Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Watch this video about volunteering in Iceland!

Check out the video made by our volunteer Tosh who participated in a photography project in Iceland :)

The video is part of an exhibition in Iceland about volunteering.

All In A Days Work from Tosh Kara on Vimeo.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Our partner in Argentina!

Our partner in Argentina SUBIR AL SUR just made a new presentation video!

Unfortunately is in Spanish...if you don't speak the language you can see what the projects look like!

Concordia Team

Heather in Hungary on EVS - 2011

"I'm sharing a room with a German, Spanish

and a Romanian girl. It's like gaining three sisters over night!!"

I'm settling into EVS life quickly :-) So much has happened since I left England on Thursday!!

I'm living with 8 other people in a small flat in the City Centre. The flat is in a small square near to the train and bus station. We are lucky because our room has a balconary that overlooks the square.

I'm sharing a room with a German, Spanish and a Romanian girl. It's like gaining three sisters over night!! It's ok at the moment, but I never seen to get a minute to myself. The other girls are really nice and helpful. We also share the flat with a French guy and four guys from Turkey (they keep themselves to themselves).

On Friday I spend the day unpacking and having a look around the City. It is very pretty. I can't take photos because my camera broke the night before I left :-( In the evening, all of the EVS volunteers were invited to a language student's home for dinner. The food was really good. We had a dish made with pork, egg, potatoes and spices, a mixed salad with Greek dressing and another dish made with Turkey, potatoes and lots of spices. For pudding, we had pancakes and a strange dish made of cookies, sour cream, sugar and jelly.

On my birthday, the girls made me breakfast in bed which was so sweet :-) Later, we went to a football match with some of the boys from the other flat (they have been in Hungary for eight months). It was so cold that my bones were frozen! In the evening we went to a local bar. There is no real night life in the City. There are three or four bars and one small nightclub. Anyway, two random guys gave us a massive cream and chocolate cake!! It was amazing!!

Today was my first day working at the office. It was manic because the organisation has just moved from an office across the road. Today was the opening ceremony. I also went to my first two England lessons. It was really relaxed and informal. The English teacher chooses a topic and we talk to the students about it. So today we talked about the different rules and customs in each of our home countries (England, Italy, Spain and Romanian). The students were really shy and didn't want to talk very much.

Everybody I have met so far in Hungary has been very friendly and helpful. The hardest thing to cope with at the moment is communication. A lot of the others can speak English. However, they find it hard to understand my accent. I didn't realise that I speak so fast when I’m at home!! Robbie seems to understand me the best. He is from Romanian and speaks five languages fluently!! I think that my English will get worse this year!! It's strange to listen to so many lanuages at the same time!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Joanne on EVS in France - 2011

"I will never forget trying to teach three teenagers how to sew
with a few words
and a lot of hand gestures."

EVS involved a lot of firsts for me; it was the first time I had travelled outside the UK alone, the first time I took a night train, the first time I had lived in another country, the first time I had seen mountains. One of the greatest parts of my EVS experience was that these first time experiences did not end when I arrived at the project but they continued up until the very end. I feel every part of me was touched and changed somehow by my time as a volunteer; from allowing me to become more conscious of the resources we can take for granted in British society today to bringing bigger concepts further to my attention such as the role of consumerism and the problem of climate change.

I volunteered for 9 months in France at a centre accueil called Vaunières, meaning Black Valley, which is hidden away at 2,500 meters altitude in the French Alps. The village hosts a variety of people including groups of school children, teenagers with social problems, international workcamps and passing mountain hikers. During the summer months there was often large numbers of visitors, sometimes reaching around the one hundred mark.

It is a tiny village that dates back to the twelfth century and it is isolated in a way that is quite hard to comprehend in today's world of modern connections. It took me a while to adjust to this solitude but now I am incredibly grateful that I was able to experience such a different way of life during my EVS.My daily life as a volunteer changed and evolved during my time at Vaunieres with relation to what groups were visiting.

During the quiet months of spring w
e were often just the 6 volunteers and so our time was occupied with workshops to develop Vaunieres; plastering the new library space, working on the garden, painting and decorating. As the warmer weather brought more visitors my role became more of a host - welcoming, cooking and cleaning but there was also time to participate in the collective workshops. This provided a beautiful opportunity to share with all the different people staying in the project and helped to breakdown some of the boundaries created by the language barrier. I will never forget trying to teach three teenagers how to sew with a few words and a lot of hand gestures.

