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"As much as I could help, I helped in any way I could."
Former student Borja Retana narrates his Irish experience learning English and setting up clothing and food stalls for homeless people, after finishing his Master's Thesis Project at Irizar.
The most innovative universities in the world, in addition to including international exchanges or volunteer activities in their students' curricula, pay for their undergraduate students to"attend to the needs of local communities and participate in a variety of cultural enrichment activities," as stated in Princeton University's Bridge Year Program. In doing so, they seek to "learn about relevant social concerns in the host communities they serve", something similar to what former student Borja Retana has done, who has collaborated for two and a half months with the Missionaries of Charity in Dublin (Ireland), after completing his Master's Thesis at IRIZAR.
"I made the decision to go to Ireland to improve my English language skills and to have some work experience abroad, before focusing on the domestic market. Once there, I started helping the 'sisters' (Missionaries of Charity) to clean the house, lend a hand in the kitchen, collect and sort the pallets of food that arrived in vans, as well as other types of work," says Retana.
"On Wednesdays, for example, we would set up food and clothing stalls that we would give away to about forty needy families, while on Sundays we had to organize two soup kitchens for a total of seventy homeless people. Then, in the afternoons, I did the intensive English course, which lasted about three hours, until dinner time. And right after that, whoever wanted to, used to pray the rosary or read a book with the sisters in their chapel.
"I was surprised that they are very humble and helpful people, always with a smile on their face, and they were willing to help anyone in need at any time," maintains the former student of Tecnun. "Generally, they took care of people in need and without a roof over their heads. A maximum of nine residents lived in the house for three months, with the aim of finding a job and becoming better organized in their day-to-day lives," says Retana, who adds: "That's what we volunteers were there for, too; to offer them all the help we could to improve as people.
And they not only helped homeless people, but also alcoholics and drug addicts, offering them food and a hot drink. And in cases of extreme need, they would set up an extra bed so that the most needy would spend at least one night in the house.
But Retana's stay in Ireland was also a time for more. "During my free time I used to visit Dublin with friends, including two colleagues who came to visit me from Spain, with whom I went to visit the Cliffs of Moher (on the west coast of Ireland) and Galway, a beautiful city," recalls Retana. In addition to the English classes that followed, this former student of Tecnun also found time to go to see a rugby match, go to the cinema, read in English and do a bit of sport. "But as soon as we could help those in need, we helped wherever we could," Retana concludes.