My name is Dennis Lange, and I am from Berlin – Germany. Gabrielle, another ESC volunteer, and I were volunteering for the Human Rights Café in the Autumn Term of 2020, at the International People’s College in Helsingør – Denmark. Despite a myriad of challenges and restrictions due to the ongoing Corona pandemic, we really feel that we managed to create an amazing space for the students of IPC to experience what the Human Rights Café and our European Solidarity Corps’ project had to offer. With the following words I would like to share my experience with you.
I had various reasons why I wanted to be a part of the IPC community and start my ESC project at the Human Rights Café. I was obviously looking forward to experience Denmark and the Danes, yet furthermore I hoped that by being at an international Folk High School, I would be able to seek out intercultural learning experiences and build strong international friendships with people from around the world. I was searching for a project with practical, hands-on tasks and challenges, but also a place to realise my own projects and ideas. And guess what? – I totally found that at IPC.
My volunteering experience started off fantastically, I had just finished my last exam at my home university in Berlin and on the following day I was already on the train to the beautiful city of Helsingør. I was greeted very warmly and cheerfully at my arrival, so I felt right at home. During the first few weeks I was able to participate in the English Summer Course activities and get to know IPC better. I got to know the previous volunteers and I was introduced to the Human Rights Café.
From then on, time just seemed to fly by, and you know what they say about time and fun. My days were filled with amazing talks and adventures that I shared with both students and colleagues. However my days also embodied that volunteering experience, I wished for, with plenty of practical experience, for example: helping out the kitchen staff by setting up lunch and dinner; regularly working at the reception to answer questions and help the students with their daily life at IPC; being in charge of the light and sound during Cultural Evenings and other events; as well as welcoming the students of our term and guiding them to their rooms while already getting to know them a little bit.
As one of our first activities within the Human Rights Café, Gabrielle and I gathered some beautiful art from previous students and some nice household goods from the nearby second hand store to decorate and design the HRC in a new way. In addition, we saved a pretty Gingko tree from the ongoing construction of the new buildings and replanted it in front of the Café. Hopefully it will survive and flourish for years to come! It was rewarding to put our stamp on the Café both for our time when this would be the place we call home, but hopefully also for the future.
Besides all our projects and activities we regularly opened the HRC with freshly baked goods and some delicious drinks. In order for the students to enjoy their cakes and drinks, one of my tasks was to shop the required groceries and take care of the accounting for the HRC. During our time in the Café we managed to buy all our groceries with the money we earned, meaning that we were subsequently able to donate 5.200 DKK to Friends of IPC. This organisation provides scholarships for future students who would otherwise be unable to afford a semester at IPC. This achievement made me really proud and I am grateful for all the support we got from our students to reach this milestone. Our handwork will contribute to one of the schools core values of diversity, meaning that students from an even greater diversity of economic and geographic background can attend the school and have some of the experience we were blessed to have.
In addition to all these different tasks and activities, I regularly opened up the Human Rights Café to host my weekly Game Nights. On these nights I invited interested students to get to know some new board games, play some favourites and just generally have some fun together. I believe that the students vastly enjoyed the atmosphere and the variety of board games the HRC was able to provide. I would also like to express gratitude for the kind support of Ângelo – the master of board games, who helped provide some inspiration and resources for these evenings. An event, which I really enjoyed hosting, together with my good friend Waka, and with the assistance and energy of a big group of Japanese students, was a Japanese Cherry Blossom Tea Party. We created a real Japanese tea with the cherry blossoms from Waka‘s friends and let the students write their own name in Kanji, this really piqued the interest of the rest of the student body.
Although all of these activities, and many more, were a great opportunity for me to get to know the students better and furthermore train my organisational and executive skills, I am most proud of the planning, implementation and reflection space I created for our visit to Nørrebro Pride in Copenhagen. With the support from Felicity, an amazing teacher at the school, I was able to inform the students about the upcoming Pride Parade; it’s political statements, goals and values, and how this diverged and challenged mainstream pride events. After my presentation at Morning Fellowship some students joined me in a “Creative Sign Workshop”, where they could paint some statements on signs to show their respect and alliance during the parade. Afterwards the students joined the Pride demonstration and supported the queer community in Nørrebro.
For many students it was their first Pride event ever, and they were impressed by it, whilst having questions and feelings that were unusual and perhaps difficult to digest alone. In light of this, Felicity and I organised a reflection space, where we talked about our thoughts and learning experiences during this day. I believe that this visit had a profound and important impact on our self-awareness, and opened many eyes to see the issues that the queer community, and especially BIPOC and TRANS people, have to face.
Inspired by my work with the Nørrebro Pride Parade I joined a Global Queer Volunteer group (LGBT+ Denmark) in Copenhagen to support them in their 16 Days of Activism online. We worked together and published videos emphasising and explaining issues of gender-based violence and other potential queer-related issues. Last but not least, I held a presentation about Human Rights at one of our Wednesday Fellowships. Afterwards the students were tested on their knowledge about Human Rights related topics in a quiz. Finally, I let them choose their favourite Human Rights Posters from the 70th anniversary of the Human Rights in 2018. These are now exhibited in the corridor leading to the Human Rights Café.
After this intense and enriching experience at IPC I would like to thank my amazingly kind and helpful colleagues and students for supporting me along the way. I especially want to thank Bogna and Adriana for letting me join this creative and meaningful project and for giving me this great and enhancing opportunity to volunteer in the Human Rights Café. I am grateful for the chance to have realised my own projects and ideas independently. Thank you for this amazing time and a great learning experience.