A special part of Vaunieres is the artistic and alternative people it seems to attract and a huge part of my EVS experience was the volunteers and the people I shared my time with. I met many inspiring people that I hope to keep contact with forever. When the summer arrived so did the first international workcamps and festivals. There were movie nights, pizza nights, party nights, games nights, international meals, nights sleeping under stars and weekends away. The autumn brought a new, colourful, beauty and a new calm in terms of numbers.
But as other long-term volunteers left and the new group arrived I found myself with a lot more responsibilities. I helped to welcome the new volunteers into their new roles and helped organise the final international workcamp of the year. It was perhaps the most challenging part of my whole time as a volunteer in terms of work-load and in many ways a very good way to finish. I am able to now say with confidence, I can speak French, I can drive on the right-side of the road, I can be a leader and I can say no when it gets too much. Of course there were times when things felt too difficult and times when I just wanted to come home and have a hug from my Mum. Sometimes the language barrier felt very isolating and I became quite homesick. But I wouldn’t change a thing. The hard times are an important part of the experience and really enable you to become aware of your own limits and strengths.

If you are reading this because you are contemplating becoming an EVS volunteer then I hope my story gives you the reassurance you are searching for. It is such an amazing opportunity and a real privilege to be able to live in another country and immerse yourself in another culture. It gives you time both to discover yourself and, in my experience at least, provides an opportunity to find many new possibilities for the future and a chance to meet many wonderful people. Also, there is always that guiding hand of Concordia behind you if you run into any problems.

If you are reading this because you are contemplating volunteering at Vaunières, I would whole heartedly encourage you too. There are not many places where you can feel so disconnected from the pressures of modern consumerism yet still be immersed in all the beauty of human potential. It is a magic place. Just remember to bring a good book and maybe some knitting to help pass those cold winter nights….

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 EVS Final Evaluation Seminar - Joe tells all...

Concordia's ex EVS volunteer
Joe who went to Austria
tells all about last weekend's

EVS Final Evaluation Seminar
in Bradford

The seminar was great - there was a big group of participants (I would estimate somewhere around 35 people) but the trainers did a great job of making sure everyone got to know each other. It was great to meet so many other volunteers and hear about their projects and their experiences abroad. In my experience EVS volunteers also tend to be really interesting and fun people to spend time with, and this seminar was no exception. In terms of the seminar itself - my EVS finished over a year ago and I've been busy with plenty of other things since then, so I was unsure if it would be helpful for me to attend an evaluation meeting so long after the end of my project. However despite the late date I actually found it really helpful to spend some time looking back at my experiences of Austria and what I learnt while I was there, and reflecting on how EVS has impacted on me and my plans for the future. We also received information about further mobility opportunities offered by the other strands of the European Commission's life-long learning programme, such as Leonardo or Grundtvig, which I will definitely be looking into! In short it was a great weekend and definitely worth taking part in.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Kelly on EVS in Iceland - 2011

It is unsurprisingly difficult to know where to start. With 6 months of time already having trickled by there is obviously too much to say… But for a general overview of my time so far, EVS in Iceland has meant…….

“Workcamps” with international volunteers around the different parts of Iceland, learning to drive a tractor, discovering the magic of Icelandic turf houses and turf as a building material, sleeping outside in the summer night sun (no darkness!), staying inside in the winter darkness (too much darkness!), planting trees, herding hundreds of sheep, learning how to milk a cow, seeing the northern lights, eating cured shark, cleaning the coast and building furniture from the driftwood, discovering the Icelandic Sagas and beliefs in hidden people and elves, building a children’s playground, organising and leading a bicycle camp around the south of the country, making a vegetable patch and greenhouse, frosty mornings, sitting in “hot pots” and hot rivers (a favourite Icelandic past time), often seeing more animals than people on a daily basis, alien landscapes and lava fields, huge open horizons, fishing, never having the same day repeated, painting, learning how to build a shelter with just wood and rope (no nails!), glaciers, volcanoes, sleeping in bunk beds, hiking, always cooking in huge quantities, strange dentist visit (they have TVs on the ceiling!), new people, new ideas, new recipes, lots of energy, tiredness, silent landscapes, noisy houses, and the strongest WIND.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Steph on EVS in Hungary - 2011

A Lot of Red Tomatoes

My hosting organisation’s website proudly bears the moto ‘Everybody is other in another way’. I like this sentiment, a lot, it summarises perfectly how it feels to be here. The language barrier, interacting with the disabled residents, how everything is different yet oddly fits together to make somewhere I feel I can call home. My first two months have gone so fast it feels like I finished hanging my photos on the wall of my room only yesterday, yet when I think of the things I’ve done and the progress we have made it feels like I’ve been here my whole life. The first few weeks were all about guided tours around our new lives and the paperwork to suit, but as the days marched on we soon found ourselves making friends and finding novel ways of communicating with the world around us.

For those who don’t know, Hungarian is an isolated language which contains many unnecessarily long words and bears no real resemblance to any western European language. This coupled with the fact English is not often phonetic makes remembering how to pronounce things almost impossible and as such I am sceptical that I will ever become proficient but I will endeavour to continue trying. Another hindrance is the pesky English accent I own as, when we go round the room practising pronunciation, the Germans get a big thumbs up, the Dutch make a reasonable attempt and I get a 'well at least you tried' kind of look.

