Every person’s life includes a series of learning experiences which lead to personal development on many different levels while a basic moral understanding teaches people to reach out to others in need. These two aspects were behind the drive to organize the project which my group and I titled “Christmas in a Shoe-Box”. The goal of the project was to collect Christmas donations for young refugees to be handed out at a holiday event arranged by ‘Flüchtlingshilfe Bremen’. However, on a personal level, it was more than just a charity project. It was also a learning experience which led me to understand things about myself as well as others while giving me the opportunity to test my ability to approach problems effectively and become an efficient part of a team.
It began with an idea. We were all very interested in working with or helping refugees in some form because of it being an important issue at the time. Finally, one of the members of the group suggested that we work with ‘Flüchtlingshilfe Bremen’ on a holiday event which they were organizing. We felt that collecting donations and preparing shoe boxes full of toys and clothing would be something we could handle so we suggested the idea to the manager of the refugee camp nearby. After getting a ‘green light’ from her, we sat down together as a group to talk about how we would proceed. We discussed which materials would be needed, which information would be necessary, where we would store the donations, how much time we would need to invest in the project and how we would get people’s attention. I decided to work on the flyer while the rest of the group handled other tasks, such as obtaining a list of names and ages of the young refugees and collecting materials such as gift wrap and shoe boxes. We decided to form a ‘what’s-app-group’ to stay in contact, as well as keeping each other informed by writing progress reports and sending them to each other via email. After designing the flyer and then putting it up on campus as well as posting it in several ‘Facebook-groups’, we experienced a large interest in the project in general, as well as getting a number of responses regarding the donation process, which ultimately led to us receiving far more donations than necessary. After we finished filling the boxes and wrapping the gifts, the remaining donations were stored in an archive until an employee of the University could move them to be donated to other projects. During this process the members of my group decided which tasks to manage. These tasks included picking up donations from people who were unable to come to the University, maintaining contact with the manager of the refugee camp, collecting necessary materials, and organizing storage rooms and a vehicle to move the gifts to the camp. Our group worked well together with each of us taking charge of a task which we felt best suited for.
To me, the way that my group members and I managed to pick our tasks without much discussion was one of the fascinating aspects of this experience. For example, my decision to design the flyer was made after another group member wrote an email regarding what he felt was still necessary for the project to progress. At the same time as I decided to use my skills to create the flyer, other group members decided which task they would select. The collaborative work of my group felt very organic, which is a new experience for me. In the past, I had had bad experiences with group members showing a lack of interest in projects as well as groups often suffering from an unbalanced level of input by group members. This time every member of the team put in an equal share of work and used his or her skills to contribute to the project. I never felt like I was treated unfairly. This was an important learning experience for me because I had become rather doubtful of people’s intentions in relation to working in a team, which, ultimately, influenced the way I saw my social environment. In fact, this experience has helped me understand that I have unfounded preconceptions of people, which influences the way I see the world around me. Furthermore, I have come to realize that it is important for my own sanity to remain trustful of my social surroundings. Assuming negative outcomes before getting to know the end result is harmful not only to the group but also to myself.
Another reason why I learned this lesson is the negative response I received after posting the flyer in several ‘Facebook groups’. Some people were very upset about the project and resented the fact that we would be giving donations to refugees. The reasons for these responses are not clear, but it became obvious to me, that some people felt that refugees did not deserve donations because of their origin and religious beliefs. I firmly believe that, when it comes to kindness, it does not matter who gives or takes, but simply that people share positive energy with each other. I was appalled by the idea that some people were held to be more deserving of kindness than others. I always knew that some people opposed immigration but I had no idea that people would oppose a simple act of kindness. I thought a lot about the reasons for their responses and I spent a lot of time wondering how they came to be so miserable that they would feel this way about our project and I decided that my own preconceptions about the world, after being subjected to negative experiences in my life, could cause me to turn out like the people I was so appalled by. This realization was very important to my personal development. After all, kindness is rewarding for both parties involved and remaining free of prejudice is an important aspect of maintaining a positive mental state.
In this way, breaking free from subjective thinking and seeing myself objectively, for a time, encouraged me to look at myself in different ways and helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses. Of course, the project itself was highly rewarding. Knowing that my work directly affected people in need in a positive way was extremely gratifying and gave me a feeling of ‘giving back’ what I had received from others during times in which I struggled with homelessness and poverty. It also taught me important lessons regarding management issues, such as not to underestimate time constraints, how to respond professionally to inquiries and, also, how to avoid letting negative responses create feelings of stress. Most of all, however, this experience has taught me to keep a positive mental state and has helped me re-evaluate my preconceptions about working in groups and trusting people in general. I plan to maintain this positive outlook to increase my interpersonal skills and work on my management competence. I also hope to organize more charity and donation projects in the future as well as committing other acts of kindness to help others as well as myself.