Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Volunteering at the London 2012 Olympics

My name is Kathryn Taylor Saunders, and during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games I was a volunteer Gamesmaker.

My role was in the Event Services Team, the largest group of volunteers. I was assigned to the Greenwich Park venue where Equestrian, Modern Pentathlon and Paralympic Equestrian competition took place. As Greenwich Park doesn’t usually host sporting events the arena plus all of the concessions stands had to be specially constructed. The views from the top of the stands across London were spectacular, on a clear day the Olympic Stadium in Stratford could be seen.

My duties ranged from scanning tickets to directing spectators to re-uniting lost children and parents. I found working in the accessible viewing areas and with visitors with mobility difficulties particularly rewarding. Pushing wheelchairs and helping spectators to their seats all day was very physically tiring – a complete contrast to sitting down in the office in Dunton all day!

The best part of being a Gamesmaker for me was the reaction from the media and the public as it was so overwhelmingly positive.

I was often asked to describe what being a London 2012 volunteer was like, I think it is best summed up as exhausting and exhilarating.

I was thrilled and honoured to be selected to take part in the three medal ceremonies on the very last day of competition at Greenwich Park. This was a fantastic way to end an amazing experience, one which I will cherish for a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Paddy on EVS in Turkey - 2012

It is just over a month now since I started what I have dubbed my “Ankara Adventure”. Plenty of people have said it before and there will be many more who will continue to say it after me, but its true that EVS is a fantastic opportunity to get out there and not only help where you can, but also to experience some truly incredible things. I highly recommend it to anyone that has even a slight inkling to participate in something like this.

Turkey is a completely different world to that of the UK, the culture, the religion, the language and food; nothing is the same. For the first month the weather has been really good but I am told that will change in the coming weeks. My project here is with a youth centre in Ankara called Guckobir, there I am volunteering and participating in activities with under privileged children. The project coordinator over here is a man named Murat and even though we have troubles communicating because of the language barrier his passion for his job and his desire to help these kids transcends this barrier. You truly get inspired, and even though working with kids isn’t something I particularly wanted to do I am now committed to doing all I can for both the kids at the centre and for Murat. I am deeply thankful and indebted to Murat for allowing me to come over here.
There are many things I want to talk to him about, to discuss, to hear his opinions on but as I mentioned earlier the language barrier is an issue. I feel like Kevin Costner in the film Dances With Wolves where he has just met the Native Americans and wants to talk with them but cannot yet communicate. It is rather frustrating.
Due to this communication issue the volunteers here are enrolled onto a Turkish Language course. We have lessons three times a week, four hours a day and are expected to do our own work at home and practice as often as possible. Murat believes that by the end of the second month of the language course we should have a decent grasp of the language and will be able to participate in activities at the youth centre more often. I have a great desire to be at that level of understanding as soon as possible.

As a month has passed I am already a sixth of the way through my placement and the enjoyment I am getting from it really is making the time fly. My residence permit is being sorted in the next few days, Turkish lessons are now at the end of their 2nd week, I go to Istanbul for 4 days on Monday and more volunteers are expected to arrive in early October.
Already I have met some fabulous people, and not to be cliché but everyone has been extremely helpful and hospitable. I feel I have been incredibly lucky with the group of people I have become friends with, outside of the volunteers and the Turkish lessons are some locals who I know I will remain friends with for years to come. Some fantastic experiences have been had already and I know the future will hold even more.

Wherever you are in the world you have to make the most of the opportunities and I truly intend to get everything I can out of these 6 months, well 5 months now. The time is going to pass too fast and I know as much as I miss my friends at home and as often as I think about being back there with them, when the time comes, I will not want to leave Turkey. If you take up an EVS project I can almost guarantee you will feel the same.

Thanks to EVS, Concordia, Guckobir and everyone else involved I am living in Turkey for 6 months having to pay very little to be able to do this. Thanks to EVS et al I am able to make a difference to some of the under privileged kids in Ankara. I am able to discuss the current conflicts in the Middle East with people who have come from there, with people who still have family there, Afghans and Syrians. I am able to witness the celebrations of a country that fought for its independence less than 100 years ago. I am able to learn a new language, to meet new people, to gain new experiences and to grow as a person.

