Volunteering Day at Swiss Red Cross

14 Jan

This week I did my volunteering day with work. Most companies in Switzerland allow employees a day a year to volunteer to do charity and community work. There are normally some stipulations though. You aren’t allowed to volunteer at adult sports clubs or religious or political events. Because the company sees this opportunity for the employee to better themselves and to help do good work in the community, the volunteer day is classed as a working day.

Lots of the assignments get booked up really quickly, especially the ones involving animals. I chose to volunteer with the Swiss Red Cross. For the past 20 years the Swiss Red Cross has run a campaign called “2 x Christmas”. After the Christmas period, they ask for members of the public to donate items that they have received in duplicate over the Christmas period or an unwanted items that they have at home. People wanting to donate items take their boxes to the Post Office and they deliver them to the Red Cross free of charge. The items are distributed to poor people in Switzerland and in Eastern Europe.

We had the task of opening boxes that people had sent and organising and re-packing the items that they had sent in. The majority of items were food but hygiene articles, clothing, toys and other items were also donated. A hard job that thankfully I didn’t have to do was to read the expiry date on all of the food items to make sure that they were in date. It was sad to see that some people had used the opportunity just to clear out old stuff that they hadn’t used from their cupboards. Some of the food items were as old as 2012.

We were assigned to different tasks after the tasks were explained to us. I volunteered to build boxes. I was a bit surprised to say the least when I volunteered to do this and the leader laughed at me and said a woman? It turns out that sexism exists not just in the workplace but also when you volunteer to do things out of the goodness of your own heart. At this point, I wondered if I had misunderstood what the task was. Perhaps I had misunderstood and I had to carry heavy boxes. It didn’t help matters when a woman stood next to me said something in Swiss German that I didn’t understand but I could tell from the look on her face that she was very concerned about the decision that I had made.

Finally, I was shown my task. I had understood correctly. I was building boxes for the sorted articles to be packed into. The reason why the leader was laughing about a woman volunteering to do this job was because I had to use a huge, industrial-style staple gun that worked by air pressure to build the boxes. I was a little nervous myself when I first used it but soon got used it and was well on my way. I couldn’t really understand why no one wanted to volunteer for this job. It was great and a lot of staff members came up to me to ask how everything was going. When I mentioned that I was really enjoying myself, they also said that they liked this task.

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I didn’t know much about the Swiss Red Cross before I “worked” for them but after lunchtime we had a small talk about what the organisation does. I was shocked to find out that around a million people are classed as poor in Switzerland. For a country that known  for money, I find this quite shameful. A person is classed as poor in Switzerland if they have less than 2’600 CHF per month. This is crazy if you consider that you can easily spend 2’600 per month for a flat in Zurich. It made me realise how fortunate I am to not to have to worry about money or where the next meal is coming from. I guess that we all take this for granted.

Back to the task in hand and I am really getting into the swing of things. I am not one to to things by halves and I soon get into the zone. So much so that at about 3pm they were thinking about asking me to stop making the boxes because I had made so many of them. But they let me carry on but said just to take it easy.

At the end of the day, the leader who initially laughed at my eagerness to build the boxes came to tell me what a great job I had done and that he was impressed with how hard I worked. He might not be laughing when they unload boxes in Belarus only for the bottoms to fall out because I haven’t assembled them properly!

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