The first word I mastered was, of course, thank you, as this knowledge alone can, with the assistance of lots of hand gestures, get you pretty much anything you want. Next I memorised the days of the week and the words 'open' and 'closed' so I could read the opening hours of all the shops and the local outdoor swimming pool. Since then my vocabulary has become a lot more eclectic as it has been driven primarily by the autistic people we assist. Colours were fairly easy to remember due to the extensive drilling which comes with overplaying Jenga and colouring in picture books. Next I progressed onto the phrase 'a lot of red tomatoes' which evolved due to one of the residents who carries a Spar offers magazine everywhere with him

which contains a picture of a punnet of, yes you guesse d it, red tomatoes on the bottom right-hand side (half price at only 210 forints in case you are interested). My latest language acquisitions are the ability to say ‘come here’ and ‘change your shoes’ in an attempt to maintain some level professionalism being able to assist with day-to-day duties when the clients are not themselves working in the sheltered workshops. Finally I can now say all of the characters from the tale of Winne the Pooh in Hungarian, thanks to a game of memory, well you never know when this might crop up in conversation. So yes, you are correct in thinking that I can’t (yet) coherently buy a train ticket to Budapest but I can tell you that Winne the Pooh is yellow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rebecca in Germany on EVS - 2011

"... best of all, I have assisted on two school trips. One week in the Harz... and one week in Sweden..."

I arrived in the evening of the 13th of August and was met by another Finnish volunteer who is also working on the project. Shortly after we met 3 more German volunteers who we would be working and living together with for the next 11 months. The flat is very closely situated to the 3 schools that we will be working with and I was very impressed by the efforts of the community here to renovate and equip the flat in order to help make us all feel comfortable. Unfortunately we were not able to receive the internet in the flat until 1 ½ months into the project, but we found ways to keep ourselves busy (most notably, attempting to understand all of the American/ British television series which were dubbed in German, let alone German T.V =P).

I am beginning to make many new friends around here with people from the youth centre, the other volunteers, the teachers and the students. Although some of these friendships will take a while to form it seems that they will be long lasting.

The work we have been given here, at times, has not seemed like a lot. We have been sharing it together between the 5 of us. However, I think as we start to find our feet’s better, the work load will start increasing.

The tasks I have done so far include:-

  • Making a photo chart of all the teachers.
  • Supervising at break times and in the library has given me a chance to meet and talk to the students and also the librarian, who does not speak English ;)
  • Currently I am helping to create archaeology workshops and an English language conversation group with the teachers. I am also working with a German volunteer to create a cooking group.
  • have translated some documents and started working to find more partners for the school’s youth exchange programme.
  • I have attended a first aid course and a church ceremony! (at the beginning of the year to welcome the 5th graders on their first day at school)
  • And best of all, I have assisted on two school trips. One week in the Harz getting to know the 6th graders and one week in Sweden getting to know the 10th graders.

I soon expect that my level of German will increase rapidly. I am taking a course that runs two times a week, when my German language level increases I will find it much easier to work and live in this society.

I have been very happy with the level of support and hospitality that I have received from my host organization to help me branch out and find new activities and people. I was especially impressed when all the staff sung me happy birthday which was co-ordinated in a choir by a music teacher during a staff meeting!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hayley in Denmark on EVS - 2011

"I am working at a social café for the ...Youth Red Cross ... [it is] entirely volunteer run giving it a very fun, relaxed, friendly and social atmosphere."

Never, have I felt more terrified than I did in those first few days of my EVS placement. I had inadvertently accepted a placement offer from a religious co-ordinating organisation and was therefore in the midst of morning prayers, faith workshops and gospel rehearsals – an uncomfortable position for a ‘non-believer’ such as myself. However, I was soon to discover that many of the other international volunteers (there are 25 of us from 12 countries) were also previously unaware of the religious nature of the organisation and that there was would be no sinister conversion attempt and things started to mellow out.

For my project I am working at a social café for the Ungdommens Røde Kors (Youth Red Cross) where, as well as developing a slight addiction to coffee, I have the responsibility of trying to maximise the profits. With the exception of a part-time manager who deals with all the dull legal and paper stuff, the cafe is entirely volunteer run giving it a very fun, relaxed, friendly and social atmosphere. Day-to-day activities can include organising music events, parties, workshops, making coffee and food as well as trying to think up of innovative ways of improving the cafe without spending any money. Not only am I gaining great project management skills, but I am also doing so in the knowledge that all of what I’m doing, is having a postive impact. It may be a small impact, but a positive one nonetheless.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Danni on EVS in France - 2011

"I have friends living in Paris, the alps and the south of France!"

