Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

My Story – What the experience with INPRO meant to me

My Story – What the experience with INPRO meant to me

I was a very good student in secondary school. In the last year of going to school I had to undergo three operations on my knees. I had inherited an illness that caused a lot of pain. This would have meant walking in crutches for three weeks, but for me it was a whole year. I was taking classes in boarding school and staying there all the time, and had no means of getting to school with my peers.

The pain was spreading. I started to gain weight and spent a lot of time alone in my rooms. I became depressed. I passed my classes and finished my high school degree. I was going to university. That did not go as planned at all. The buses were too full, so I had to walk to school, which I couldn’t. I could not ride a bike either. I was always late. The doors of the school were too heavy to open. I didn’t dare to walk in late, so I started skipping classes. My classmates became annoyed and did not want to help me. I was always ill, did not know why and went to see many doctors, but none of them found out what was wrong with me. I took a student job, which I quickly lost due to pain and fatigue. I didn’t pass any of my exams. I wanted to start fresh next year, but it was exactly the same. I was so depressed I went to a hospital for six months.

After that I didn’t see the point in even trying to study anymore. I was just ill. I was unemployed, not in education or training. Life had no meaning to me anymore, there was just pain and fatigue. Until one day, there was a doctor that did find something. Fibromyalgia. At last the beast had a name. I could begin healing. After a year I felt capable of starting a job. I did many jobs the following years, none of which stuck. I always have difficulties with my health and the more jobs I have on my CV, the harder it gets to find another job. I have been looking for a job I can handle for the past two years and have found none. The government in Belgium has decided that I no longer need to look for a job, that I am finished. They decided this last June. I immediately became depressed again. No perspective on volunteer work, or a job, on life… I was not ready to give up. So I started school. But since I started in October, they were already started and it was too late to jump in. So, I will go to school next year. Which left me with a year to fill with something useful and interesting. That is how I wound up on the website of ESC, found INPRO and decided to go to Poland.

Nobody in my direct network could believe it. Poland. Not nearby, not warm, not specifically the country most Belgians feel like traveling to. Going there on a plane and by train all alone. It is a project for people that have fewer opportunities. I belong to this group. Even though it was hard to make the trip, I was determined to do so. And to do a good job. Strangers helped me on the train and in the airport to carry my bags, including a nice cab driver. When I arrived at the hostel, the person who welcomed us had to help me carry my bags up the stairs. I just couldn’t anymore. My peer volunteers then went to get some groceries. I spent the first weekend in bed and every weekend since. It is very hard for me to do a fulltime job. In fact, I realized, I just can’t.

 

It already started the first day. It was explained to us that we were supposed to volunteer at a food bank and at an animal shelter. This shelter is a 45 minute walk away from the hostel and then you need to walk the dogs for an hour. Impossible for me. There was also a city tour in the schedule for three hours. Definitely impossible. I told the organization that I couldn’t walk that long and far, which was fine. I hoped there wouldn’t be anything else I would have to clarify.


Unfortunately, there was. The third day was a Wednesday. We have Open café on Wednesdays. Which is an activity in the evening. So after a day of work, there is also some work in the evening. It is a nice atmosphere, but the day is just too long for me. So I didn’t go. I decided to talk to the organization about the health problems I have. I had a very good conversation with the coordinators the next day. I told them that I supposedly would not be able to join in on the activities as much as I would like to. I told them that in Belgium, I get remarks about this, that people get angry with me at work and I lose jobs because of this. That I felt left out a lot. They were very understanding. They told me that, if some things were not possible, that there was no point in forcing me to do them, that that is in fact bullying. That really touched me deeply. I had never thought of it in that way.

The next weeks were very hard for me personally. My relationship ended, after being in Poland for two days. I had to find a new apartment, organize a move. I have financial problems because of the break-up. I am being bullied by my ex-partner. I have tried the whole time not to let these problems come between me and my volunteering, but the stress had physical implications and I was ill a lot. I missed out on a lot of cool things.

However, I almost never felt left out. When I was able to participate, the group was welcoming, warm and fun. I decided I would focus on the festival and to do what I could to participate as much as I could in this. Which worked out. I did a presentation on Belgium, manned the country corner of Belgium and participated in the debate.  I wrote the questions for the debate and made the backdrop for the festival. The only thing that was a bit disappointing to me was that not a lot of people came, about fifty. There were twenty of us. During the time off I had to rest a lot. During the six weeks here I was able to go to dinner three times and I went out for a drink three times. Apart from that I only did laundry and rested and rested some more. Sometimes I was jealous that the others could do cool trips and go out often.

 

Still, I do not regret coming at all. I got out of my depressed state that I had been in since June. I arrived in a warm group, experienced other cultures through them and experienced a trip that I never could have done without ESC. For that I am very grateful. It is an experience I definitely want to recommend to people that are having a hard time or that have fewer opportunities.

Fien De Waele