Volunteering service experience till now has been one of the best years in my life! It is not only a matter of unpaid job in a certain organization but also a chance to meet hundreds of new amazing people, to travel, to learn (through non-formal/informal education), to face difficulties, to find the ways to solve them and much more. Despite the fact that it may seem challenging for some of us it should never be a reason to refuse such priceless opportunity.
European Voluntary Service (EVS) is one of the iniatives supported and financed by the European Commission. It provides young Europeans with an opportunity to express their personal commitment through unpaid and full-time voluntary activities in a foreign country within or outside of the EU. The EVS is a "learning service" as young people are able to develop new skills and improve their personal and professional development through voluntary activities. In addition, they benefit from specific training delivered throughout the voluntary activity. Formal recognition of the newly acquired skills is provided through the Youthpass.
The preparation of documents for a project took me about 3 months. With the help of the sending and hosting organizations we managed to do everything on time. Having a possibility to spend a long-term project in a very developed European country I will never regret about my choice. Being engaged into social workers' environment my colleagues and I were helping (in various ways) mentally and physically disabled people, performing recreation activities and engaging them into social life sector. All 12 volunteers from hosting organization were invited to take part in on-arrival and mid-term trainings. During those events we met many other volunteers from different organizations and locations in the Netherlands, shared our experiences and expectations, of course learned plenty of useful information about EVS itself, Dutch culture, problems management etc.
Our hosting organization wanted us not only to perform working obligations but also to be actively involved into social life of the country. They organized mandatory for all volunteers Dutch language classes once a week so we were able to learn and improve our communicational skills in foreign language. Besides, we had a mentor from locals who was able to provide great support and spend free time together with benefit for all of us. Having a free chip-card for travelling I could afford myself journeys all over the country and one year was more than enough to explore attractive places and keep in touch with people that I’ve met during the training courses.
One of my greatest fears before starting the project was to catch a flu abroad. Obviously all of the volunteers have had a full-covering medical insurance but realizing that nobody was going to take care of me except for myself made me disappointed. Moreover, the process of reimbursement emerged to be full with bureaucracy so I decided to take all the necessary medicine from home with me that helped me pass through my early-spring illness quite smoothly.
There were thousands of bright experiences during volunteering year but one of the most outstanding was my vacation period. In July I took 3 weeks off and spend them attending neighbor countries, experiencing hitch-hiking. First I went for several days to Berlin, it took me more than 10 hours to get there and on my way I’ve met dozens of kind and friendly people. Next week I was gone for Antwerp and Brussels, staying with locals (using “Couchsurfing” platform) I discovered the most and less touristic places in the listed cities, I have tried their cuisine and I enjoyed all days of my journey.
Regarding the skills that I’ve obtained during my EVS programme, I can firmly state that my understanding and perspective of social worker expanded dramatically. I became more mature and independent in my budget and time management; it made me more tolerant towards other cultures, traditions and behavior models. Besides, I can be satisfied with my humble contribution for a better society. By the end of the project I had been offered to get a full-paid contract with parallel education programme for immigrants but still I was not sure if that was something what I would like to do at the age of 23...
From my point of view one of the major factors affecting participation in volunteering in post-communist countries is the legacy of communism. With some slight differences, the post-communist societies exhibit a somewhat negative attitude towards volunteering, which citizens strongly associate with the communist era during which people were coerced to volunteer for some state-controlled organizations. As a result, in an attempt to regain control over their spare time, most citizens simply refuse to participate in any type of collective civil initiative. Hopefully it will be changed with new generation.
If you are applying for the project and cannot decide which one is better for you, there are many factors influencing the choice. To start with, the duration – when you want to have more free time to make plans for the future, obviously it would be better to choose a long-term opportunity (it will also positively affect your CV in your further career). In case you just want to try yourself as a volunteer, you may choose a short-term project. Considering the variety of topics you may also be interested in the country of your EVS: when you have chosen the most interesting subject for a long term project, you will be totally satisfied. Some months or half a year later it may become more as a routine (but not necessarily) and when the country of residence is not attractive for you, that can be a challenge to deal with until the end of your project. Also, it is of a great importance to read carefully the description of the project and discover all the rights and duties that hosting organization is offering to volunteers. You might need to consult with a legal representative of a sending NGO to discover more conditions that have to be taken into account before crossing this line.
Volunteering should be promoted among specific sectors of the society, such as young people and the families. Some countries have implemented long term policies to involve different age groups: young people, students, people active on the labour market, companies etc. Overall, the level of volunteering has increased in the great majority of European countries over the past decade. The main difficulties seem to be related to the changes that are affecting the nature of voluntary engagement, as well as a mismatch between the needs of voluntary organizations and the aspirations of the new generations of volunteers, rather than a drop in the number of volunteers. Factors include the inadequate knowledge of the needs of organizations, the difficulty in matching volunteers with appropriate projects, preference for short rather than long-term voluntary commitments, and increases in the number of voluntary organizations which means that volunteers are being spread across an ever larger number of organizations.
To sum up, volunteering is a marvelous way of discovering the world and yourself in this global community. As I don’t have a chance to become an EVS volunteer one more time, I will definitely try myself as UN volunteer after I meet all of their requirements.
Konstantyn Selikhov, 23, Mykolaiv