Maria Diaz de tuesta and Ana Garcia Alverez are volunteers from Spain. They have just finished a six week stint volunteering in Belfast as part of a European exchange programme for volunteers over 50, organised between Belfast City Council and their counterpart in Madrid to mark the European Year of Volunteering.
Explaining how she got involved in the programme Maria said, “I saw an advertisement looking for volunteers who were over 50 and could speak English to take part in an exchange programme between Madrid and Belfast. I had never been to Northern Ireland before so I decided to apply. I volunteer with the Red Cross back in Madrid, as well as volunteering with immigrants, helping them to fill in forms and also with people who had suffered from domestic violence.” Ana volunteers with Rotary International and also through the Town Hall in the city.
During their stay in Belfast Maria and Ana volunteered with a number of different organisations. Maria said, “We have helped the Practical Service volunteers from Volunteer Now with gardening and also at Belfast Community Garden. We volunteered with children at Fleming Fulton school, helped in the kitchen in Sandy Row Community Centre and worked with toddlers in East Belfast Mission.
We were very interested in the number of charity shops in Belfast, and think the allotments are a great idea. We were very impressed with the fact that the organisations try to involve the whole community, all kinds of people, both children and adults and people with all different types of abilities work together. We have really enjoyed our experience and have found it very interesting. The people of Northern Ireland are very friendly and we would be happy to visit again.”
During her stay Ana took English lessons in International House and as a memento of their visit they both planted a willow sculpture in the community and therapy garden in Musgrave Park. The exchange programme is continuing when Maria and Ana return to Madrid, with two people from Belfast going over in May.