This Corruption Is Institutional

, , , , | Working | July 2, 2018

(In Germany, there are well-established networks that place young people with social, cultural, or environmental institutions as full-time volunteers for one year. Everyone involved knows that the volunteers are basically cheap labour, but many of the institutions, including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and museums, would not be able to operate the way they do without them. The year after my graduation, there is an even higher need for volunteers than usual; the Parliament has decided to no longer draft young men for compulsory military service, which means the end of the alternative community service that tens of thousands of men do to get out of military duty. With no indication if enough men that would normally be drafted will volunteer for the networks without the incentive, many institutions worry. I decide to apply to a cultural volunteer network. Even though it is volunteer work, the volunteers do get some benefits. In that network, the institution pays for the volunteers’ insurance, provides either a place of living or financial compensation for rent, and give a monthly allowance of 300-350 Euros. In order to volunteer, you have to fill out an application online. Then, you get a list of institutions that match your profile, and you pick those that will be given your application. If the institution is interested in you, they contact you to set up an interview. After I submit my application, I am contacted by the network with a list of institutions very similar to the ones I chose that had gotten very few applications, asking my permission to send my application to them, too. One place I applied to is a well-known concentration camp memorial, [Institution #1]. On the second list is another camp memorial in the same state, managed by the same public agency, but way less known. I decide to apply to them, too. A while later I get a call from them.)

Woman: “Hello, this is [Woman] from [Institution #2]! We received your application and wanted to invite you to an interview!”

Me: “Great, I would love to! Since I am from another state, would it be possible to arrange something for [date]? I already have an appointment with [Institution #1] that day.”

Woman: “Sure, no problem! It’s only about 30 minutes by car from them to us! When is your appointment?”

(We agree on a time that should give me plenty of time to drive there after my first interview. On the day of the interviews, my mother drives me to [Institution #1]. The employees I am interviewing with lead me around the memorial site before settling into an office.)

Employee: “There are four volunteer spots. One day a week, the volunteers will man the information desk, after solid training, but the other four days you would work in a department of your choosing. After six months, we would like you to consider giving one-hour tours to tourists once or twice a week, but if you are uncomfortable with that, we can figure something out. We have a flat in town that our volunteers share. It’s only ten minutes by bus from the flat to us here. You would also get a public transport ticket that covers [most of the state] and an allowance of 350 Euros, as well as insurance.”

(At the end of the interview:)

Employee: “Before you leave, I wanted to tell you that we really liked your application. Yours was one of the few ones we got that really gave some insight into the applicant, instead of just standard answers, and it was a joy talking to you. There are several more people we will see the rest of the week, so I cannot guarantee you a spot, but you will definitely be on our shortlist!”

(I return to my mother with over 45 minutes left until my second interview. I really like this first place and the interview went great, so I am in a good mood. However, it soon turns out that the travel time the second place gave me was wrong. A few minutes before my interview is supposed to start, we make it to the town, but the navigation system is directing us out of it again, so I give them a call.)

Me: “Hi, this is [My Name]. I am afraid I will be late. The drive took longer than expected. I am at [Location] right now; I’m not sure how much longer it will take.”

Woman: “Oh, that’s no problem. You just came from [Institution #1], didn’t you? People are often late when they come from there. It should take you about 20 minutes to get to us from where you are right now. See you!”

(I am now really annoyed. This is clearly the same person I talked to before, that gave me the 30-minute estimate. In reality, with no traffic worth mentioning, it has taken us over an hour. When we reach the memorial site, there is nothing but fields in the middle of nowhere, with one single building in the middle. I enter and wander around for several minutes before I find an occupied office. The woman inside turns out to be my interviewer, and the person I talked to on the phone. While my first interview turned into a pleasant conversation that touched on all the topics important for both sides, this one is way more sterile.)

Woman: “Great, you finally made it. I have your application right here, so let’s get started. So, as you can see, our facilities are mostly underground in the mines below us, with a small surface exhibition here in the building. As a volunteer, you would be trained for seven to ten days before you start as a guide yourself. Only small two-hour tours for the start, but a month after the start of your training, you would lead the full-scale tours, ranging from four- and five-hour tours to whole-day programs, on your own, six days a week. I know it’s a bit more than the work at [Institution #1], but it is really rewarding to know you are really needed, isn’t it?”

