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‘weltwärts’ brings young people to Germany to do volunteer service

The development volunteer service ‘weltwärts’ offers young Germans diverse opportunities for travelling abroad. However, cultural exchanges are not a one-way street. The South-North component of the programme therefore gives young people from around the world the chance to visit Germany and perform volunteer service.

The South-North component of ‘weltwärts’ is aimed at young people from the global South who would like to spend time in Germany doing some volunteer service. What does the ‘global South’ mean and which countries of origin does the programme target? Who is eligible for a placement in Germany? Who can people contact in their home countries if they’d like to take part? Who pays for travel and accommodation, and what deadlines have to be met? The Alumniportal spoke to Miriam Elsinghorst of Engagement Global to get some answers to these questions.

Ms Elsinghorst, the South-North component of ‘weltwärts’ is intended to give young people from the global South the chance to spend time in Germany doing volunteer service. What should we understand by the term ‘global South’?

Miriam Elsinghorst: We use the concept of the ‘global South’ to denote a disadvantaged political, economic and societal situation within our global system. The term ‘global North’, by comparison, describes a privileged situation. This means that the global South and North are not intended as geographical concepts. We use the terms to replace the rather judgemental descriptions of ‘developing’ and ‘industrialised’ countries, or ‘developed’ and ‘less-developed’. Thus, wealthy people in South Africa can also be part of the global North, and economically impoverished people in Germany part of the global South.

Volunteer service with ‘weltwärts’

The development volunteer service ‘weltwärts’ of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is aimed at young people between the ages of 18 and 28. Those interested can apply to one of the placement organisations recognised by BMZ to carry out volunteer services lasting from six to 24 months. Volunteers incur no costs for their participation.

Miriam Elsinghorst is the programme officer for the South-North component of ‘weltwärts’.

Which partner countries and organisations does ‘weltwärts’ actually work with in the scope of the South-North component? What institutions in Germany offer places under the programme, and where can people apply if they want to join in?

Miriam Elsinghorst: We cooperate with countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and (Eastern) Europe. The organisations in the countries of the global South have been partners of German non-governmental organisations for many years. They’re building up the South-North component together. The German organisations, most of which also send German volunteers abroad, identify suitable placements inside Germany.

The placements are in centres for youth exchange, development education or environmental protection, as well as social institutions, child daycare centres and schools, or with people with physical disabilities. The volunteers support the daily work these institutions. For example, they might carry out theatre workshops, do handicrafts with children, or work with young people.

The organisations sending volunteers from the global South select the appropriate candidates, who will be interested in development topics and want to get involved on a voluntary basis. The ‘weltwärts’ programme provides financial assistance and ensures the volunteers have access to technical and educational support. The volunteers incur no costs in doing their work in Germany. Travel expenses, accommodation, catering and social security are all covered. The Engagement Global head office undertakes coordination, and provides advice to the host organisations.

Volunteer service ‘weltwärts’: committed to a fairer world (Video in German only)

How has the scheme been received so far? What feedback have you had from the institutions, or from the volunteers who have taken part in the programme?

Miriam Elsinghorst: Everyone involved has been very impressed by the South-North component, and by the volunteers who have contributed to the everyday work of the institutions. The volunteers can get to know a hitherto unfamiliar world; they form friendships, live with families, and get a new perspective on a range of different interrelationships.

The people in the host centres – children, adolescents and adults – learn something about the social, political and economic life in Peru, Tanzania or Nepal. And the volunteers get to experience a diverse German society. They find out how German politics works, about the social challenges that exist in Germany, and much more besides. The feedback we get tells us that they are very keen to pass on their experiences, and they feel motivated to help make our world a fairer place in the future.

What things must interested candidates consider? Where can they inform themselves about the ‘weltwärts’ programme, and where do they apply for it? What skills do they need to offer? For instance, do they already need to know German, or is it possible for them to learn this during, or parallel to their volunteer service?

Miriam Elsinghorst: Those who are interested can find out more on the ‘weltwärts’ website, in Spanish, English, German or French. At present, it’s only possible to apply from specific countries in which there are already partnerships between local and German non-governmental organisations. Candidates must be between 18 and 29 years of age. They should apply to the respective placement organisations in their own country.

The willingness to learn German is a precondition for participation, as are open-mindedness and an interest in development topics. It is also important that the volunteers should get actively involved in their own society after returning home from Germany! They do not need to have completed vocational training, but many volunteers do already have some work experience.

Interviews on the South-North component

Bettina from Cameroon is working as a volunteer with the Internationale Bund Kassel, looking after children with learning difficulties at the August Fricke School.

Ambika from India is working as a volunteer with the Internationale Bund Kassel, looking after pupils with disabilities at the Alexander Schorell School.

Francisco Abilia from Mozambique worked for a year as a volunteer at the Eduard Spanger Community School in Reutlingen, where she also supported the teaching staff in lessons and activities outside the school classroom.

One last question: Has the programme been set up for the long term, or is it just a temporary initiative? What deadlines do applicants need to observe, or can they apply at any time?

Miriam Elsinghorst: The South-North component of ‘weltwärts’ is currently in a three-year pilot phase. After that we will evaluate the component and draw conclusions about details we can improve, and what has already gone well. For example, the relationship between hosting and sending volunteers works very well, so a genuine exchange is now possible through the ‘weltwärts’ programme.

Anyone interested can apply at any time to do volunteer service in Germany. They should contact the placement organisation in their own country to find out the application requirements. Contact addresses are available from our website. Most of the organisations place volunteers during the summer months in Germany.

Discussion of volunteering in the Community

Within our focus topic ‘initiate.participate.change.’, the ‘Study and Research’ Community group is discussing a number of issues. Do you volunteer, or did you volunteer while you were studying? Why do you volunteer? What does volunteering mean to you? Tell us what you think!


Interview: Andreas Vierecke

August 2015

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Keabetswe Makwane
25 February 2020

I'm a 17 year old boy currently in Matric (Last year of high school ) in South Africa.

I would like to take a gap year in 2021 before tertiary and do volunteer work overseas to gain life experience while learning new cultures language and geographies.

30 August 2019

Am Edith from Kenya.
I would love to volunteer but am 30, is it possible?

Eric Sserwanga
10 August 2019

I want to partner with you to receive volunteers from Germany.

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