Claire, my aide and international volunteer


Claire is the most unforgettable person I ever had the pleasure of meeting. My hands finally were so bad I couldn’t type any more, and on a Thursday evening, seven Illinois State students came to Blair House to operate the Bingo game for the residents who were interested.

I sat down waiting for their arrival at 6:30 p.m., and as the group walked in, I just asked, “Who’s good with a computer?” One girl raised her hand quickly. I said, “I want to hire you; when can you start?” And her answer was, “I could start right now.” I said, “No—tell me your schedule and I will pay you $12.50 per hour and would like you to work three times a week.”

This was agreeable and Claire helped me a lot when I was writing the Thomas Beard book. Claire had been taught by her parents to save one half of any money she ever received or earned. So this savings started when she was a child and all through high school when she worked at a restaurant.

She had the urge to travel, and she not only worked for me while here at ISU, but she also was the weekend janitor of the Normal City Hall. Every break, such as at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, she would fly to another country where she would volunteer. For example, when in India, she volunteered at an orphanage, and when in Columbia, she volunteered to take care of small children so their mother could run their stalls in the flea market.

When she graduated in May 2018, she turned down an offer of six figures and said that she was too young to go to work. She wanted to travel and climb mountains. To this day, she has been in 27 countries plus Hawaii. Her first stop after graduating was that of being a nanny for a family in Spain. Within each country that she has traveled, she has made friends with people her age in those countries and so no matter where she goes, she can contact a friend and they will often travel with her to other countries.

After a month of traveling, she went to Serbia where she volunteered indefinitely to help care for the refugees and migrants who are in camps nearby. The name of the company is Collective Aid. The organization has had over 700 volunteers come from over 60 countries over the past two years. The minimum stay to be a volunteer is three weeks, although the average stay is usually one month. All of them have to speak English to volunteer. Volunteers have to pay $35 for every month that they stay. This money goes straight into living costs of rent, utilities, and the projects they support. Volunteers are provided accommodations and one meal a day. You have to be 18 years or older to volunteer.

Serbia volunteers are currently from: USA, Brazil, Switzerland, England, Spain, China, Poland, Australia, Cyprus, France, Mexico. Her jobs have included working in the warehouse where she was the coordinator, meaning she works with all clothing, hygiene items, donations, and distributions. With her education and intelligence and her ability to manage, she was soon promoted to work on administrative tasks. This included searching for donations, looking into organizations to give items to which they don’t distribute, and working towards a shipment that would be arriving in a few weeks as there would be a new warehouse in the city center in Zeleznik, a suburb of Belgrade.

I asked Claire to interview a refugee. She told me that they take food to them, show them movies, take clothes, make popcorn and lemonade with everything done on a oneweek basis. But they cannot join in a conversation or listen to their complaints. So then I asked her to interview some of her volunteers to find out why they are there, or for what reason would they leave home and pay $35 a week to volunteer?

According to Claire, one of the boys currently in Serbia, Frankie, was meant to come and volunteer for one month. After spending a few weeks volunteering, he realized how much he loved the work and extended his stay for five months. Frankie is one of the younger volunteers. He is 18 years old. Although he has not had much work experience before coming, he is an extremely dedicated worker. He helps all the staff with projects, he leads sports in camp, and is taking over the community center for a month.

Clark—Clark is the director of this organization and has been working at it for two years. He is 27 years old, from Mississippi, and before going to Serbia lived in Seattle working with the homeless. When he went to Serbia, he dropped his entire life in the States and arrived with one backpack and has been doing amazing work ever since. Clark had opportunities to work with other companies in the States and make a lot of money, but he preferred to work for a cause that he knew needed help and was passionate about.

Annie—Annie came to volunteer from Argentina. She is 29 years old and studied law in Argentina, Spain, and studied law in Argentina, Spain, and a year at Harvard. Annie is volunteering in Serbia where she is doing field work by helping provide showers, laundry services, food, and clean drinking water to hundreds of people currently seeking safety. Annie will be joining the team for a minimum of five months.

Gabri—Gabri has been a volunteer for the past six months between Bosnia and Serbia. Gabri is from Italy and is a very kind team member. Gabri is also trained to do border violence reports of those who got injured trying to cross the border into Europe.

I asked Claire to tell me why they have volunteers who are there only for one month. She said that often it is during the spring break at college and they want to take advantage of the air fare and get away from school. Others are there as interns and receive college credit for their volunteering.

The many camps outside of the cities are way overcrowded, thousands still lack housing and with borders closed to them they have no place to go. Sorry to say, “No one wants them”.

Claire gave notice that she was leaving the company two months ago so she left right before the international virus epidemic started. She had planned to travel to Norway with friends prior to returning to the States but had to cancel and take one of the last flights home from England.

When I asked if the disease had arrived in the refugee camp, she said “No, if it did it would spread fast.”