benito and Santiago took us to Segovia. The outstanding feature is of course the Roman viaduct, hard to miss at 1 km long, and the Alcazar with its fantastic views over the surrounding country. Like Toledo, Segovia retains its unique architectural integrity.
Our working week was curtailed by the two public holidays on 1st and 2nd May. We managed to see two processions in Sol, one by choice and the other by accident. The first was the ceremonial military march past in Sol to commemorate the massacre of the citizens of Madrid by the French on 2nd March 1808. The following day in the same square, we stumbled across, another large unofficial demonstration, this time to promote the legalization of cannabis. The marchers wore a different type of uniform and there seemed to be a 'sweet' smell in the air, however, the police let it wend its peaceful way through the square.
On Thursday, I participated in an interesting class, working in Spanish with some Chinese students. The aim of the lesson was to help them to realise the benefit of, and indeed the need, to learn Spanish in order to help their absorption into Spanish society and of course their job prospects etc. Spanish is essential for immigrants. Through the creative linking of ideas and role play the teacher built an awareness of the positive aspects of learning Spanish.
I had another heavy week in the garden at Asispa and filled 13 bags with branches and leaves that had been blocking the light from the garden next door: I then prepared the ground for tomatoes and potatoes. I love the work but need additional help if the work is to be completed before I leave next month. The work was very tiring. I then had a relaxing shower before joining David and Jennifer, his sister for dinner.
My English classes with the seniors continue to be great fun. I finally made contact with my David and learnt that his son, another David, had been playing in the final of a school football cup. Unfortunately they lost the match. I had a much needed rest whilst volunteer David and Jennifer went to meet a friend of his.
My day at St Vincent de Paul from 9 to 2pm was hard but rewarding work. The pressure is always on to get the food ready for 12.15 when the 250 people arrive for their lunch.
The work on Friday at Rotary, distributing food is very different with food to be collected and delivered to schools and the like. The work gives a respite from work the previous day.
David, Jennifer and I had a fantastic evening on Friday when 13 volunteers from Madrid entertained us royally. The night was finished off with some traditional Spanish and Irish songs.
On Saturday, our visit to Toledo to see Jennifer's god daughter Lorna who runs a language school there, was accompanied by the usual 'Spanish' rain. Lorna provided a guided tour of the town and we finished off the day with an excellent meal in a restaurant in an old Moorish house outside the old town and now a hotel, which was also catering to first communion parties and a wedding.
The tourist mode continued on Sunday when we visited El Escorial with Carmen and Ana. This is an amazing complex of monastery buildings, college and Basilica about an hour from Madrid. The burial place of the Kings of Spain, the buildings were truly breath taking. Finally the sun appeared in the late afternoon to finish a memorable day and was duly noted in my diary.
At last the week appears to be settling into a routine. The combination of the daily travelling to different places, types of work and the different timetables for each day has left us both very tired. It makes having a siesta or rest difficult if not impossible. This is really a necessity if one is to avoid cumulative fatigue.
However this is a small price to pay for the fantastic experience. As I had thought the novelty factor from last weeks English class with the school refusers was a one off. This weeks' English lesson was more difficult as it was harder to keep their attention. It proved an interesting test of the abilities of both parties.
The teacher at the after school class for younger school children is extremely talented and skilled at getting through a lot of work in the three hours of the class. To have an unskilled assistant imposed on you is, I have no doubt, a handicap however she managed to involve me in their craftwork and a role playing exercise. I felt I made a more positive contribution helping them with their homework.
Socially all the stops were pulled out for us this week, for which we have been very grateful. My sister Jennifer hit if off with Isabel and she had a very positive experience of Madrid during her ten day stay here.
Wednesday - I spent the morning doing conversational English with the San Francisco seniors. We had fun trying to talk in English and Spanish and using our hands to help us. In the evening I met David and two Spanish volunteers, Carmen and Ana, who took us to a jazz café and then to a Galician restaurant in the old artist's quarter of Madrid for a lovely meal.
Thursday - I went with Yasmina to work in the kitchens of St Vincent de Paul where David worked last week. I found it a very intense day. I peeled more potatoes than I believed possible - then cut up tomatoes, beans and garlic. I could not get the smell off my hands. After serving the food to more than 200 people I was shattered, however in the evening I recovered enough to visit the Prado where I saw Goya's masterpiece '3rd May'.
Friday - David and I worked with three other volunteers for Madrid cleaning graffiti off the walls in a housing estate as part of volunteer project. It seemed like we were working on the Great Wall of China. With our white overalls, hoods and gloves we looked like something out of a science fiction movie. The residents of the estate wanted to know who was coming to visit? I finished the day doing our washing. David went to London for two days to see his son Patrick's exhibition of sculpture and drawings at a gallery in central London.