A Swiss woman spoke to me on the bus today; she has been living in Turkey for 25 years. She said that I need to find myself a Turkish girl, as Turkish girls are some of the most beautiful, and get her to teach me how to speak the language. I guess we would fall in love, I would stay here, and it would be a happily ever after story.

I will keep you posted…

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Theresa on EVS in Portugal - 2012

My name is Theresa and I have completed six out of nine months of my EVS in Lisbon, Portugal. It has been a very varied, funny, challenging and rewarding experience. I had previously studied in Lisbon and fell in love with the city – its beautiful hilltop viewpoints, antique trams through the cobbled streets, and unique nightlife and music – however, I wanted to experience real Portuguese life by volunteering within the local community.

My project is based at the department for old people at a borough council (Junta de Freguesia de Carnide), where they organise educational and social activities for senior citizens. Everyone has been very friendly and encouraging of my linguistic efforts, so I really feel part of the community, and as though I have gained about 100 surrogate grandparents! Some of the activities I’ve been involved in are: a soup festival, helping with English and IT lessons, a protest against cuts to local government, a trip to the Algarve, and a “sardinhada” – a huge party with lots of grilled sardines and traditional music to celebrate the national holidays in June.
As part of these holidays, each district of Lisbon performs a march, including athemed song and dance, and these are displayed down the main avenue. The old people and children from Carnide also gave a performance and I was asked to be the “godmother” of the march (shown in the photograph). It was so much fun to wear such an elaborate costume and an honour to participate in something so typically Portuguese. Another highlight of my project has been the summer camps during July and August, in which we took 100 people to the beach, swimming pool and different cultural activities every day. I am frequently amazed at how much energy and silly sense of humour these old people have, for example the event we did on the last day of the summer camp: a cross-dressing fashion show on the beach, which everyone took very seriously!
I live in an apartment in the city centre with other volunteers from Macedonia, Spain, Slovenia and Brazil. The flat is great and we often have big international dinners, with other EVS volunteers from around Portugal coming to visit. At times, my EVS project has been quite challenging, and I have had to adapt to a lot of new situations and way of working. Living abroad is a fantastic adventure, but I think no one is immune to occasional homesickness (I was really sad to be away from London during the Olympics!) and at the beginning it’s exhausting just to cope with everyday tasks.
I feel that I am learning all the time during my project: a different language, how to engage with elderly people, the structure of local government organisations…as well as learning more about my own interests and capabilities, and becoming more independent and confident in myself. But the most important thing I have learned so far is that when you get old, the fun doesn’t have to stop!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Christine on EVS in Czech Republic - 2012

"Working with the children was the highlight of the whole project. 
It was just amazing to be a part of their lives for the duration of the year."

