Working in a community of people with and without disabilities

Celebrating Christmas.

By Sophia McRae

I came to Germany in August of 2014, excited to start my “new life” volunteering in a small community in the Black Forest, Werksiedlung St. Christoph. Although most Germans assume I come from New York City (their excitement usually fades when they find out there is also a state called New York), coming from Rochester to Kandern, Baden-Württemberg was a big transition.

I have experience working with children (as well as children with disabilities), but working with adults with disabilities was a new challenge. However, adjustment to the work style did not take long and I found myself working happily and closely those in my group. In fact, I would say we are like a small family at this point. 

The Werksiedlung is a community of about 100 people who have disabilities, and who have come to live and work. It is an Anthroposophical place, so they offer therapies such as Eurythmy, massages, alternative and homeopathic medicines, and largely just being outdoors. Therapy in and with nature is respected, so taking frequent walks and hikes, riding our horses, and serving organic and vegetarian food are some ways that the Werksiedlung furthers its goals. There are several workshops here, where the villagers work to make things such as candles, baskets, woven goods, and wool products. They are quite beautiful and we have many of the candles around the apartment.

My work here is more domestically related. There are three houses here, and each house is split into two floors. In our group we have eleven villagers, and we work together only for meal times and weekends. My colleagues and I prepare meals (except for lunch which is prepared in the big kitchen here), do laundry, help the villagers shower, brush their teeth, get dressed, etc., and generally try to help the villagers learn to be more independent. Over the weekend the workshops are closed, so we take longer walks on some of the many trails here, cook together, play games, and sometimes go on trips. 

I am finding work here very rewarding. Although it can be stressful at times (what work can’t be?), I found the little unexpected things to mean the most to me. For example, around mealtime, we like to turn on the radio and dance in the kitchen, or a member from my group will give me a big hug or hold my hand during a walk. Building relationships with the villagers helps them to learn to live functionally in a community, but it also makes work here very meaningful to me and my colleagues, at a scale which I was not expecting coming into this project. Almost everyday someone here makes me laugh, even when I felt like I couldn’t that day.