As a result of spending too much time on my feet my ankle was swollen and need a bandage.
Saturday - I caught up on my sleep before going shopping. I then had an interesting and informative tour of Madrid on the Madrid tour bus.
Sunday - I visited my friend Marta Rey and her husband when she did a course on reconciliation with one of the organisations that I work for. They showed me around Madrid. I have been interested to see the amount of coverage on the news about the King who broke his leg whilst hunting elephants. This incident has proved to be very controversial here.
Monday - David and I had a busy day. First we attended a conference to promote volunteering in commercial firms and to emphasise the benefits that accrue both to society and the firms who do it. In the afternoon we visited the Palacio Real which was fantastic. The building provided an opulent contrast to the living conditions of some of the people we have worked with as volunteers.
I continue finding the contrasting types of work interesting. Whilst perhaps not physically challenging, the travelling and the contrasting work and conditions ensure that the experience is not dull and is thought provoking.
Working with school children in a Pinardi post school programme proved to be very testing. It took time to break through their natural reserve which younger children have when meeting an unknown adult. The teacher's skills using ice breaking games led to a moderately successful outcome to my first visit. This experience contrasted with my previous experience at the Fundacion Tomillo where I had worked with an older ager group of adolescents.
The Friday work programme of graffiti cleaning and the Monday conference on corporate volunteering contrasted with the normal daily work. Both of these gave food for thought as to how these types of volunteer programmes might work in Belfast.
I am glad to say that there was still time to see Madrid, a beautiful and wonderfully relaxed city. My involvement on the local Argentine tango scene appears to have awakened some interest in the people we are working with. Several have signalled their intention to try it. Of this, more anon.
My brief visit to London gave me some respite from speaking Spanish which whilst is very enjoyable is fairly intensive. Any benefits however were offset by the lack of sleep which arose through having to go clubbing and socialising with my son's and their friends. I was glad to be back to work on Monday.
The plane arrived early on Tuesday evening and David met me and took my heavy case to our apartment where Jasmina from Volunteers for Madrid had filled the fridge with food for breakfast.
On Wednesday we went to Retiro Park to visit a project called Comparte where seniors and school children shared each others games. There we met Ana again one of the first Spanish volunteers to come to Belfast.
Later at the Foundation we were greeted by the six volunteers from Madrid who had visited Belfast. A large spread of delicious food was provided and we all caught up on our news. We then went and got our travel passes for the month.
Thursday when David went for an induction about the work of the Pinardi organisation, I went back to the park where groups containing both young and old shared a camera to photograph events in the Park.
On Friday, I met Pedro at the Rotary centre where we collected and delivered food to schools and areas of social deprivation. This was very satisfying work. The Spanish volunteers, Pedro and Ana, who is a co-ordinator for Rotary, took me to an excellent tapas bar to celebrate my first working day.
The following day Ana, Jose Luis and Xavier took us to El Capricho, a very beautiful 17th century park formerly owned by the Duchess of Osuna and designed in the classic French style. Unfortunately the weather was very Irish, cold. We had everything except snow.
After visiting Orange and Cortes Ingles to sort out my phone, communication was re-established with Belfast.
Sunday 15th we met Susan, a friend of David's who teaches English in Madrid and went to Caixa Foundation to see a wonderful exhibition on Ballets Russe and Diagaley.
On Monday I went to an old people's home where I dug the garden and planted potatoes, helped cut the hedges and helped lay out a plan for a new garden. I had a wonderful day but was very tired at the end. When I came home I made us a burger and chips.
The orientation process has been hectic. The change of rhythm to life, type of work, life style and the exposure to the work of volunteers has left us both elated but exhausted.
We had been able to work with a range of groups that have exposed us to how Madrid, a city of more than four million people, deals with social problems caused by unemployment, immigration, lack of education, and an aging population.
When at 12.15 on Friday, 250 or so people began to arrive at the door of St Vincent de Paul to collect and eat the meal we had prepared, there was the realisation that behind every cold statistic was a human being, each of whom had social problems that needed dealt with. Very humbling.
In contrast, I was thrown into the lions den when I arrived at Fundacíon Tomillo. A class of 16-19 year olds who, I was told, had opted out or refused to attend school, were waiting for me to teach them some English. Uhmm! Deep breath. Must remember to keep moving as that makes you a more difficult target to hit. Add some humour. Make them realise they already know a lot of English from records, television, films etc and an hour later I emerged, tested but unscathed. A great experience. I wonder what the second week holds for us.