I’m finding it incredibly difficult to describe my first month in Brest in only a few short paragraphs. My new life here began the moment I stepped off the plane. I met my first new friend in the airport. She was a Welsh Erasmus student and through her I met a whole horde of Erasmus friends. Five minutes later I met Martine – my mentor for daily life here. She has been a major help. From taking me to Ikea on my first day to taking me to the doctors to get my medical certificate to do sports, she has been absolutely indispensable. Next I met my mentor at work, Agnes. Without her I would never be able to do my job. I have continued to meet new friends every week. In fact, I seem to meet people every time I take the bus, although I suggest you avoid those people!

I have had the opportunity to travel a bit throughout Brittany already. My on arrival training was in the south of Brittany. Despite the often strange training techniques and the fact that people spoke English more than French, it was a very useful week. It was a great opportunity to meet other EVS volunteers and now I have friends living in Paris, the alps and the south of France! I also learned to say, “j’ai la gueule de bois” – “I have a hangover” in French. A very useful phrase when the majority of your friends are Erasmus students. I have also travelled a little with the Erasmus students and will soon be heading to Paris with them. Furthermore, I travelled to the North of France with the boss of my hosting organisation to work as a translator. The 11 hour car journey is something I won’t be forgetting any time soon! And this weekend I will be travelling to Nantes with the gaelic football team of which I am a member despite only playing twice in my life (and being absolutely atrocious).

In terms of work, I help organise projects on international mobility and have successfully held my first event (although Agnes really did all the work), I do a lot of translation, I hold english discussion sessions, I appear to have won my battle with the photocopier and I am finally learning the incredibly complicated art of poster making so I shall soon be helping a lot more with events! I also have my French courses which are a great help and even count towards my work hours!

Now that I am into my second month I no longer look the wrong way when crossing the road, I find the French keyboard easier than the English and find it acceptable to eat pain au chocolat for breakfast every morning. However, my Scottish accent remains as strong as ever. Brest is an amazing city to live in. I have so many great new friends, am surrounded by bars (mainly irish), cinemas, theatres, students (mainly irish) and whenever I think I’m learning more about the Irish culture than the French, I just eat a crepe and all is well.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Amy in Greece on EVS - 2011

Being a couple of months through my placement with Archipelagos on the Greek island of Samos, I thought I would write a blog about the work that I am doing out here. For a start do not be fooled – Greece has a winter and it is horrible! When I arrived here the sun was still shining constantly and temperatures rarely dropped below 30 even at night. Then last week we had a huge storm and since then the temperature has dropped ridiculously to the point I was wearing a woolly hat and gloves this morning. I have been told that it will heat up again, but at the moment, with my hands wrapped around a mug of tea, I refuse to believe this!

Although Archipelagos is predominantly a marine organisation it also does work on land as well. It is this terrestrial team that I am part of. My role here predominantly involves working with the chameleons on the island. First of all when I came here I had no idea that chameleons lived in the Mediterranean let alone in Greece! As it turns out the species of chameleon that is found on Samos is not found anywhere else in Greece and is therefore meant to be protected. However very little work has been done on them and no one knows how many there are on the island or their exact locations.

My job involves going out at various times of the day with a small team and surveying two transects near our base. We have to walk slowly up and down these transects searching the vegetation for chameleons. Obviously this is very hard as by nature they change their colour to match the vegetation, but it is possible! Once we find one, we capture it, measure its size, check if its male or female before releasing it again. I have to admit my first chameleon capture was incredibly exciting and the creatures are amazingly. Their ability to change colour in your hand and vanish into the trees, regardless of how well you follow them, is absolutely fascinating!

I am thoroughly enjoying my placement with Archipelagos, as not only am I experiencing the joys of working on a small Greek island, learning a language and culture that is so alien to me. I am also working with fascinating creatures and have met and worked with people from around the world.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alistair in Austria on EVS - 2011

sJust as I thought, the first few months of my EVS Project has been a true roller coaster and a mixture of highs and lows.

From my journey down to the Concordia office in Brighton to the many train journeys I have enjoyed in Austria, it has all been a great challenge so far.

Duties at the youth centre include playing video games with the teenagers who can freely drop-by whenever they want (when the youth point is open!),chatting with them (in German) and generally being there for them. They really appreciate having somewhere they can come to meet their friends and to relax.

In my free time I find myself often cycling along next to Lake Wörthersee, the most popular lake in all of Austria. I have also taken to climbing up a couple of mountains here in the beautiful Alpine air and who can miss Monday night’s show, “die Millionenshow”, Austria’s version of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, I never miss it for sure when I have a say over it!

As I write this in mid-October, the sun is shining once again and the trees have a lovely colour. The only problem now is deciding where to cycle to in this bike-friendly country.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hannah in Latvia on EVS - 2011

"...I will remember this year for a long time."

