“I wanted to contribute something so that others would be better off.”

Volunteer services are booming – if it weren't for Corona. Thousands of high school graduates already had their plane ticket to a relief project as good as in their pocket. But now the virus is throwing a spanner in the works.

The Abitur is finished. And now the great adventure calls. At least that's what Antonia Kuppers thought until three days ago. The 18-year-old wanted to complete a voluntary social year in Uganda. Even though the Cologne native, who graduated from the Archbishop's Liebfrauenschule a few weeks ago, had spent a long time looking for a social assignment that would suit her – somehow the Africa project had found her in the end. "This continent has always appealed to me. And I wanted to get away from these Western privileged circumstances, to change my perspective, to broaden my horizon and to reflect on something completely different for once. This has been my plan for the time after school for a long time," explains the recent high school graduate.

During her research, she came across "Vision for Africa," a Christian aid organization in Uganda founded by Austrian Maria Luise Prean that is dedicated to caring for and educating disadvantaged children and young people. Most of the children brought to Vision for Africa are either orphaned, neglected, abused, abandoned by their parents or found in inhumane conditions. In the "Land of Hope", the children are then placed in the toddler group, the kindergarten, the preschool or the elementary school, depending on their age and previous education – and also only when they have regained their strength; in the facilities that are staggered according to age groups, all of which are located on the extensive "Vision for Africa" premises.

In so-called children's houses, they are cared for by "house mothers" who live with these parentless children and primarily want to give them a sense of family. After all, in addition to medical treatment, socialization in a new family environment with the experience of safety, security and affection is usually what the young and often traumatized newcomers need most urgently.

Getting involved with one of the poorest countries in the world

Beyond that, it's about instilling Christian values in the children "so that they can live their lives with God in a self-responsible way, feel safe with Jesus, and in turn raise up God-fearing people for future generations". This is what you can read at "Vision for Africa. "At the same time, we help to improve the social environment for the children and to develop the infrastructure of the society by, among other things, building our own schools, training centers and hospitals, which are constantly being expanded and optimized," emphasize those responsible.

Antonia is excited about working with children and living with many other volunteers on a campus about a two-hour drive from the capital, Kampala. "I had always had the idea of working with children and being a trustworthy contact person for them, especially after the loss of their parents or a comparable terrible pain. Above all, it was important for me to look at life from a completely new perspective."She was ready to take on the unknown challenges of the landlocked East African country with its 35 million inhabitants, which is one of the poorest countries in the world.

"I want to give something back"

"It's no coincidence that I'm being sent on this journey," Antonia said with conviction just a few days ago. "Out of my faith I am called and appointed to this concrete service."She had hoped that this aspect of her volunteer year, being on a journey of faith together with other people and exchanging ideas about what sustains her own life, would give her new impulses for her spirituality and also for the next decisions she would have to make on her path through life. "I am sure that my religious attitude – that which I have always adhered to and oriented myself to – will once again be significantly moved by the experiences in Uganda and everything I know so far about life there, and will possibly give me completely new impulses to rethink, but at the same time will also inspire and strengthen me."

In any case, with her love of music and movement, she had already seen herself in exactly the right place in the run-up to the trip. "I'm fascinated by gospel choirs," Antonia had raved then. "I can't wait to immerse myself in this so carefree part of African culture."Above all, however, it is a matter of letting oneself be taken into service in a very concrete way for young people, for whom growing up cared for and free of worries is not a reality that can be taken for granted. "I wanted to give back something of what I myself experienced in my sheltered childhood. I would like to be challenged on this ie. This was very important to me and the real driving force behind this step."

"Being open to what God has planned for me"

A seven-week "School of Life and Faith" in Imst/Tyrol, whose participation is mandatory for all volunteers in the "Vision for Africa" project, would have taken place in mid-October before Antonia was then sent to Uganda at the beginning of the year. But even independently of this official preparatory course, with many references to Uganda and the specific characteristics of this country, Antonia had long since familiarized herself with the motivations of initiator Maria Luise Prean, who also sees herself as a missionary. Finally, Prean is also the author of several books in which she explains her basic Christian attitude and her ideas of a better life for disadvantaged children in Africa – in line with the principle of "changing the world by helping children".

Ultimately, this reading tipped the scales in Antonia's favor. "It's about being open to what God has planned for me," is how the 18-year-old had recently explained her motivation, which she finds reflected in Prean's publications. "I hope that I can contribute at least a small part to making things better for other people in a remote part of this earth by supporting them, accompanying them and simply being there for them."

High school graduates face shambles of their future dream

Antonia had focused entirely on her departure date in January and put a lot of heart and soul into her project. But it looks like she is empty-handed now. She was taken completely by surprise by the cancellation, which in a matter of minutes ruined all her long-cherished plans and her great anticipation. The organization could not ame responsibility for the volunteers at this point in time. Officials say it is too uncertain how the fight against the Corona virus in Uganda will develop. In addition, he said, the Ugandan schools where the German volunteer would have had her assignment have not yet reopened at the moment.

At the moment Antonia does not know how to deal with this situation. The disappointment sits deep. There had never been a plan B for her from the beginning. Like them, many other high school graduates are now facing the shambles of a dream for the future. Because actually it should become the year of their life. Numerous aid organizations, for their part, had counted on the many volunteers. But Corona has put a spanner in the works for Antonia and the many volunteers around the world.

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