(The last sentence is said in a tone that sounds rather condescending. I am a bit dumbfounded, both by her tone and her demands, but even more by the fact that I have not even had the chance to say a single word, other than my name when I entered the room. I am even still in my jacket, so little time has passed. The woman waits for an answer to her last statement, so I say the only thing my stupefied brain can come up with:)

Me: *quietly* “I guess?”

Woman: “As for the benefits, we will cover your insurance and give you an allowance of a total of 300 euros a month. There is also room in a flatshare in town that we provide! I assume you have your own car?”

(I stated in my application that I have no car, and nowhere in their profile has the need for one been even hinted.)

Me: “No, I was not aware I needed one.”

Woman: “Oh, well, we are not connected to public transport, so you will have to find a way to work on your own. You can use a bike, I guess; on the road you got here on it should only take about 40 minutes from the town centre. It could be a bit problematic in winter when it snows, but I guess we might be able to arrange for someone to give you a ride with their car if it gets too bad.”

(The street she talks about was ten minutes by car, uphill, on cobblestone, only barely wide enough for two cars to pass by each other. I become even more shocked by her nonchalant voice when she says this, but manage to pull myself together enough to get through the rest of the interview. However, it does not develop into anything good. I return to my mother, still in disbelief, and tell her the whole story on the drive home.)

Mother: “Honey, if they offer you a spot, you’ll say no! I mean, I know very well that this is cheap labour, but what they are asking is insane! The other places were at least nice about it and offered you something in return; this is ridiculous! I do not know how they expect to get any of their spots filled like that, especially this year!”

(Several weeks later, I get a call from the woman from [Institution #2].)

Woman: “Hello! This is [Woman]! I would like to offer you the spot as a volunteer at [Institution #2]! Before you decide, I should tell you that [Institution #1] has already chosen their volunteers, too, and you are not one of them, nor are you on the list for substitutes should one of their picks decline, so do not wait out for an offer from them!”

(I declined, stating that I thought I was not a good fit for what they were looking for. She brushed it off, saying that she got the feeling I might not like being that far away from my family, and quickly ended the call before I could correct her on that. I never heard from [Institution #1]. I eventually decided to not volunteer at all, but went to university in the fall. While I have not regretted that choice, I grew more and more convinced that [Institution #2] wanting me for one of their volunteers had resulted in the agency that runs both places removing me from the shortlist of possible picks for the spots with [Institution #1]. When the children of family friends have applied via the same network in the years since, I have always made sure to tell them to avoid that second memorial site, and to not allow additional applications to be sent to small institutions that are in any way affiliated with any of their original pick. Doing so has very likely ruined my chance to work in a great place.)


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I’m Not Volunteering Any Felony Information

, , , , | Right | January 19, 2018

(My friend and I are students at a Catholic high school that requires you to do at least 20 hours of community service in order to be able to pass or graduate. We’re both female, but I’m a junior while she’s a sophomore. We are currently volunteering at a donation-run thrift store.)

Customer: “Excuse me, dear. I was looking at these paintings, and this one doesn’t have a price tag. Could you tell me how much this one is supposed to cost?”

Friend: “I’m sorry, but I’m only a volunteer, so I don’t really know. However, I can go and bring an employee who will know, if you’d like.”

Customer: “It’s all right; I don’t really need this, anyway. So, you’re doing community service? How many hours do you have left to do?

Friend: “Well, all of my hours are done after my shift, and my shift ends at six. So, about three hours left to go.”

Customer: “That’s good. So, what did you do in order to have to do community service?”

Friend: “Huh? This is the community service project that all of the students at my high school have to do. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Customer: *laughs* “Oh, honey, there’s no need to lie to me! I know that all of you teenagers who do community service do it because the courts force you to. Let me guess. You were recklessly driving?”

Friend: “Ma’am, I told you this is a community service project for my high school. I have not committed any crimes. I just want to pass my sophomore year.”

Customer: *sighs* “I don’t know why you are bothering to lie to me. Behavior like that will only make you into more of a convict than you already are. Such a shame.”

