When I chose Macedonia to volunteer working with Roma children, I didn’t know well what I could do for them and how could I help them. In general, I didn’t know a lot about their own culture, the country and I was far from knowing the language. Due to these problems, I had a lot of doubts about coming here. Nevertheless, I also wanted to live new experiences and learn about other country I have never read about, learn about its culture and try to interact with different people. I thought this experience could be a beautiful way to know the Balkans, this unknown Europe for me. I forgot all my doubts, I did my backpack and I took the plane to Skopje one week after making this decision.
At the first moment, when the plane landed and I saw everything written in Cyrillic, doubts came to me again. It wasn’t only a different language, there was another barrier – another alphabet. However, I was in Macedonia and I couldn’t come back.
After few hours in Macedonia, I met Vladimir and Marija. They were so nice since the beginning, that I didn’t have doubts anymore. The followings days everything was even better and now I feel in Macedonia like at home.
Working with children
During the first week, we were planning the activities we were going to do with the children and, doing this program, I realized that it could help me a lot in the future to continue with one of my passions, the Scouts, as well as I could put into practice the knowledge that I have acquired with them for years.
However, the language problem returned. How to explain a game, an activity or teach without a common language? Those were the main problems I would have to face. Overcoming this is not going to be easy, just like learning Macedonian. Neither three months is enough to get to know completely the situation of a country and its inhabitants, because Macedonia has so much cultural diversity. This project represents the possibility of starting to know something else. It is an opportunity to begin to understand the situation in Europe as a multicultural entity where religions, ethnicities and languages come together and can become integrated.
As in Spain, the Roma population still suffers a lot and countries to not have active policies to solve its problems. In general, it is not known how to deal with the problems of prejudices and discrimination to which they are subjected, nor are there efficient integration programs and the population is not encouraged to approach their culture. Working with them was one of the main reasons to come here. The Roma population in Spain is quite large, as in Macedonia, and the programs to help them are almost non-existent. The fact of being able to work directly with them, to know their culture, their customs, their way of life and to be able to help them a bit was the main reason to come here. Knowing them and knowing their situation, even if it is a little different than that in my country, is the only way to help them, overcoming prejudices and be able to start working with them more actively in the future.
Working with Adults
In this project, another of the jobs we must do is teach Spanish to adults. When I arrived, I was surprised that so many people in Macedonia spoke Spanish so fluently and, even if they didn’t speak it, they understood well. However, I didn’t think the Spanish classes were so popular. When we announced it, in the early days there were more than fifty people signed up. Given my fear of public speaking, the surprise was somewhat bittersweet, because I have never worked in teaching adults.
After the first class, I saw that the levels are very different. Some speak, but do not write, others do not understand anything, some understand, but do not speak and there are some who surprised me by the high level of their Spanish. To work with so many people with so many different levels will be complicated.
Working with adults and only being twenty-two years old, can be difficult. The preparation of the classes, adapting the level to them and trying to make them fluid will be a great personal experience. Learning to speak in public and transmit knowledge are very important skills in science. This, together with the skills learned to work with children, is very useful for bringing science closer to children and making them interested in studying it.
Travelling around Macedonia
In these first weeks, I am still discovering things about Bitola. It is not very big, but its rural charm, as well as its people, makes it a cozy place where I can feel at home. In addition, its main street, Shirok Soak which is incredibly alive, makes going out to have a coffee with your friends a very pleasant experience.
The first trip I made in Macedonia was to Ohrid, a natural wonder in which there are no words left to say how fantastic the city and its lake is. The paradisaical beaches of crystal-clear water, the great amount of nature, the atmosphere of the city in summer and its gastronomy, made the trip an incredible experience. Ohrid is a natural jewel, a city that would never tire me of seeing.
Overall, these first weeks in Macedonia have been incredible. Travel, first contacts with children and adults, discovering Bitola, Macedonia and planning future trips has been a great cultural enrichment experience about the Balkans and their people.