Autonomy to Act: EngagementKollegs

496 574 Social Initiative Forum

Georg Wiedemer shares how the Ehemaligenarbeit-Freunde [DE] accompanies the young volunteers to process consciously & creatively the changes they have experienced after their voluntary service with Freiwilligendienste-Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners e.V [DE]

“Whence came you hither?” asked the golden king. “Out of the clefts where gold dwells,” replied the serpent. “What is more glorious than gold?” “Light!” “What is more quickening than Light?” “Conversation!” – Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Das  Märchen, 1795

Almost 40 alumni of the Freiwilligendienste-Freunde [DE] gathered for the preparation of the Engagementkollegs last April 5-7, 2019 in Kassel, Germany. Guided by the Ehemaligenarbeit-Freunde [DE], Engagementkollegs is a series of seminars that the young volunteers can participate in after the voluntary service. The seminars are led by former volunteers.

Freiwilligendienste-Freunde has been organizing voluntary service programs for young people since 1993. The volunteers can almost work anywhere in the world for a year in the following fields: curative education & social therapy, Waldorf pedagogy, social work, ecology, community development & biodynamic farming. “We believe that the voluntary service is biographically important, especially that the young people around the age of 18 go out into the world,” said Ehemaligenarbeit coordinator Georg Wiedemer. “With Ehemaligenarbeit, we offer to continue this relationship—to carry on the work together after they had done the voluntary service with us. We reflect with them the changes they have experienced after their year abroad & explore with them how these changes can help the world.”

Like the volunteers who joined other state-funded volunteer programs under weltwärts [DE], the alumni of the Freiwilligendienste-Freunde need to attend 25 days of seminars spread out before & after the service as a requirement. When the volunteers return home, the Ehemaligenarbeit invites them for a review seminar to look back at their experiences & the changes that resulted from their immersion abroad. Georg observed, “What happens to everybody is that they change. They grow up. They change their values & expectations of life. That is where the Engagementkollegs step in, as an offer that asks: What are the changes you experienced & what do you do with this change of values now?”

Through trial & error, Georg & his team realized that autonomy is what makes Engagementkollegs successful in supporting & empowering the will of the youth after such a life-changing experience. “They get involved when it is something that matters to them. But for them to be interested, they must have autonomy in choosing the theme that is relevant to them and that concerns the world.” 

That is why the Engagementkollegs is a series of alumni-led seminars, where former volunteers plan various course offerings, depending on the questions & themes that stir their interests. Georg shared, “The questions that come up are biographical, topics like how do we live together as a group, or how do we form visions in the group are woven in the process.” The alumni also asked questions regarding different ways of schooling, which is a relevant topic to them, as most of them are off to college. “They ask questions like, ‘how do I organize my education?’ Do I follow a formalized way, like in a university? Or am I going to choose for myself, like how Andre Stern did, which is goal-learning?”, Georg added. Ideas for the upcoming seminars that emerged this year are anarchy, Waldorf education & music linked to motivation. The themes that have been popular over the years & will be tackled again in this cycle are self-development, meditation, biodynamic agriculture & Circular Economy.

The alumni have the creative freedom to plan the structure of the seminar they have chosen but the Ehemaligenarbeit team extends guidance to the organizing team when needed. How unique are the seminars planned by the alumni then? Georg cited several unique seminars they have had in the past years: “some went hiking, moving with a question on a topic & walking on the go. They gathered again in the evening & continued the discussion. Another group tackled Circular Economy on trade agreements between the EU & the African Union through a simulation game. They acted the plan during the seminar while following the pre-defined rules & roles. From the simulation game, we concluded that the African States can never have beneficial trade agreements as to how Europe benefits from them because of how the rules are currently set up.” Another way of presenting a seminar is through ‘learning by doing’. Georg said, “We make our seminars self-catered. Their peers volunteer to cook for them & in this way, the catering service becomes training for cooking & healthy nutrition. It also gives a full picture of what kind of agriculture we support & how biodynamic farming works.” 

Ehemaligenarbeit also organizes an annual Forum in collaboration with the Social Initiative Forum & the Goetheanum for the Freunde alumni. Now in its 2nd year, SIF Goetheanum 2019: Ethical Individualism is a Forum where the former volunteers process their experiences during the volunteer service & explore Ethical Individualism as a way of transforming one’s self & society. It is also opening a possibility for the alumni to encounter Anthroposophy, which is the framework that Freunde der Erziehungskunst der Rudolf Steiners e.V based their work on.

© Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners e.V

Anthroposophy is also integrated in the way the Ehemaligenarbeit work together. As Georg pointed out, “We get feedback that the Engagementkollegs are a lot different from other seminars. They have more atmosphere, mood, will. It also is in the way we treat people, how we work together with them.  I am convinced that this is because of our anthroposophical background & understanding. We try to carry out seminars not only for the intellect but also to engage the hands & the heart.” This dynamic way of learning had been experienced last April during the Engagementkollegs preparation. The seminar was enlivened by singing African folk songs & dancing a Brazilian tune; probing questions & artistic means of brainstorming & collaboration;  empowering support by the Ehemaligenarbeit team & sharing healthy meals among peers moved by conversations & laughter.

The Ehemaligenarbeit is supporting the youth’s intention to change the world by putting their ideas into deeds. “We have an interest in the world, in a world in which we think is livable & where we want to live in,” Georg said, “We also have an interest in the volunteers & their lives after they did the service with us. We want to know what are the gifts that they will bring to the world.” Hence, the Ehemaligenarbeit bridges the hopes of the youth for a more humane world & engaging their potential to make this a reality. How? Through the Engagementkollegs – involving autonomy, conversation & will. | Nicole Asis (PH), SIF Team

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