Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

back to overview

December 2000

Time Sharing

Volunteer opportunities in Munich

For many people, the winter months are a time of hibernation and reflection. But the bustle of the holidays also brings with it an onslaught of commercialism. We spend time and money filling the space under the tree with items that we will later wonder where to keep — then complain about having too much stuff. But there is a gift we can give that we don’t need room for in a drawer, one that will enrich someone’s life tremendously — volunteering. It refreshes the soul and revitalizes the spirit while providing a needed service at a time that is for many a difficult one.
The profile of the volunteer has evolved significantly. Today, giving of yourself and your time ranges from putting a special skill to use for an organization that needs it to simply visiting an elderly person who will appreciate your company more than any monetary donation you could afford to give. Whether you have one hour or 20 hours a month to spare, someone is waiting for you to walk through their door. People are often criticized for being quicker to pull out their checkbook in times of need in lieu of donating their time. It would also seem that charitable organizations in Munich don’t make giving your time easy. Stories abound in the expat community about failed attempts to lend a hand as eager do-gooders are turned away for various reasons — liability concerns, special certification requirements or the familiar “it’s just not done” attitude top the list. But just a little digging turns up a multitude of opportunities for those looking to contribute.
If you are at a loss for where to begin then the answer is Tatendrang. Tatendrang has served as a sort of dispatch center for those looking for a way to give back to their community for 20 years — simply sign up with the organization and they will find you suitable work. From babysitting to visiting homebound people or hospital patients, they have a job for you. The organization’s slogan clearly defines its philosophy: “Spend your time instead of your money.” Although the staff at Tatendrang is certainly kind-hearted, they show no mercy when soliciting help. One advertising campaign featured a photograph of an elderly woman lying in a hospital with a sign hanging on the end of her bed that read, “Last year my family visited me.” The city of Munich, with Mayor Christian Ude as proud advocate, supports Tatendrang as well as a program called “Bürgerschaftliches Engagement” (citizen involvement). The city’s Web site, (in German), lists a number of organizations that take volunteers. Under various categories, descriptions of what each group does and what type of help they need is listed.
Human rights violations occur daily all over the globe. Amnesty International (AI), now operating in 90 countries, has been speaking out about such abuses since 1961. In Munich there are approximately 20 active Amnesty groups, each assigned to a different individual human rights case. Groups meet once a month to divide the tasks related to the case, such as seeking justice for the victim involved and generating publicity in order to create awareness of the issue. A recent boost in English-speaking volunteers has prompted the Munich chapter to start up an English-speaking group, the first in Germany. “The response has been tremendous,” says Dr. Hermann Schmidt, an Amnesty International volunteer and one of the organizers of the new group. “The obvious advantage to having native English speakers is that they help us Germans with our English, but, more importantly, they broaden our perspective.” The first meeting of the group will take place December 15 at 19:00 at their offices at Leonrodstr. 19. Schmidt says that help is needed immediately for AI’s letter-writing campaign. Each day, workers at AI headquarters send out a fax to branch offices listing new human rights violations. Each evening two volunteers go through the fax and write letters to the governments of countries responsible for the violations. “We have two people do it together because it is both time consuming and emotionally exhausting, and they can support one another,” says Schmidt.
The English-speaking prisoners’ support group, administered through the Friedenskirche at Sendlinger Tor, is another organization in need of compassionate members. Prisoners in Germany whose first or second language is English are at a much greater risk of being lonely and becoming depressed because there is no chance for them to communicate in their own tongue. “We aren’t trying to be psychologists or rehabilitate anyone,” says Dr. Klim, one of the group’s organizers, “Our goal is to make a difficult time less painful.” Mainly, members act as penpals to prisoners in Bavaria’s penitentiaries, but if possible they also pay visits. Inmates are informed of the service through notices posted on prison bulletin boards or through visiting clergymen. For safety reasons, correspondence is sent in care of the Friedenskirche and only the volunteers’ first names are used. “We want to help and that means exercising some common sense. It’s important to remember that these people are criminals,” stresses Klim. However, a few are simply asylum-seekers incarcerated because their papers are not in order. The support these people receive from the outside really helps them get through a frightening time and get on with the immigration process.
As an expatriate, you may have a special interest in helping others who are new to Germany. A small refugee support group works closely with the much larger Caritas Freiwillige Zentrum to provide support to those people living at the Riem refugee camp. Approximately 400 live at the facility while awaiting immigration papers that will grant them asylum. The Riem Refugee Support Group focuses on helping the some 100 children at the camp. “They are especially important,” says volunteer Kevin O’Regan. “We want them to have the opportunity to be children, to have some sort of a true childhood while they are living at the camp.” Volunteers with a basic command of German are needed to help children with homework and to chaperone teenagers’ afternoon outings. If you do not speak German, you can still be of great assistance by organizing fundraisers and collecting corporate and private donations. Monetary donations are welcome, but monthly MVV tickets, phone cards, backpacks and school supplies are also in high demand. The group will sponsor a Christmas party this year and is currently taking donations of toys. Interested parties should call Noireen Lynch at (089) 500 35 80 to “adopt” a child in need. Toys and winter coats can be dropped off at the English-Speaking Mission at Kreuzstrasse 10.
There are many illnesses for which there is no cure. But, with medical breakthroughs occuring almost daily, we come closer to understanding and curing disease. Great strides have been made in the treatments available for HIV and AIDS in the last decade, but the path to a cure involves many elements. The Münchner AIDS-Hilfe e.V. offers two volunteer programs for those wanting to contribute to the cause. The first step is to attend one of the center’s information evenings, which take place every last Friday of the month at 19:00 in the offices at Lindwurmstrasse 71. There you can decide whether or not you want to go through their training program in order to become a regular volunteer. Attendees learn about the disease in the four-day class, after which they will be assigned such jobs as helping out on the telephones, working in the prevention program or helping to take care of AIDS patients. If you have a limited amount of time, then you can sign up for the “Ehrenamtler für einen Tag” (volunteer for a day) program. You will then be asked to help out at one-time events, such as fundraisers.
When Mother Teresa passed away she left an incredible symbol of her own life’s work behind — the Missionaries of Charity operate in countries across the globe. The nuns of the Munich chapter run a homeless shelter currently housing 12 women and 14 men. The sisters feed about 40 homeless people per day (70 on Sunday), all from their modest kitchen on Kidlerstrasse. Though they are always in need of help, the nuns will not ask for it. Volunteers should simply call or stop by the facility. Every day (except Thursday) they accept kitchen and cleaning help and donations of all kinds. The sisters ask that anyone wanting to give something special for Christmas please do so by December 15.
International volunteer day is December 5 and the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed 2001 as the International Year of Volunteers. Celebrate by making a commitment to a cause you believe in. The gift you give will return to you a thousand times over. <<<

