The 22-year-old Rwandan Gaston Uwayezu has been living and working in Germany for good three months, where he is currently volunteering to get to know and support facility management at the UEM mission house in Wuppertal. He is one of 12 South-North volunteers invited by the UEM from its member churches in Africa and Asia to do voluntary service in the German region from April 2018 to March 2019. In an interview with Martina Pauly, Gaston and Lisa Bergmann, who is coordinating the South-North Volunteer Programme at UEM, describe their respective experiences with the exchange programme.
Gaston, how did you hear about the exchange program in Rwanda?
Gaston: I am involved in my church, the Shyogwe diocese of the Anglican Church in Rwanda (EAR), as leader of youth work. I was recommended for the exchange program because I am volunteering in my diocese. In Rwanda I work in the building trade and have built houses for old and poor people - this was a kind of social work in the form of handicraft projects, so to speak.
Is this your first time in Germany or Europe?
Gaston: Yes, this is my first time in Europe. And this is the first time I've flown on a plane! It wasn't easy for me at the beginning, I already had a queasy feeling when flying.
What were your previous expectations of your stay in Germany?
Gaston: I came to get to know the German culture, the language and the people here in Germany and to see how people live in Germany.
What has surprised you in Germany so far?
Gaston: Germany is a very developed country. Unlike in Africa, you don't see people living on the streets because they don't have any money. Here everyone has at least some money and nobody really has to live on the street.
Lisa, how are the South-North volunteers prepared for their stay in Germany?
Lisa: First of all I am always in close contact with the South-North volunteers. In addition, German courses and cultural preparation courses are taken in the respective home countries. But this depends above all on the region from which the volunteers come. The future South-North volunteers from Tanzania, DR Congo, Rwanda are going to Tanzania for language and cultural preparation courses.
How many days did your classes last, Gaston?
Gaston: My German and preparation courses lasted 4 weeks.
What are your positive experiences in Germany so far?
Gaston: The work ethic and time management in Germany impress me.
What challenges have you experienced in Germany so far?
Gaston: The German language is difficult. Many people help me, but it is still difficult to learn the German language.
What does your work here at the mission house look like?
Gaston: The first week consisted at first of office work and that bored me. When I got the opportunity to accompany and support Andreas (editor's note: Andreas Janelt is a caretaker in the mission house), the work became very interesting. Since then I have been constantly busy and have no time for homesickness. Besides, Andreas doesn't speak English, so I'm challenged to speak German and can improve my German skills. I work a lot with Andreas, who shows me how everything works. But the people here trust me to do other manual tasks such as painting offices on my own.
Tell us about your family.
Gaston: My family lives in Rwanda. My father is a professional driver and my mother is a nurse. I have two brothers and one sister, all younger than me.
Lisa: Gaston told me that as an elder he is used to helping at home and, by the way, he is an excellent cook (both laugh.)
How do the South-North volunteers here in Germany continue to be accompanied?
Lisa: There are a lot of seminars for the volunteers during the year, 25 seminar days in total, of which I lead 15 seminar days. In between there are also other seminars, for example on global learning, political learning and participation in the Young Adults Network. In addition, we stay in contact and continuously reflect on what has happened.
Do you have contact with other South-North volunteers?
Gaston: Yes, we have a WhatsApp group and we talk about problems that others in Germany have and which solutions are possible.
What are your plans for the future?
Gaston: I finished secondary school in Rwanda and find the training as a facility manager in Germany very interesting. If I had the chance to receive such an education, I would like to go further in this direction.
What do you have to say in conclusion?
Gaston: First of all I thank UEM for this exchange programme. For us Africans it is very interesting to see how they live in Germany. I always wonder, for example, why we cannot build these high houses in Rwanda? The transport sector in Germany is also well developed. The programme also allows us young people to make new friends and exchange ideas. I would like to thank the UEM once again for this opportunity.
Lisa: I am very, very happy that for the first time we have a South-North volunteer here in the mission house of the UEM. This is an experiment so to speak and I am glad that Gaston feels so comfortable at this location.
Thank you very much for the interview.
More information on the UEM South North volunteer program are available here.