‘Volunteer work really makes my heart smile’

COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to three employees at a Cork business branch who have volunteered their time to help the Irish Red Cross secure accommodation for Ukrainians arriving into Ireland
‘Volunteer work really makes my heart smile’

Helen de Jesus - Telus International Ireland

VOLUNTEERING for the Irish Red Cross proved to be satisfying work for three employees at the Cork branch of TELUS International Ireland, which provides customer service for clients in various sectors such as industry and hospitality.

The Irish Red Cross put out a call seeking 25 call centre agents for 20 days. This was to facilitate the charity in processing the support from members of the Irish public who wish to accommodate Ukrainian refugees.

The generous outpouring of support has come in to the Irish Red Cross through the Register of Pledges. The charity aims to call 15,000 pledgers who made contact through the system, in addition to 5,000 pledges of accommodation that have come in through phone and email.

Michelle Burke - Telus International Ireland
Michelle Burke - Telus International Ireland

Michelle Burke, one of the volunteers, has experience of voluntary work from her time as a Transition Year pupil at the Ursulines in Thurles.

“We volunteered in two nursing homes in Thurles. I also did voluntary work in a play-school as well. I was drawn to this work with the Irish Red Cross, trying to help people, for good karma and all of that.”

Her volunteer work involves working through a list of pledgers, calling them up.

“ I go through details with them to see if we can shortlist their accommodation. It then goes into the next stage of the process. The first stage involves asking people for the details of their homes, what type of rooms are available, who they’re best suited to, and how many people will (the refugees) be sharing the home with. The location of the house is also important. If it’s very rural, we have to see if there’s access to public transport and to schools.”

Michelle admits she was a bit nervous when she started the work.

“But from my first call on, everyone has been so nice. People are actually excited to hear you’re from the Red Cross because they’ve been waiting for the call.”

Ivana Jokic came to Ireland more than two years ago, from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“As soon as I heard there was war in Ukraine, I couldn’t get myself together. I was feeling really down and couldn’t sleep well. It really got to me. When I saw the email at work looking for volunteers, I applied right away. I wanted to do something to help.”

Ivana Jokic - Telus International Ireland
Ivana Jokic - Telus International Ireland

In her high school years and at college, Ivana says she did a lot of voluntary work, working with NGOs.

“I worked with young people in youth organisations, just trying to get them off the street and coming up with solutions to problems. You’re thinking up campaigns for your cause and then you go to the government with your campaign and try to have it put into law.”

Ivana says her voluntary work with the Irish Red Cross is very rewarding. Speaking of her interaction with people who are offering their homes to refugees, she said: “We talk for 20 minutes and they say how happy they are to welcome people to their home. There are so many things they’ve been thinking in advance. They say they have a car or a bike that the Ukrainians can use. Or they say they have a farm that the people can work on.”

One pledger that Ivana contacted spoke about the importance of forgiveness.

“His idea is that even if someone does some harm to you, you have to learn to outgrow that situation and forgive them. It’s really hard. Our whole nation is struggling with the same thing. 

"In Bosnia, you had three nations killing each other 20 years ago. We live together now in the same country and you see people who maybe did you harm. You have to forgive them because you can’t move on otherwise.”

Ivana moved to Ireland in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I was pregnant and did not want to have my baby in Bosnia because it was getting unstable. With the pandemic, prices were going up and people were stressed, acting like it was a war, buying up everything.”

Helen DeJesus has done voluntary work in her native Brazil. The Irish Red Cross initiative is her first opportunity to volunteer in this country.

In Brazil, she has worked with indigenous tribes “who have been fighting for many years to have the land. From time to time, with friends, we brought them food and clothes and books for the children. I was also involved with homeless communities.”

Homelessness is “a big problem” in Brazil.

Sometimes, when Helen calls pledgers, they are no longer interested or able to take in Ukrainians to their homes.

“It doesn’t happen too often. People are really willing to help. They feel excited about Ukrainians moving into their homes. But some, after a while, have considerations about having someone from a war-torn place. They don’t have the language. They feel unsure if they’ll be able to provide them with support because of the trauma these people have experienced.

“Some who live in the countryside are afraid that if something happens, they’ll have nowhere to go. I understand that they can change their mind.”

But generally speaking, Helen says the work is “really making my heart smile”.

For example, a ten-year-old boy asked for a Ukrainian of the same age as him to be sent to his house. 

"He said he’d teach the Ukrainian how to draw and would teach him the language. He was really excited to help.”

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