Another terrific way to contribute to your community is by supporting educational programs. The Deutsches Museum is a mecca of science and technology learning. You might be surprised to hear that the guides posted throughout the museum to answer visitors’ questions are volunteers. The museum’s motto is “Learn by doing” — applicants are first interviewed, then go through an informal orientation. On the first day they are paired with another guide, but after that they are on their own. “We are quite dependent on the fact that the volunteers are self-motivated and self-starters. We simply do not have the time to spend training 80 volunteers for a job they only do four days per month,” says Dr. Thomas Brandlmeier, head of the program. Coordinators try to post participants in an area of the museum in which they are interested or about which they have special knowledge, hoping to cover all exhibits and optimize the volunteers’ talents and training.

Deutsches Museum, Museum-insel 1, 81669 Munich. Contact: Dr. Thomas Brandlmeier Tel. (089) 217 92 03.

City of Munich volunteer information Web site: Church of the Ascension, Seybothstr. 4, in Harlaching. Accepting donations of clothing of all sorts, but especially children’s and men’s clothing. Drop-off times are Tuesday and Thursday from 9:30 to 13:30, or after services on Sunday until 14:00. Innere Mission Untersbergstr. 70, Tel. (089) 620 50 60. Office hours 10:00-16:00. English-Speaking Prisoners’ Support Group. Dr. Klim, Tel. (089) 74 10 07 24. Tatendrang München, Freiwilligen-Agentur, Maximilianstr. 6, Tel. (089) 290 44 65, Fax (089) 290 44 64, e-mail: Informational evening is scheduled for December 12 at 18:00. Newcomers welcome, no need to register in advance. Amnesty International, Dr. Hermann Schmidt, Tel./Fax (089) 984 262, e-mail: Münchner AIDS-Hilfe e.V., Lindwurmstrasse 71, Tel. (089) 54 46 47-25, contact Klaus Rascher, e-mail: Web site: Missionaries of Charity, Kidlerstr. 34, Tel. (089) 77 62 81. Need kitchen and cleaning help for homeless shelter. Stop by any day except Thursday from 9:00-12:00 or 14:30-17:00. If you have a large group that would like to come help out, then call to arrange in advance.

tell a friend