People FOR Peace ~ Dorothee Braunwarth
Courageous Dorothee in the Land of FOR
In the whirlwind final months of 2012, FOR had the good fortune of having Dorothee Braunwarth land in our midst. Dorothee came to us from Erlangen, Germany, a small town in Bavaria two hours from Munich, at the end of October to volunteer at FOR headquarters in Nyack, NY. She arrived in the United States at the height of an extremely contentious presidential campaign, in the final weeks of the Mayan calendar (end of the world) countdown, and just days before Superstorm Sandy would ravage the northeast. Dorothee was only eighteen years old at the time, it was her first lengthy trip away from home, and she managed to maintain calm and graceful in tremulous times while working hard at seemingly mundane tasks. During her three month stay, she acted as receptionist, administrative assistant, book store clerk, librarian, archivist, and right-hand helper to our amazing Peace House hostess and event organizer, Mary Heckler. She did an incredible amount of work for peace and nonviolent justice, most of which was not glamorous or exciting; and with a quiet, humble, willingness, helped wherever needed. Dorothee embodied a true spirit of selfless service, and so we wish to celebrate her by sharing her story. The following is an interview that Dorothee graciously consented to give before leaving FOR.
FOR: How did you come to volunteer at the Fellowship of Reconciliation?
Dorothee: I always knew that I wanted to do something after (high) school in order to gain experience before committing to a course of study in University, and I always knew that I wanted to go abroad. I decided on America because English is my only foreign language. I found FOR through the Niemöller Haus. The man in charge of volunteers, Uli Sonn, was connected with IFOR (International FOR) for years. Uli arranged for me to volunteer at FOR-USA.
FOR: Traveling across the ocean to live and work in a foreign land directly out of High School is a big leap into independence. How did your parents feel about your decision?
Dorothee: My parents encouraged the experience but did not force me. They said that the experience can only make you better.
FOR: Did you have other inspiration? Do you have older siblings that were role models?
Dorothee: I have two older sisters and a younger brother. One older sister studied abroad in Italy, the other studied in California and had an internship in New York City, but I was the first in my family to go abroad to do volunteer work. The volunteer work was inspired by a school project in which I did art with the elderly.
FOR: What were your primary tasks while you worked at FOR headquarters?
Dorothee: On a daily basis, I answered the phones, sorted the mail, photo-copied checks, and helped with orders from the online bookstore. My special projects included creating a Libris account for FOR to sell donated books and to post FOR’s library online on Library Thing, plus I helped Mary with special events such as the Winter Solstice Concert & Community Party.
Dorothee: I think I got more tolerant. I don’t know if it’s an FOR thing or an American thing, but there are so many different ways of living. Where I’m from, it is so much more set and I had a very set life. I didn’t have to think about different ways of life. Here, you meet so many different people and you always just have to be open and kind.
And maybe I also got more mature in some ways, but I guess others will be the judge of that when I return home. I had to learn all the everyday stuff like cooking, shopping for myself, cleaning. Before, I never had to worry about stuff like that because at home there was always a fridge with lots of food in it. So, I had to learn all the practical stuff. That’s the only growth that I’m sure of now.
FOR: FOR’s National Council met while you were here. Did you learn anything from witnessing people from all over the country gather together as a governing board?
Dorothee: The council came at the beginning of my stay and I helped Mary, so most of all I learned that it is really hard work to cook for so many people and to make all the beds and such. And it was during the hurricane so the people stayed longer (due to flight cancellations) and I got to talk to a lot of people because it was dark and we sat around the house all day, so I got to know interesting people.
FOR: You were here during very interesting times. You lived at FOR headquarters during Hurricane Sandy, then one of the worst tragedies in American history took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School just two hours away from Nyack, and the flu was running rampant in the northeast. Did these events color your outlook or experience?
Dorothee: The first experience, with the hurricane. At first it was just interesting because we don’t have anything like that in Germany. We don’t have very extreme weather. But after a few days without power, it got really annoying, and now I’m really happy to have power. In Germany, the power lines are under the ground so we only lose power if there’s something wrong with the lines. I’ve only lost power for maybe an hour or so. (FOR was without power for a week due to Sandy) It was very boring. You couldn’t read without lights. But it was also interesting because we got to stay at Heshi’s house which was very cool.
FOR: Heshi Gorewitz, FOR’s Director of Operations, invited you, Johannes (an intern with Creative Response to Conflict also housed at FOR headquarters) and Mary to stay in his home where he had a generator in order to care for his aging mother. Heshi’s mother is a holocaust survivor. You and Johannes are German. Was that an interesting experience for you?
Dorothee: Yes. She told us a bit of her story. Not in details.
FOR: What are your favorite memories about your time with FOR?
Dorothee: Everyone’s very nice. I was never on my own. Mary was very caring. The best experiences were doing little trips with Mary, for example to Woodstock, NY and to Amish country in Pennsylvania. New York City is cool but it was a different side of America seeing these little towns.
FOR: And your least favorite? Please don’t be shy. We want to know in order to make improvements.
Dorothee: The worst part is not something that you can change. The hardest part was to be away from home for the first time without family and friends.
FOR: Oh, that is hard. I wish that we could make that easier. You were so brave to endure the separation in order to serve and learn and grow. So, what did you learn about FOR that impressed you?
Dorothee: I learned about the accompaniment team in Colombia when the training took place here, and that was interesting. I didn’t know that people (young people) actually risk their lives when they go there and I didn’t know about that specific work in Colombia.
FOR: Will you continue to do volunteer work in the future?
Dorothee: Yeah, it makes your life better if you help other people and are not only concentrating on yourself but also make things better for the world and other people; so I think as long as I can do it, I will always try to volunteer.