Friend: “…”

Customer: “Well, I’m going to check out now. Try to keep yourself out of more trouble, dear.”

(The customer goes to check out. Meanwhile, my friend walks up to me after I’m finished helping my customer.)

Friend: “I’m pretty sure a customer just called me a convict.”

A Hurricane Of Volunteers

, , , , , | Hopeless | September 30, 2017

(My sister works for a travel agency. Most of her clients rent vacation homes in the Caribbean: Barbuda, Antigua, and other islands recently devastated by a record-breaking hurricane. Because of this disaster, she has been continuously fielding calls from irate customers who either demand refunds, want to know why their flight is cancelled, or generally display a lack of concern for those who lost everything in the hurricane. Then, she gets this gem of a gentleman.)

Caller: “Hi! I wonder if you can tell me about my upcoming vacation. I’m worried the hurricane probably ruined the beach house. I also want to check my flight and see if it’s possible that it’s still a go.”

Sister: “Okay, let me look up your account… Yeah, it looks like your reservation was on one of the islands affected; we haven’t been able to contact anyone on the island, period, let alone the specific owner of the condo you reserved. I don’t see any problems with the airline listed, but that doesn’t mean it will still fly out; everything is a mess down there.”

Caller: “That’s not too surprising. I looked up the airport information, and it looks like they had some damage but are staying open.”

Sister: “I don’t know how long it will take to get the systems back to normal, but I have the information you need to try and start the process for a refund. I know it’s frustrating that everything is held up at the moment, but if you could fill out the forms at least, we can send them for you as soon as possible.”

Caller: “Oh, I don’t plan to cancel. I am just loading up my suitcases with supplies that people are running out of down there, and I’m going to try and volunteer for something if the flight isn’t cancelled. Thanks!” *hangs up*

Sister: *speechless*

Putting The Pain Into Campaigning

| CO, USA | Working | October 17, 2014

(During the 2012 presidential campaign, I volunteer for activities and campaigning in Colorado as a means to kill time before I move to another state to go to college. As it is summertime before I move, there is nothing for me to do. However, after I move to school, which is about 1,000 miles away, I get a series of phone calls.)

Caller: Hi, we saw you are interested in volunteering for [Candidate A]’s campaign. When would you be interested in coming in to help?”

Me: “Sorry, I cannot. I currently reside in [Different State] to go to college. As geography makes it difficult for me to volunteer in Colorado, I think its best you remove me from your call list. Thank you, though.”

(One week later.)

Caller: “Hello, I am with [Candidate A]’s presidential campaign for Colorado. Would you be interested in volunteering for us?”

Me: “No. As I explained before, I am in [different state]. It is virtually impossible for me to volunteer. Furthermore, I asked my name be removed from your call list. Please do so now.”

(Two weeks go by. I am studying for an exam and guess who calls.)

Caller: “Hello. I am with [Candidate A]’s presidential campaign in Colorado. We noticed you are interested in volunteering for this campaign, and we would like to—”

Me: “Stop right there. I have asked repeatedly for you to remove my name from your call sheet, as I live in a completely different state. If any of you call me again, I will vote for [Candidate B] out of spite.”

(They have stopped calling since!)

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Shuffling And Trotting To The End

| USA | Friendly | March 12, 2014

(I volunteer at a nonprofit organization, calling other volunteers we have not heard from recently.)

Volunteer’s Husband: “Hello?”

Me: “Hello! My name is [My Name] and I am a volunteer with [Nonprofit]. I am looking for [Volunteer]. Is she available?”

Volunteer’s Husband: “You’re looking for [Volunteer]?”

Me: “Yes, sir!”

Volunteer’s Husband: “Well, I found her many years ago, and I have kept her ever since. I intend on keeping her, but I suppose if you’re willing to wait a minute and a half, or maybe less, she’ll shuffle in and I can give her the phone, and you’ll have found her… Ah! Here she comes, walkin’ in… Not trotting, mind you, but she’s still fully capable of doing that, if you were wondering… And, since you’ve waited so patiently, I suppose I’ll give the phone over to her and she can say hello. [Volunteer], say hello to the girl!”

(After which he handed the phone to his wife and I was able to speak to her. Thank you, sir, for making my day with your wonderful way of answering the phone!)

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