Meeting yourself in others

“Volunteering is a very grounding experience, which keeps the connection with people. I believe every person you meet reflects an aspect of yourself, and it is nice to meet yourself in others” he says while smiling. He mentions the quote “No man is an island” to explain more in-depth the concept that we are social beings; which means we need interaction with one another.

Matt has been the leader for our Missionaries of Charity project over the past two years. You can see him twice a week on Wednesday’s and Friday’s serving food. But in fact, Matt has been volunteering with the sisters for much longer. Around his 20s he was looking for something to add meaning to his life. That is when he read a book about Mother Theresa, “Something beautiful for God” by Malcolm Muggeridge.

After reading it he made contact with a network of so-called co-workers. He began to go from town to town to show the work of Mother Theresa and to raise funds. But then he wondered “Is the organization still the same as when they started?”, so in 1981 he went to Calcutta, India to check it out. He stayed there for a couple of weeks and worked in the home for the dying. “There was a huge need in there”, he says while holding his hands.

“In the end, volunteering breaks down barriers. It helps you to be more open-minded to the other people living in the same community as you are.”

“Mother Theresa was certainly a big influence in my life.” Through their organization, he adopted Lucia, a 2 years old girl from Portugal. She had been abandoned at birth and she was incapacitated, but luckily the sisters were looking after her. “She was a real spark of life and she taught me and my wife Elaine so many things. I believe that was her purpose, to change our lives.”

But Matt did not stop there. He made volunteering his lifestyle. Wherever he goes he leaves his footprint. When he went to India with a friend, he saw a huge need. That is when they decided to put money together to build a hospital. At the time constructing was cheap there, so in 1983, after 1-year putting money together, they gathered £ 14.000, and they used to build a hospital for leprosy patients.

But then he lost contact with the sisters for around 20 years. When he came to Brussels with his wife Elaine he wanted to do volunteer work. Then he found Serve the City online and once he saw the project of Missionaries of Charity he did not need to think twice to sign up as a volunteer.

“I firmly believe that there is no difference between me and them, just a set of circumstances, and the more people that have that realization, the less would be the divide.”

There are a lot of short-term volunteers, which according to Matt it is a lovely thing to see. Many young people come for a short period of time to Brussels, some of them for a couple of months and others only for some weeks, and yet, they choose to volunteer. “At their age, If I would be a student in a foreign city I would be checking the nightlife” he says while laughing. “It is lovely to see how motivated the youth are in this matter.”

In Trinity College in Dublin Matt took a pop course: Process-oriented psychology. “It is applied by asking questions about their situation and then observing their non-deliberate movements. Tracking these movements allows a therapist to reach very deep layers of the psyche.” This is one of many therapeutic modalities he employs in his interactions with people.

When being asked if he puts that knowledge to practice while volunteering, he says he uses what he has got but the language barrier remains a major obstacle.

“My interaction here is more smiling to somebody, and that smile itself is already a form of therapy because it is something that is lacking in a lot of people’s lives.”

A lot of them react to that, and after coming multiple times they would greet you when they see you there. It is a meeting of hearts, a meeting of minds. “So if you are considering to do volunteer work do not think about it, just do it. Your head won’t tell you how you will feel about it, but your heart will.”

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