Y.M.C.A. Echo: Rainbows and Unicorns

Welcome back to Y.M.C.A. Echo – a weekly collection of inside-out stories from the Y.M.C.A. Siderno world, brought to you by ESC volunteers.

Today we embark on a tale with surprising outcomes, Luisa’s personal experience with YMCA. I call it… „Rainbows and Unicorns”.

[Larisa]: Hi Luisa! Thank you for taking some time to discuss with me your personal experiences.

Tell me, what time is it now when you started reading this?

(I tell you the answer as Luisa never got to answer the interview questions in writing, but we had a pleasant one-hour conversation about her past, present, and why not, imagining just a bit her future and life after joining the YMCA Siderno team.) 

Luisa started reading my message at the airport, somewhere in this world, just returning from her yearly holidays. 

[Larisa] Can you describe a bit how was your day today so far? Think of short snippets of what you did since you woke up. Then summarize all in 6 words.

[Luisa] Short 15 min walk through the city on my way to the office… maybe some coffee or chitchat, internal meetings, reading project summaries, and here I am… 2 hours later. Six words? I am thankful for my life! 

[Larisa] How would you describe yourself today? What are your dreams, aspirations, and passions?

[Luisa] I take it slowly. Enjoy life as it comes. I have my good and my bad days, but at the end of the day, I am thankful for the friends and people here. I am so lucky to have been well welcomed and tendered to by everyone. I do not plan my life anymore but live in the moment and build my happiness from it. 


[Larisa] Who is Luisa from 10 years ago? Where were you at that time, and what were you doing? 

[Luisa] I was a little girl, I guess, in school, trying to build a life as most people do. Dependent on what other people have to say about me or my life. I finished school just before the pandemic, a time when the job market froze. I could not find anything for long time. A friend presented European Solidarity Corps as a great opportunity, so I said I would try. One year abroad seemed to be a better plan than waiting in my room for some recruiter to call back.  


[Larisa] How did you discover YMCA Siderno, and when? 

[Luisa] I applied on the Youth Portal. I completed my profile, and one day, I got an email: “an organization wants to access your profile”; This is how I got the invitation to do an interview for a long-term (11 months) European Solidarity Corps program. That was in 2020.  

[Larisa] How was your selection period for becoming a volunteer at YMCA Siderno? Do you recall the selection process, how you felt, and prepared for it, and what emotions you attached to it?

[Luisa] I was honest all the time, telling them I like working with kids, having some practice with this with my two nieces. Also, I would always find myself comfortable surrounded by kids, so I would appreciate gaining more experience in the field if given the chance. I recall they were looking for two volunteers. They explained the city is not big, but the community is very tied and welcoming. 

I did not even get accepted in the first place. The first interview ended without me knowing if I passed or not. I wrote back a few weeks later to ask about the status of my application, and that was when I found out I was not selected. 

But then again, if you are meant to receive something in life, you obtain it sooner or later. Later, I got another e-mail saying I got accepted, as I was second on the list and the first selected dropped out. What can I say… I took the chance, and I am happy I did so!


[Larisa] How did you feel when you got the acceptance to be an ESC volunteer in Siderno?

[Luisa] I needed a change in my life. I needed to be more independent to live on my own, to build my way in this life. I was a bit afraid, I was used to living in big cities, to having my family and friends around. In Siderno, in the beginning, I had none of these. The city is small, I knew no one, and I did not understand a word of Italian. 


[Larisa] How did you adapt to the city and its lifestyle?

[Luisa] It took a while, sure. When you leave your country, you leave everyone behind. I remember at the beginning I would go out with the people at the organization and just smile. I did not understand a word of their Italian, but I was there, consistent, and present. Apart from the language barrier, I did not have much cultural difference. I am Chilian, lived in Spain, so I can say our spirit is like the Italian’s. I started making friends slowly, at first with Francesca, the Project coordinator, and now, guess what… she’s my best friend. Months later I made friends with her friends and now… well, I have built myself a life here. 


[Larisa] Do you feel part of the community? 

[Luisa] Now, yes! I feel at home! My family might still be in Chile, and I miss them, but when I travel back to them, I miss my place, and my friends in Siderno… they are my life, my second family. 


[Larisa] What do you do now in Siderno and how did you continue your journey in the organization after the volunteering project ended? 

[Luisa] I started in 2021 with my ESC project – a time when I was doing practically everything… from training the kids in mini-basket, helping the teachers in after-school, helping with the organization of workshops in the Summer and Winter Village, learning Italian on my spare time, organizing Spanish learning classes for youth and workshops on environmental care. I befriended people here and enjoyed my experience so much that one day I was shocked to be told: if I want to come back, the YMCA Siderno door is always open. So, I did…  in October 2022 I came back as a permanent staff member, working as a project writer and coordinator. 


[Larisa] What do you think is important for people to know about YMCA Siderno?

[Luisa] They are not just an association but a close circle of people who care. The warmth of their hearts is incredible. They will be there for anyone and never let you down. 


[Larisa] What would you like to do most here, during your working hours? 

[Luisa] I enjoy spending time here with these people because they are incredibly talented at what they do. We connect on value and perspective over life aspects. We talk in the same language, caring about our peers, and the community. I like I can start getting work experience, in a pleasant environment. I want to work in the field of policymaking for youth, and here is a great starting point for me. I get to learn more about project writing, developing, managing, needs of youth. But of course, the coffee or tea in good company cannot be replaced. Or those great lunch meals we share from time to time… life is good, and I have a great view from the association’s basketball court.


[Larisa] What are your hopes and dreams in life and for the people around you? 

[Luisa] I don’t know what tomorrow holds for me and is ok. I no longer put pressure on myself, and through this entire experience, I discovered a great way to believe in myself, to build a more powerful Luisa, ready to take care of herself and willing to accept that life is what we have today. I wish people the same things I wish for myself. Be present. Love and be thankful. Enjoy the moment. 


[Larisa] Anything you tell everyone you meet that feels like a life motto to you? 

[Luisa] Take one day at a time, live the moment.


Thank you for having the time to read this and tell us: what inspired you from her story?

[Luisa] What is the one thing you can say you are grateful for today? 

The people I have in my life I am lucky I found this place.