Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Liam in Spain on EVS - 2009

I've been in Barcelona for about three months. I love this city, the history, the culture, the people, the food, the music, the list, it goes on. It's one the of the reasons that I chose this project, a big reason to be honest. But I was under no illusions that it was going to be easy, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into when I applied, when I signed up.

Like any big city, Barcelona has it's problems. But unlike other cities, the place that the problems are concentrated is right in the centre, in the notorious barrio of El Raval. Barely a day goes by without the neighbourhood being on both regional and national news; Drugs. Prositution. Robberies. Violence. Unemployment. Immigrants. The homeless. The same problems any other big city has, but concentrated into a relatively small barrio which these days is constantly patrolled by the police. This is where I work.

My organisation has a huge variety of projects, most centred in and around Raval. My project works with immigrants, from 16-21/22 years old. People from Morroco, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, the Filipines, India, Pakistan, Bolivia, Columbia, todo el mundo! We do language classes, computer classes, music classes, sports classes, etc. etc. I teach kids who can't swim how to swim. Guys that can't even send an email how to use a computer. I train our football team. And generally support the running of all of our activities. One of the most important aims of all of this, is to give these guys something to do, something constructive, just something that isn't struggling to make a living by whatever means possible. And ultimately, we guide them into work training courses to develop some skills so that they are qualified to work.

Summed up in a paragraph it sounds fairly straight forward. It's not. There are a mountain of problems thrown into this mix. Primarily, I arrived without speaking Spanish. Nor Catalan. Nor Arabic, nor Swahili, or any other language that would be of use to me here. And Í'm the only EVS volunteer in this project, and so fairly isolated. The embarassment you feel when somebody speaks to you, and not only can you not reply, but you very little idea of what they even said, is horrible. Horrible enough to motivate me into studying Spanish every spare minute of every day! Next problem, the guys can be difficult. Extremely difficult. They're in a very strange and difficult situation, and so considering this it's understadable that they can behave like that. Another issue is the massive predjudice and discrimination that they face. Consider what it must be like, to arrive in a foreign country, where you don't speak the language, you don't know anybody, you have no money, no food, no home, no job, and then even if you do manage to get a grip of the language, you do learn some skills, become qualified even, after all of this, you're still faced with blatant discrimination. These aren't bad people, regardless of how they may behave at times, regardless of how they are forced to make money to survive, they are just people. It's only the situation that's bad. Life can be hard and massively unfair. But this project is trying to do something about it, I'm trying to do something about it.

The whole EVS experience can be a really strange one. It's a long period of time to be doing something, and so it's important that you know as much as possible about what you're going to do before you get there, to be happy with the type of work you'll do, to make sure that it's right for you. But it's just as important that you do it, that we do it. The whole EVS project is designed to promote cross-cultural learning and European cohesion, it's effectively designed to help the EU as a whole. But regardless of the political motivations behind it, it's an incredible opportunity, as the cliche goes, too good to miss. Not only is it a means of living in another country for an extended period of time, it's a means of really knowing that country, really learning the language in a way never possible at home, and above all, it's a means to do something useful, something important. I don't think you can ever really know what you're capable of until you do something that challenges you. This project is not only important for the kids that we work with, but for me too. I'm learning a language which opens up an entirely new world for me. And I'm learning things about myself, discovering what I am actually capable of. Something is happening to me, something that I need to think about for a long time. But that thing is good, it's a thing which inspires me to be better, to do more, to be more.

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