One year ago I had no idea that I would be about to spend a year in Latvia, now I I can’t believe that in a matter of days it will be over.

The office where I have been volunteering is nothing like I imagined it would be before I arrived, however despite there being things I would change I’m grateful for the experience that I’ve had.

Work in the “World at Our Home” office can often be sporadic, as was the case for a few weeks at the start of the summer, but in the last month it has become crazy again as we plan for a seminar and a youth exchange both of which will take place during October. As well as this, at the moment we are also writing applications for seminars and an exchange that will hopefully take place next year and also looking for the new generation of volunteers for the centre to host and coordinate.

Looking back on my time I’ve been here I realise just how much I was able to see and do and even if there were moments when I wanted to give up (and very nearly did) I will remember this year for a long time.

Before I came Latvia wasn't a country I was interested to visit, but I’m glad I did because I would never have been able to experience what I have; from swimming in a lake to finding that travelling four hours+ to get to Riga or Lithuania really isn’t so bad after all and seeing more countries in the last few months than I ever expected, to making friends with people from France and Spain to Italy and Romania and surviving a winter with temperatures of -30°c.

My bags are packed and soon I will be embarking on the four hour journey to Riga. The thought of four hours on a coach or train used to worry me but now the thought that it’ll be the last time I do this journey is strange to comprehend.

But with every end, there is a beginning and I’m looking forward to future challenges. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

EVS is a fully funded volunteer scheme. Email evs@concordiavolunteers.org.uk to find out more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Barney Smith's Project in France

Monsoon in France

This article is dedicated to my parents whose lives were cut short by cancer – my mother in 2008 and my father last year - but who inspire me every day.

I must admit, it took me a while to find Giat on the map. I was sitting in my classroom in Kuwait one sweltering June afternoon long after the students had gone home, and I’d just had email confirmation of my acceptance on a project in the Auvergne region in central France. One of the benefits of international volunteer projects is the opportunity to visit places far off the beaten track and meet people from a wide variety of cultures, nationalities and backgrounds.

Volunteers and Leaders from Giat with Volunteers and Leaders from Chantelle

The leaders and other volunteers came from the north to the south, from the east to the west: Eda and Gizem from Turkey, Amaya and Miren from Spain,
Kristýna from the Czech Republic and Fabien and Patrick from France. Our leaders were François, a teacher, and Fred, a stonecutter, who together made a fantastic team. The three weeks were a very special and happy experience thanks to everybody, both leaders and volunteers.

This was my sixteenth international volunteer project (my earlier projects were in Russia, Germany, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and Romania) but my first in France and my first camping project. The work focused on three places near the campsite along the shore of la Ramade, the nearby lake: rebuilding a footbridge across a marshy area, rebuilding a footbridge to the lake’s bird observatory, and clearing the lakeside path. Volunteers also worked to clean the observatory and signpost the area with information on local wildlife.

Volunteers and Leaders meeting the Mayor of Giat

The local community in Giat, a village of some 900 people, were very welcoming; there were regular visits from the mayor and his deputies, often bringing a very welcome snack, to see how we were getting on and to raise our spirits. If ever we needed our spirits raised it was because of the weather: it rained... and it rained... and it rained. This wasn’t just drizzle of the kind you get used to if you grow up in Britain, as I did: it was downpour... after downpour... after downpour. It rained almost every day, often most of the day. I think Kristýna timed the longest downpour as lasting eighteen hours! The weather inevitably had an effect on our schedule. The first working day it rained we were given the day off. It soon became clear however that if this continued we would get no work done! So we either braved the elements with waterproof clothes or did work which could easily be done inside, such as painting and varnishing signs for the footpath.

Conversations ranged widely, from the way of life in each other’s countries to politics, from music to sport, from past international volunteer projects to family and friends. In many cases we did our best to learn each other’s languages, did the occasional crossword or Sudoku together, and read newspapers and books. There were many games and sports too, from card games to guessing games, from football to Frisbee. And inevitably – we were in France after all – there was pétanque, which I played for the first time (with mixed results I should add!). The rural lakeside setting was ideal for outdoor activities like jogging and swimming (until, even for the most hardened swimmers, the lake became too cold!).

Volunteers and Leaders in Giat

There were also many excursions: to the region’s largest city, Clermont-Ferrand, to the Museum of Radio in Saint-Avit, to the beautiful village of Crocq, to the medieval festival and to the market in Giat, watching the Tour de France as helicopters buzzed overhead, hiking in the mountains, buying cheese at Châteaubrun, enjoying a lavish Bastille Day breakfast and guided tour (and even trying out the hose!) at the local fire station, riding on an aerial runway and watching two spectacular firework displays. We also spent a few days at a nearby project in the village of Chantelle where work was progressing on renovations to the abbey, and from where we attended the Festival of World Cultures in Gannat and visited the picturesque village of Charroux.

