Volunteering during the General Assembly of the World Blind Union in Geneva
31 August 2008
245 volunteers were involved in the Blind Union World Assembly to accompany several hundred blind and partially sighted delegates from around the world. All together, they contributed some 10,000 hours to the project. Tony Ruepp was a member of the volunteer team and shares his impressions with us.
A few months ago, I read in the newspaper a call for volunteers for the occasion. The many blind delegates from all over the world would need assistance during their stay in a for them foreign environment. I spontaneously signed up. As I already had another commitment, I was unable to attend the training and, upon arrival on 17th August, I received a "crash course".
The work with the blind was a profound experience.
Already after just two days, we felt like we were among old friends. And when saying "see you tomorrow", we were no longer aware of the fact that the assisted could actually not see us. What was fascinating was how the blind were able to find each other in large crowds. Some soundbite in the concert of voices was enough - then an acclamation - and purposefully they went one towards another. We learned to understand how important the voice is for a blind person.
Together for breakfast, on the tram, to eat, in the evening at the concert - we were constantly on the go. In the training, we learned what was important and right and enjoyed to then apply the new knowledge in the correct way. The more languages you were able to speak, the better you were off. Spanish was scarce. All the Spanish speakers received a blue dot, so they could also be recognized by fellow volunteers. Bright orange T-shirts were our uniform. Delegates who were not totally blind or accompanied were able to identify us and speak to us. In the plenary hall the task was to bring delegates to the right seat, note when they wanted to speak, accompany them to the bathroom, during coffee breaks or to make sure they would get to the workshops.
Manufacturers of various aids showed their products at a fascinating exhibition. Unfortunately, we were not able to guide all the blind delegates individually through the exhibition.
Our organization was skidding at times, considering the very challenging requirements, and from time to time one could see sparks behind the scenes. Such a three-shift operation with changing locations is very complex. The fact was that on the front, things ran perfectly smoothly. Towards the end, things settled in. Volunteers were thanked with a big applause at the closing ceremony. Without us, the event would not have been possible. And that was also duly acknowledged.
At the breakfast, we exchanged anecdotes and how many marriage proposals our young (and less young) ladies had received! Among ourselves, there was great camaraderie.
ICVolunteers provided accommodation, meals and transportation so that the volunteers and helpers would not have to bear any additional costs.
Such a volunteer experience is an experience for life and I can only encourage anyone to participate.
Posted: 2008-8-31 Updated: 2011-10-07