Interview with Alan Magazin

"For me, volunteering is the best way to give something back to people in Germany."

Today we talk to Alan Wali about his voluntary work. He is 29 years old and originally comes from Kobanê in Syria. In 2015 – at the age of 21 – he fled to Germany because of the war in Syria and has lived in Kitzingen in Bavaria ever since. In this interview, we talk to him about his motivation for volunteering alongside his job.

Alan, when did you start volunteering?
I started volunteering when I was in fourth grade. I’m originally from Kurdistan/Syria and was born in Kobanê. During the war, I distributed food and clothes to people in need when I was 17 years old. When we had to flee to Damascus in 2013 due to the increasing violence, I gave away a lot of my family’s belongings. I am very proud of that. There aren’t many civil protection and disaster relief organizations in my home country, so I often got involved privately. I’ve been living in Germany since 2015 and have been a volunteer here right from the start.

How did this commitment come about? 
II am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to come to Germany. I wanted to give something back and started supporting other people shortly after my arrival. It was the least I could do, because I didn’t have much more to give than my commitment. I also didn’t speak German at the time.
In the first two years after our escape, I worked at the station mission in Würzburg, which I had gotten to know during my time in Kitzingen. Among other things, I handed out food and drinks, sorted and distributed clothes and prepared the accommodation for homeless people for the night.

What did volunteering mean to you during this time? 
Volunteering has given me so much from the very beginning! It enabled me to learn German very quickly and obtain my B1 language certificate. I wanted to settle into German society as quickly as possible. A job seemed the best way to do this, which is why I wrote and sent off lots of applications for different jobs. One day, a friend from the station mission came to me and said that the local swimming pool in Kitzingen was looking for a lifeguard. I applied the same day and was invited to an interview the very next day.

So you got a job through your voluntary work? 
Yes, but in a roundabout way (laughs). When I was at the swimming pool for the interview, they asked me if I could swim – which I couldn’t. But I really wanted a job, so I said yes. I originally didn’t know what a lifeguard was and thought it was a job out of the water. To get the job, however, I had to pre-swim and after five meters – which I covered like a dog – I had to stop the “demonstration”. After I explained my motivation to them, they told me that they would teach me how to swim. And sure enough, within two weeks I learned to swim and went straight on to get my silver lifeguard swimming badge.

Wow, congratulations! What happened after that? 
Alongside my job as a lifeguard in Kitzingen, I trained as a specialist paramedic with the German Red Cross. Since 2017, I have been supporting the German Red Cross in this role on a voluntary basis during missions and, if necessary, in their water rescue service in Kitzingen. As part of this work, I am of course also continuously taking part in further training.

That sounds like a lot of dedication to your voluntary work – do you still have time for leisure activities? 
Of course I do! I’m now employed full-time at a swimming pool in Würzburg, where I give swimming lessons, freshen up the pools and prepare the sauna – after all, the rent and bills don’t pay themselves. However, I spend almost all of my free time doing voluntary work. My friends keep telling me that I’m crazy to devote so much time to my voluntary work alongside my full-time job. For me, however, volunteering is more than just a hobby – it’s the best way for me to give something back to the people of Germany.

2022 auf Rügen

2022 auf Rügen

And today you are also active in the German Lifesaving Association – how did you come to join DLRG e.V.? 
One day, a DLRG member came to our swimming pool and said that the relationship with the DLRG was very informal and that the work was a lot of fun. As I wanted to help even more and get involved, I decided to sign up. Since 2018, the DLRG has been like a second family to me. Here you support each other, have a lot of fun and can do good. My personal highlight is that I volunteer every summer for two to four weeks at the Baltic Sea in the central water rescue service. I am a member of the DLRG in Mönchgut. Unfortunately, I can’t stay longer because then I have to earn money again (laughs).

Is there a special moment in your voluntary work that you will always remember? 
About three years ago, I saw a girl playing ball with her mom in the swimming pool. The child was deaf and blind – and couldn’t swim. So I went to her mom and told her that I would like to teach her daughter how to swim for free. She agreed and after three months the girl could swim! I will never forget the delighted faces of the mother and her daughter, it was simply wonderful! I am still in contact with them today. It wasn’t easy to teach the child how to swim – you need a lot of patience and understanding, especially with people with disabilities. But it was so worth the effort!

Are there any other special moments that you have experienced? 
When you volunteer in civil protection and disaster relief, you experience many beautiful moments, but of course also some less beautiful ones. I saw a lot of suffering and death in my home country – these are images that I will never forget. Last year, however, I was also able to resuscitate a woman on the Baltic Sea. When I’m on a mission, my top priority is to help others. And when that works, it is of course a very fulfilling moment. This work in combination with the community at the organizations is what makes volunteering so special for me.

Will you continue to volunteer for the rest of your life? 
As long as I have the strength to help other people, I will continue to volunteer!

Do you have a dream that you would like to fulfill through volunteering? 
My biggest dream is to meet the Federal President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to shake his hand and thank him for allowing me to live here in Germany.