As I return to Kuwait for the new school year I know that I will miss this summer’s international volunteer project in Giat – the place, the surroundings, but most of all the people on my project. My new surroundings are a world away from rural France, but the memories of this summer are still here and will be with me forever.

Barney Smith, volunteer in France, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

What is EVS? Here is a video with all the answers!

This is a video filmed by our Estonian partner ESTYES and we thank them for letting us use it!

Concordia Team

Friday, July 1, 2011

Barney Smith's project in Romania

Walking Wounded in Romania

My route to this year’s international volunteer project in Cluj Napoca, Romania, was as exciting as it was unconventional. Keen to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina, the only former Yugoslav republic where I had yet to step foot, I found a cheap Ryanair flight to Zadar in neighbouring Croatia a few days before my project was due to start. Two bus journeys later I was in Sarajevo and had soon checked into my night’s accommodation with a local couple in their city centre apartment. As I strolled in this quiet, low-key, almost provincial capital city, it was hard to believe that this was the scene of so many atrocities in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Eight decades earlier it was another death in Sarajevo – the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria – which would be one of the main causes of the start of the First World War. As the reassuringly familiar sound of the call to prayer echoed around the city at the end of an afternoon of sight-seeing, I was reminded that this country boasts one of Eastern Europe’s largest Muslim populations.

From Sarajevo I took an overnight bus to Belgrade, a city I knew well from last year’s international volunteer project, the renovation of a school in Kragujevac, Serbia’s fourth largest city. From Belgrade I took the daily train to the Romanian city of Timisoara before boarding a connecting train to that country’s fourth largest city, Cluj Napoca. After a well-earned rest I met up with the two Italian group leaders and the other volunteers: as well as a fellow Brit there were participants from France, Germany, South Korea, Spain and Switzerland. Our work consisted of organising and supervising activities for children mostly from poor families at a centre which was funded by the European Union and located in one of the city’s more deprived suburbs: these varied from table tennis to origami, from painting to English lessons, from Monopoly to football. There were also day-trips: to the city’s Central Park, as well as to the Botanical Garden with over 10,000 plants from throughout the world. We were joined at the centre by the Romanian staff, as well as by long-term volunteers from Azerbaijan and Germany. Despite the poverty of the children’s families, there was never any hint of envy, nor did we have any worries about showing valuables such as cameras. We encountered only friendliness, humour, helpfulness and an overwhelming sense of hospitality.

It was during one the football sessions that I was left in agony by a tackle which went badly wrong. For the next week I was limping and had to get used to the idea of limited mobility. As I looked around enviously at people walking or running effortlessly, I saw this as another reminder that physical fitness can never be taken for granted. Three years earlier I experienced a far more powerful example of this. That summer I left for the first of three consecutive international volunteer projects in Turkey. Little did I know as I waved good-bye to my mother from a National Express coach on a rainy Friday afternoon in June in the English seaside town of Dover that on my return she would be fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit at London’s King's College Hospital, a life which, tragically, would be cut short by cancer nine months later.

As in any Romanian city, there were constant reminders in Cluj Napoca of the country’s revolution, from the 21 December 1989 Boulevard, named after the day soldiers opened fire on protesters opposed to the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu who would be toppled and executed days later, to the Anti-Communist Resistance Monument which stands proudly next to the city’s Central Park. During the project we made the most of our opportunities to experience Romanian culture and visit the local area. On the first Sunday we hired two cars and drove to the Turda Salt Mine, one of the largest such mines in Europe. Later we escaped the summer heat by swimming in a nearby lake. The second weekend, as I nursed my horribly bruised toe in some of Cluj Napoca’s coffee shops and pavement cafés, made my first steps in learning Romanian and listened to podcasts downloaded from the BBC World Service, most of the other volunteers visited the cities of Sighişoara, considered by many to have the most beautiful and well-preserved inhabited citadel in Europe, and Braşov, widely known as the Jewel of Romania.

As I boarded my Wizz Air flight home, I reflected on how, in the era of budget airlines, international travel has become so much easier and more affordable than it once was. What a delight it is to be able to print your boarding pass in the comfort of your own home the day before, and to be able to go straight to the gate on the day of the flight. Whatever the occasional discomfort of budget travel, these airlines have undoubtedly made a huge contribution to bringing the peoples of Europe together.

As I start my sixth year as an expatriate teacher in Kuwait, I look forward to my next international volunteer project with excitement and enthusiasm. Who knows, I might even be persuaded to play football again. But maybe next time I’ll stay in goal.

Barney Smith, volunteer in Romania, 2010

Find out more about the East West programme

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tina in Lithuania on EVS - 2011

"...if you really want to stretch yourself, develop on a personal level, do something completely different, all whilst meeting some amazing people and having some fantastic experiences along the way, then definitely consider becoming a volunteer."

