A flexible and open attitude is truly an asset when volunteering, as Iman and her hosting organisation The Black Box discovered. When the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic cut short a physical volunteering placement, they needed to quickly adapt. Read on to learn how they didn’t let the Coronavirus stop Iman from making the most of her placement.
The Black Box is a culture and arts venue and charity in Belfast. They organise projects for people with learning disabilities, with the aim of making the arts accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Iman Masfene Martinez, a volunteer from Spain, arrived in Northern Ireland in October 2019, having found the opportunity on the European Solidarity Corps database. Her placement was coordinated by Bryson Charitable Group, a social enterprise which develops and delivers sustainable responses to social needs across Northern Ireland and beyond.
Iman says she was attracted to the placement with The Black Box because she felt that it would enrich her future studies and help her in her prospective career, and she had previously worked with people with learning disabilities: “In my hometown, I volunteered in an association for young people with physical and mental disabilities and I considered it a fantastic experience as it helped me to open my mind, exchange different worldviews and learn more about others. Consequently, I chose the placement with The Black Box.”
“Our volunteers need to be creative, enthusiastic, passionate, flexible, and fun,” said Seonaid, outreach officer at The Black Box. “Iman passed the test immediately!”
Iman’s volunteering role included supporting The Black Box team with keeping attendance, planning, and delivering workshops, as well as leading poetry sessions, thematic painting activities, film days, games days and more.
“Iman took part in music performances; art workshops; tree planting; and over 20 Black Moon Walks in different parts of Belfast and the surrounding area. These trips would not be possible without volunteer support,” said Seonaid.
Despite the Coronavirus pandemic causing major disruption to their work, The Black Box worked to ensure they could move their workshops online. Iman had to return to Spain, but she was still committed to helping the group move smoothly to digital working.
“It became clear that it was very serious, our workshops would be cancelled, and Iman took the sensible decision to go home to Spain. We discussed as a team how we thought our project could work online and decided to give it a try,” said Seonaid.
“With no break in delivery we began our Zoom workshops and haven’t looked back! Iman has been joining us from her home in Spain and it is brilliant for our group members and the whole staff and volunteer team to still be able to work with Iman from a distance.
Iman has helped us to plan and deliver a wide range of activities with the group and put together timetables. She has led bingo sessions, visual art and painting, poetry, music and Zumba with our projects all digitally. We keep in touch regularly through WhatsApp and team chats with the other volunteers.
We feel good, open communication and teamwork gave us a strong grounding to still be able to work well together – even from a distance,” said Seonaid.
“And most importantly it has meant that there has been consistency for our group members in a very uncertain time. Change can be difficult for everyone but particularly for people with learning disabilities, who have a fixed routine.”
For both Iman and The Black Box team, getting involved in European Solidarity Corps volunteering has been a rewarding experience.
“Volunteering is a great opportunity for creating connections with others, to meet new people, share different experiences, thoughts, feelings in a creative and close atmosphere,” said Iman.
“The Black Box project has been valuable for the development of important skills such as teamwork, session planning, organisation and communication.
This has given me the opportunity to build upon my skills, share with the group and learn something different from each other every day. This project has also helped me to be more self-confident and this provides a sense of accomplishment,” she added.
“Iman worked very well with all of our group members, she is patient, thoughtful and a good listener. Many of our group members are socially isolated and it is so important to be a good communicator,” said Seonaid.
“Our projects, the group members and The Black Box as an organisation benefit hugely from the international connection, perspective, cultural exchange and the sharing of experiences that goes hand in hand with working with the European Solidarity Corps.”
Youth story submitted by Bryson Charitable Group, Eurodesk UK Partner.
If international volunteering sounds like something you'd like to explore, why not sign up to the European Solidarity Corps to see what opportunities are available!