We live in a society in which we are bombarded constantly by images of suffering young people. Today, as never before, we have to come to terms with the distress of innocents after chemical gas attacks, sea crossings or natural disasters. We, spectators of these atrocities, rediscover a conscience that had been dormant for too long, but at the same time we associate the sorrow with a distant world to which we do not belong.

On the contrary, there are also here young people suffering and they have the same smiles of the children and adolescences who every evening welcome us when we come home making us feel the most important people in the world. If we constantly forget of them, there are people who have decided to contribute to their well-being.

I am speaking of the volunteers working at Café Nexus in Aarhus Universitetshospital in Skejby. Café Nexus is a special place where young patients between 12 and 22 years old can take a break from everyday’s fears and worries. From Monday to Thursday between 18,30 and 21, the volunteers and the young people spend some time together doing ordinary activities, which might disappear from your routine if you are hospitalized: chatting with friends, playing board games, watching films...

Moreover, four times a year the volunteers organize special events. This year on 9th May, after the Ferrari evening and a visit from Chili-Claus, it was the time of the handball player Jesper Nøddesbo to turn Café Nexus into a major attraction for all the young patients of the hospital.

To know more about Café Nexus, I met Mia Meldgaard Knudsen and Sebastian Meyer. Mia is the Project Leader of the PR and Communication section and in her everyday life is a student of Anthropology at Aarhus University, whereas Sebastian is a teacher who at Café Nexus is in charge of Human Resources. I met them at Café Nexus and the first word which came to my mind looking around has been “hyggelig”.

I immediately started questioning myself if this perception was due to my slow but inevitable immersion into the Danish culture which encourages you to perceive everything as “hyggelig” or at least as if it were endowed with a potential to become “hyggelig”, but after a while I realized that Café Nexus was really a place where to feel at ease and safe.

I started my conversation with Mia and Sebastian asking them when and how Café Nexus was founded.

Sebastian: “Everything started 6 years ago thanks to the precious work of two nurses, who adopted a concept which already existed in Copenhagen. Since then, we have established a partnership with the other three cafés similar to ours which are present in Denmark, to be more precise in Aalborg, in Odense and in Copenhagen. We also have a partnership with Red Cross Youth. Moreover, the project is in expansion and we hope that in the near future also other hospitals, taking inspirations from Café Nexus, will have a place for young people.”

What is people's reaction when they hear of Café Nexus?

Mia: “We have a good feedback from the nurses of the hospital, but the most grateful to us are the parents because they can see the benefits that Café Nexus has on their children. You know, I think that our job is important because it is difficult for young people between 12 and 22 to find a place for them in a hospital because they feel like there is no place that answers to their needs. They are not children anymore but they are not adults yet and if this is an impression that everyone of us had had at least once in life, they feel it everyday in a hospital.”

When did your experience in Café Nexus start?

Sebastian: “We started our experience as volunteers on 1st February. As Projects Leaders we occupy the second level of the hierarchical pyramid of Café Nexus together with other two Project Leaders, one in charge of the Events and the other responsible for the Administration. Above we have one nurse, whereas underneath we have all the volunteers who are divided into the four sections we lead.”

Speaking about volunteers, who are they and why do they volunteer?

Sebastian: “We have a variety of people joining us. Some of them study a subject which can be associated with what we do here, as for example Medicine or Pedagogy, but it is not necessarily like this. Just to make an example, in our rows we also have Software Developers. I think that what made all our volunteers decide to become part of our team is the fact that they recognised the potential of our project and the importance of what we are doing. I must admit that recently we have become quite popular and at the moment we have 33 volunteers, 8 of which joined us lately.”

And what were your motivations to become volunteers at Café Nexus?

Mia: “I had been a volunteer before and it had always been a nice experience, so I wanted to try also to be part of Café Nexus and I am glad about it because through it I had the opportunity to have my first leader experience.”

Sebastian: “What I like about my role in Café Nexus is that it allows me to have contacts both with volunteers and with the patients, something that is difficult to experience in other volunteering organizations. I recognized this aspect immediately when I heard of Café Nexus and I decided to embark on this adventure.”

What do you think volunteers can gain from their experience in Café Nexus?

Mia: “First of all, Café Nexus is so well structured that the events and the activities are easy to be put into practice. At the same time, we are open to any initiative and the volunteers can bring their ideas into reality. Moreover, the volunteers can grow personally because approaching vulnerable people implies some challenges and the volunteers will face them in a real life experience, which is the only way to improve and to develop empathy. Last but not least, we guide our volunteers through a preparatory path at the beginning so that they will be well prepared and comfortable in their position: they take part to workshops which broaden their perspective and they become aware of the hygiene rules and the privacy policy we have to respect. And the workshop and the social activities continues also while they are volunteering. For example, the workshop organized by Red Cross Youth that was held in Fredericia two weeks ago.”

What is your favourite memory connected to Café Nexus?

Mia: “For me it is definitely a memorable Tuesday when I saw the excitement on the face of one patient because we ordered his favourite pizza.”

Sebastian: “It is difficult for me to choose one exact moment because we have so much good time both with patients and volunteers, but I think that I will choose the first time that I saw that through Café Nexus I was making the difference as the kids around me were happy and smiling.”

What do you think about the fact that Aarhus was chosen as European Volunteering Capital 2018?

Sebastian: “I was not surprised when I heard about it because I think that in Denmark we are educated from the early age about the importance of volunteering and it makes natural for us to become volunteers as soon as it is possible. That is why there is so much going on in Aarhus in the volunteering sector.”

If you have to choose three words that you associate with volunteering, what would they be?

Mia and Sebastian: “Our first word is “fellowship” even though I think that the Danish word “fællesskab” is more accurate. Then, allow us to have more than one because, according to us, “quality of life” summarises very well the improvement in your life both by receiving the generosity of volunteers and also as a volunteer after understanding that you made a difference. Finally, we choose “surplus of energy” because that is what you need when you decide to become a volunteer and at the same time it is what the patients need in order to take part to our activities.”

What are your plans for the summer?

Mia: “Now Café Nexus is closing for the summer holidays but we will back in the middle of August. But an appointment you cannot miss this summer is our annual charity run, which is a precious opportunity for everyone to support our project while having fun. To stay updated visit our Facebook page “Café Nexus – Skejby” and our Instagram profile #cafenexusskejby.”

Somewhere I read that the beauty of life is hidden behind the “despite” and not behind the “but”. I left Aarhus Universitetshospital with the impression that Mia and Sebastian have already learned this precious lesson and that they can see it everyday at Café Nexus.

Because DESPITE their busy schedules, the volunteers decide to use some of their freetime to help someone and give their contribution. Because DESPITE the difficulties, the patients decide not to close themselves off, but to take part to the activities of Café Nexus.

Are you curious about what is going on in Aarhus while the city is holding the title of European Volunteering Capital? Don’t miss the next stop of my pilgrimage around the city.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.