Rozalia is a long-term volunteer at the Cyrenians in Edinburgh, living in and working with young homeless people. She’s travelled all the way from Bulgaria to volunteer. Here we ask her why she volunteers, how it benefits her and what she’s learned from it.

So, first of all, when did you begin volunteering and why?

My first volunteering experience was doing an EVS in Germany in 2012, working with children and young people in the field of recreational activities and environmental education. This experience opened up the way to many other opportunities that I learned about and I have been involved, in various short-and long-term projects ever since: volunteering at the annual International Film Festival in Sofia, at the Refugee Centre in Sofia teaching English to teenagers and adults, doing work camps with the SCI every summer (sometimes two in a row), some independent theatre festivals… I find it very stimulating and rewarding and I recommend it to all the young people I work with. I’m currently a long-term volunteer with the Cyrenians at the residential city community in Edinburgh, supporting people who have experienced homelessness as a peer mentor. I had been looking for a project related to youth work ever since I did a work camp with the SOS Children’s Villages in Hungary and I find it a very challenging but in many ways also very rewarding project to be involved in.

Going forward from these charitable experiences, do you think they have had a great impact upon your life?

It certainly opens up a different world to you and gives you a sense of purpose. Short-term projects, as well as long-term ones, can be a great way to meet people, hear different stories, gain a new perspective and learn to appreciate things you used to take for granted. You can get as much from such an experience as you are ready to invest in terms of time and energy – it can be a fun new way to travel and make friends or a truly life-changing experience that makes you a more active and involved person, building deeper connections with people around you.

What advice would you have for anyone out there who may be on the fence about volunteering?

Give it a try! It could be a great way for anyone to spend some time doing something different, exploring new places, meeting new people and taking a break from the routine of going to work, thinking only about the money and time that you never have enough of and ambitions, drawing up a path you’re not sure you are that enthusiastic about. You spend a few months somewhere helping out with other people’s problems and you certainly end up learning more about yourself and your own goals and priorities. You learn new ways of solving problems, new ways of thinking about the world, a new language and a new way of seeing the place you live in.

Was there any particular skills or professional development that arose from your volunteering experiences?

I learned a new language – German, during my EVS year. I learned a lot of soft skills and people skills when I was there and I keep developing them in different ways, even now – Living and communicating with people from different cultures and backgrounds, discovering the needs of people from different age groups and social situations and trying to respond to them without judging and comparing. Some of these skills have helped me a lot in my work as a teacher of English back home. Some of these have made me a more open-minded person and a more adventurous traveller. Some of them have simply helped me appreciate the variety of people, ideas and skills you can learn from out there.

Do you think that there is a ‘right time’ for one to volunteer?

Any time, any place. The earlier, the better, of course – there are so many possibilities for young people out there that I wish I knew about or I wish existed when I was a teenager. But it’s never too late, and one should definitely wait for a time when you are less busy or a time you feel bored. Just find a friend, if you don’t feel confident enough, and give it a try now.

Right now you’re working on an amazing project aimed at preventing homelessness, how are you finding it?

It’s a very challenging project, sometimes a lot more than I expected and was prepared for. It can really make you explore your comfort zone about many things in your daily life and put you through a lot of stress and frustration when you are trying out a way of dealing that’s not working. Yet, in many ways it’s also more rewarding and dynamic that I thought. I have met a lot of great people and had a lot of support from our international team of volunteers, the staff and even people at the IVS offering mentorship and advice. We live and work with young people that tend to be difficult and unpredictable in many ways and we simply try to do the only thing we can do for them – we’re constantly looking for solutions and new ways of offering them support or finding the best option for them to move on.

Today, we saw a 1968 film about the first Cyrenians community in the city and the philosophy behind it. It is amazing that the idea of working with people marginalized and labelled by most as misfits in a way that sees them as humans in need has been sustained in this organization for so many years and I see that genuine belief in people working here, despite all the problems we face, day in and day out.

There is also a lot more to us than the just the residential communities – we have the Fare Share program delivering food to a number of charities, we volunteer each week at the food depot in Leith distributing food brought to us by supermarkets and farms with the Good Food initiative, and we have people offering employability programmes, life skills, etc.

Thank you so much for your time Rozalia, keep up the great work!

For more information on the great work done by the Cyrenians, visit their website.

To see the community Rozalia lives in and the residents, volunteers and staff going about their daily tasks and activities, watch this video.