Tina tells us all about her first 5 months as an EVS volunteer in Lithuania...

Well, where do I start?! I’m around halfway through my EVS and with still around 5 months to go, this is the perfect time for me to reflect and write a blog for Concordia…

I am living in Kaunas, Lithuania which is Lithuania’s second city. It’s a nice city – not too big, but substantial enough to have an array of interesting museums, an ancient castle, historical monuments, a beautiful old town, as well as my personal favourite –the two rivers that flow through the city. In terms of my project,I’m working at a day care centre for adults who have psychological disorders, including anything fromschizophrenia to depression. As it’s a day care centre the clients can drop by whenever they like during opening hours, and during this time we run different and engaging activities for the clients to participate in. The activities range from basic health and fitness exercises to arts and crafts to excursions to simply a game of cards or the ever popular ‘Uno’. The work is varied and we have the space to run our own activities and projects, should we wish, which is a really nice way to contribute to the centre and its people.

I have done plenty of volunteering in the past, but nothing on a long term basis like this. And I’m certainly not going to sit here and tell you that it’s easy. It’s far from. But what I will say is that, as clichéd as it is – it really doesresemble a roller-coaster with highs and lows aplenty. But I must say that with the lows that come from time to time, the highs are well… they are sky high! So let’s start with the highs. What do they include? Well I would certainly start with the people I’ve been lucky to meet. With so many volunteers you are constantly surrounded with a rich array of different cultures, customs and traditions, andit truly is a network of cultures like no other. It’s amazing. And that doesn’t even include all the fascinating Lithuanians I’ve met who’ve taught me so much about their culture which I’ve been fortunate enough to experience first-hand. The scenery and landscape is also astounding – Lithuania has about 30% forest land, many beautiful lakes and fantastic greenery – I know it’s something I’m desperately going to miss when I head back to England at the end of my EVS. Other than the people and the landscape, the food is fab, the history is fascinating (and very recent and therefore very raw) and the adventurous lifestyle of being a volunteer makes it all very spontaneous and exciting at times.

In terms of the lows, well these are mostly based around the differences in culture. The language was a big problem to begin with – despite living in Lithuania’s second city, English is barely spoken. This caused a great deal of misery and frustration when I’d get lost outside in the -20 weather and really struggle to communicate with people and navigate my way about as I would normally do if I’m lost somewhere. Over time, this has certainly gotten easier as I’ve become familiar with the language, as well as the city overall. And speaking of -20 – the weather! Wow, I’ve certainly learnt how to dress up warm. But one of the lows was certainly when the heating got turned off in our house in April when it was still very cold – the shock in learning that some of the heating in Lithuania is still centralised and controlled by the city astounded me. Being freezing cold in my own room was a definite low. Other cultural shocks and lows have come about, but I would certainly say that you really learn to cope and deal with them better as time goes on, and I know that I have learnt a great dealduring these highs and lows.

In conclusion, if you can do an EVS, you really can do anything. It’s the type of non-formal education you just can’t get from anywhere else – the whole programme is very unique. Do think about it carefully before you apply. But in essence: if you really want to stretch yourself, develop on a personal level, do something completely different, all whilst meeting some amazing people and having some fantastic experiences along the way, then definitely consider becoming a volunteer. Good luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fly the flag for Volunteering…around the world!

2011 is an important year for volunteering. Not only is it the European Year of volunteering but also the International Year of the volunteer +10. With such a big year ahead of us, Concordia is very excited to be part of a worldwide Alliance Flag Tour campaign promoting and encourage active involvement within civil society.

Two flags will be travelling through 4 continents, 25 countries and hosted by 36 different voluntary organisations to celebrate the valuable contribution the voluntary service has on society, communities and individuals. The participating organisations will take the flag to one of their voluntary projects or an organised event, inviting and informing the local community.

More than 100 staff and volunteers attended the opening ceremony in Armenia on the 4th March. The two flags have now started their journey’s and are on their way to South Korea and Wales. The Flag Tour will finish at the General Assembly 2011 in November in Southampton, United Kingdom hosted by Concordia with a celebration and display of the season’s events.

Be a part of this event! Follow the flag around the world to celebrate this special year of volunteering.


Asha Jennings-Grant’s project in Mongolia

‘The Land of Blue Sky and I’

Unlike most project experiences, I began mine feeling very tired. Prior to my arrival to the project, I had already spent 3 days in Moscow, travelled to Mongolia for 5 days on the Tran Siberian train and went on a 3 day trip to the countryside (which I thoroughly recommend). So I was slightly drained of energy but intrigued to see how the next two weeks would pan out.

