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Portrait Ulrike Schmidt (Photo: Anna Friese / University of Magdeburg)
05.12.2022 from 
Campus + City
Making Buckau more liveable and loveable

Voluntary work is supposed to benefit the whole of society. From assistance for refugees, care of senior citizens, animal protection and youth work through to the voluntary fire brigade, the activities are many and varied. According to the 5th German Survey on Volunteering conducted by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, which is published every five years, there is a reasonable level of willingness to help out among Germans. The proportion of volunteers in Germany has remained stable and at a consistently high level since 2014. Expressed in figures, in 2019 around 39.7 per cent of people over 14 years of age were involved in some voluntary activity. One of these people is Ulrike Schmidt, who works in the student secretariat in the International Students’ Office at the University of Magdeburg. In this capacity she is mainly responsible for admissions and enrollments and provides students from abroad with advice. Her interest in volunteering, which was first ignited by her love of her home district of Buckau, came about more or less by accident. “A couple of years ago a friend took me along to a GWA event and I really liked how there are people who give up their time like this for the community in their local area and work to improve life in their district,” says the Magdeburg native. GWA stands for Gemeinwesenarbeit (community welfare work) and Ulrike Schmidt has represented the organization in the district of Buckau since October 2019.

“It is a distinctive feature of Magdeburg that there are these community working groups. Not in every district, but in quite a few,” she explains. The City of Magdeburg provides funding so that the citizens can put on events and run projects in their district to make life better there. At meetings organized by Ulrike Schmidt among others, interested parties decide which project will be undertaken next. Recently it was a watering campaign to whip the green center of the district back into shape. Ulrike Schmidt describes the campaign as follows: “Via the GWA and with the two other representatives, I organized for the fire brigade to come along and for lots of residents, armed with buckets and watering cans, to do all they could to help the plants soak up a bit more water to get them through the dry autumn and winter.” The watering campaign was also supported by the “Otto Plants” society, where a many other employees from the University of Magdeburg also volunteer. Not only does the GWA work to improve the cityscape, it also attaches great importance to education and interculturalism. The working group applied for funding so that an Asian drumming group could appear at a cultural festival in a kindergarten.

As a community for the community

Since the beginning of this year, Ulrike Schmidt has also been chair of the Buckau Association. The association was founded in 2020 when Buckau resembled a giant building site and was cut off from the rest of the city. Since then the initiative has, hand in hand with residents and local businesses, attempted to generate more commitment to and awareness of the district. The cooperation with the GWA is beneficial in this regard, providing mutual support and creating synergies. Ulrike Schmidt particularly likes this solidarity, since “we are a large community in Buckau and everyone helps one another out when it comes to organizing events and making them a success.” Another passion project in which the community is enthusiastically involved, is the opening of a shop on Schönebecker Strasse. The idea is for the shop to act as a meeting place where a variety of events can be held. From reading evenings for children through to the collection of organic veggie boxes, the shop should offer a little bit of everything. Alongside her love of her district, these are the kinds of projects that drive Ulrike Schmidt to keep volunteering.

“Good voluntary work is a long-term commitment for me. Even the smallest things that people think are a good idea, or instigate or simply support can help. This results in great things that make people happy. And if other people are happy, then usually so are we,” reports Ulrike Schmidt with a smile. The Magdeburg native also had reason to be happy when she received her “volunteer’s passport” from the city. This honors the voluntary commitment of citizens and aims to make volunteering more visible. According to Ulrike Schmidt, awards such as these should be promoted still more. She goes onto say that in her community there are many young people who take part and have been honored accordingly. But in general she also believes that “more people should just do more voluntary work. It is worth it.”

Author: Catherine Birke