My first day of the project was quite relaxed. With an early start, I left my hostel and was picked up by the manager of MCE (Mongolian Workcamps Exchange). We arrived at an apartment block with children’s climbing frames and play sets scattered around. I was then introduced to the supervisor of the project and he took me to our apartment, where I was pleasantly greeted by the rest of the volunteers. There were 2 girls from France, a girl from South Korea and a guy from Hong Kong. The apartment wasn’t fully furnished but was equipped with the essentials, such as a kitchen, bathroom and 2 living areas, which we slept in. We also had a sofa bed and a TV that occasionally played badly dubbed episodes of Lost.

After our quick introductions we went to visit the first part of the project, a children’s orphanage. As soon as we entered the building, we were surrounded by knee-high kids welcoming us and grabbing us by the hand. We were taken to a classroom where a group of hyper and energetic 8-12 year olds waited for us. I realised this was the class we’d be spending time with for the next two weeks. The kids spoke little English, some more than others, but we were able to communicate quite well and had a very entertaining meet and greet session where we were exposed to some of the talents of the children.

(Above: Asha, bottom right, with the other volunteers and their supervisor "K" at the orphanage)

After a play session and personal tour around the rooms of the orphanage, we made our way to the second part of the workcamp, a secondary school. As we entered the classroom, the students were already sat down at their desks and surprisingly in uniform (well, partially). There were mainly girls at the age of 14-16 years old. They were more laid back than the kids at the orphanage but still excited to meet us and full of enthusiasm. We divided ourselves around the class and got to know the students in more detail. I was quite amazed at the variation in the levels of English in the class. While many children spoke good English, some were at same level as the younger kids we met at the orphanage.

Before the project, I hadn’t planned anything in the way of lesson plans and activities for the children in either group, because I didn’t know what to expect. I was very open to see who we’d be teaching and at what level. Each day before class, we would discuss and brainstorm ideas for the next lesson. We decided that each session would have a different focus, for example grammar, punctuation, vocabulary etc. Then we would always end class with a game of charades or hangman. At the orphanage, our sessions were less structured and we mainly organised lots of arts and craft activities. We also helped with the cleaning on the weekends, which the entire orphanage (120ish) took part in.

(Above: volunteers with the children at the orphanage)

Through this experience, I have met some great friends and been exposed to a beautiful country that I hope I will return to in the near future.

Asha-Jennings-Grant, Volunteer in Mongolia, 2010

Read more about North South Programme>>

Find about projects available now>>

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hannah in Latvia on EVS - 2011

Not so long ago, or so it feels, I was saying goodbye to my family and friends, excited at the prospect of a year in another country, where I knew none of the language and couldn‘t even pronounce the name of the city in which I was to live. Like Alex (who was in Latvia last year and who‘s blog entries can also be read here) the time between hearing about this last minute project, being excepted by my hosting organisation and arriving had been a matter of weeks. However, I had known about EVS and had been looking for a project for almost a year by this point.

I’ve been in Latvia for around five months now. Five months of highs a
nd lows, many firsts and new friends, and, ultimately , new experiences and memories that will last a long time. But there’s still just about seven months to go, in which I hope to see and experience many more new things.

My project is in the Language and Cultural Centre “World at Our Home” in Rēz
ekne, the seventh biggest city in Latvia, not far from the Russian border. Due to this a fair majority of the population are Russian speaking. A language I have only just started to learn. However, in my first four months I had Latvian lessons, and while I’m nowhere near fluent I am able to at least make myself understood mostly and understand others if they speak slowly. Which is a big improvement on when I first arrived not even being able to pronounce the name of the place I was to live in.

“World at Our Home” are involved in organising and participating in sem
inars and youth exchanges in Latvia, other European and neighbouring countries, as well as this they also hold weekly language lessons and act as a sending, coordinating and hosting organisation for EVS volunteers. Mostly the lessons are English, but recently Spanish, German and French started as well, as in early January we were joined by three new volunteers.

In the past few weeks we’ve been busy writing applications for two seminars and a youth exchange
to hopefully be held at the end of this year. As well as this we applied for a cross-border project between Latvia, Lithuania and Belarus with a very confusing application form.

I’m from southern England, where snow isn’t so common and the coldest I remember it being is -10°C so you can imagine my surprise when I heard last winter here was around -30°C and that it’s normal for snow to last from November to March. So far about half of my time in Latvia has been covered in snow; the most I’ve seen that has lasted longer than a week or two. This has some good points, such as being able to go ice skating and a first for me; sledging! In the last few days the snow has begun to melt and it’s already beginning to remind me of Spring. I’ve also heard much about Summer which I’m looking forward to.

Like many things, being away from home can take some getting used to, especially if, like me, you haven’t lived away from home before. After all that, what I basically want to say is I think EVS is an amazing experience. Yes it has it’s up and downs, but so do most things. So if you’re currently searching for a project I wish you luck in finding one soon and if you’re on your project now I hope you enjoy the rest of the time wherever you may be.