After university I was unsure of what I wanted to do, but I knew I was not ready to start full-time employment. I was hungry for more new experiences and eager to do something that felt worthwhile. Through my flatmate I was introduced to the possibility of participating in a European Voluntary Service project, something I had never heard of before. I applied to the programme and to my joy, was accepted. I couldn’t have been happier with the project that came my way. I was more than excited to be a part of Decko Rychnov. So, after finalising everything, I finally hopped on a plane and landed in the Czech Republic. It was to be an experience I would never forget and one that I would learn a lot from.
The first few weeks were all introductory and plenty of advice, support and training was given during this time. A smooth transition was made into the Rychnov community. Having the opportunity to live with a Czech family was also something I did not expect. It was the most incredible experience being in daily contact with such a wonderful family and I felt that it was such an important one. It allowed us to adjust and integrate more easily into the community and get a more impressionable feeling for the real Czech Republic.
The language lessons that were provided were also fantastic. They were such a great help and really encouraged communication and understanding. Plus it’s always good being able to communicate with locals and show your interest in their country. It’s a fun thing to try to learn a new language and I would say everyone was very successful in picking up at least some basics. The classes themselves were very interactive, great fun and beginner-friendly. The teacher is extremely patient and really helps you to excel if you put in the effort. I found having knowledge of the language made a real difference to the experience and gave more purpose to the nature and goal of the project.
The project itself within Decko was a wonderful one. It is a unique situation being given the opportunity to interact and work with people from all different backgrounds, of a different culture, of different ages and in a completely different country. Working with the children who attend Decko activities and clubs was superb. There was so much fun to be had, as well as there being many possibilities to gain new skills and learn something new. The environment also provided many ways to make new friends and enabled everyone to create friendships, which was a large part of the project.
Working with the children was the highlight of the whole project. It was just amazing to be a part of their lives for the duration of the year. Teaching at a number of local schools, throughout the Kralovehradecky kraj, was another highlight. Visiting those lessons, presenting about ourselves in Czech and then hosting English and occasionally German lessons, was a once in a lifetime experience. Something like that does not happen everyday. It was incredible the passion the Decko Director had for the project and it was great of him to implement such a project as this. It allowed both volunteers to test themselves in a completely new environment and allowed them to stretch their comfort zone while also introducing them to new and valuable situations and giving them the strength to speak in front of others and also work with them. This experience is invaluable to me and has been an influencing factor in directing my future.
The clubs that Decko offers really enabled the volunteers to expand their skills and increase their knowledge of certain subjects. Being involved in nearly all aspects of the organisation was exciting. Helping out at public events, dressing up and representing the organisation was also a great experience.
There were definitely times during the project where I did not find Decko a pleasant place to work. This was due to poor communication and a lack in comradeship. It was something I did not expect in such an environment, however, this did not affect my overall opinion of the project and the benefits of it.
I feel that the organisation itself is fabulous with providing a wide variety of activities for children, teenagers and adults alike. It is a unique place being made available to the Rychnov community and hosts a huge number of local events. I can say that it was great to be a part of such an organisation and I highly appreciate everything I learned from the experience. Like I said, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I will never forget it. I hope that the community and the project saw the same results from us and appreciated having us. Everything gained and learned will be treasured and carried on into our future lives. Thank you!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Laura reports on volunteering in Italy

Laura reports on volunteering in Italy

The three months I spent volunteering a Villa Buri can be summed up in one sentence: Always expect the unexpected. I arrived in Verona having very little idea of what I would be doing, and very few expectations. My first impression of the villa and the park was that it was a beautiful, calm place. The villa is  nestled in a bend of the River Adige, a few miles from the  centre of Verona, surrounded by a large park. I joined two other international volunteers and worked with the local Italian team to look after the park.

The international volunteers were three girls, but when I arrived the first surprise was that only one of the other girls had turned up: Agnes from Sweden. We lived in a small house by the main gate of the villa. Part of our job was to open and close the villa gates. The second surprise when we started work the next morning was that although the working language of the project was nominally English, everyone spoke in Italian. So my Italian improved faster than I would have believed possible. It is amazing what you can learn when you really need to!

The first job Agnes and I were given was to feed the kittens. It turned out that Villa Buri was home to many stray cats and these kittens had been abandoned in the park. I spent the rest of my stay putting out multiple bowls of cat food every day.
One of our other regular tasks was to empty the rubbish bins in the park, and sort out the things that could be recycled, i.e. metal, plastic, cardboard and glass. This was an occasionally unpleasant job, but it was also oddly fascinating. We were very confused by the people who left at least ten kilos of grapes in the bins over the course of about three weeks. We also planted an awful lot of miniature winter vegetables in the Orto.

In September we spent a lot of time pruning trees, collecting seeds and creating new flower beds. I discovered that hawthorn was vicious, but not as vicious as the mosquitoes. Agnes counted the bites on her leg one day, and found she had over 60. When we discovered some fly swats in the back of a cupboard and could go mosquito hunting you have never seen two happier people! One of the other highlights was the local Gelateria – we went at least three times a week.
The next surprise came not in the form of stray animals, but stray people. Five Ethiopian girls came to stay at Villa Buri. They were refugees from Libya, having moved there to escape famine in their

native land and then fled Libya when the war started there. We invited the girls to come and work with us hoping it would help them to improve their non-existent Italian. Communication was interesting, as only one of them spoke a little English and none of them really spoke any Italian. Most of what need to be said could be communicated by a combination of demonstration and mime. This occasionally made you look pretty silly, but was surprisingly effective. The girls were always willing to get stuck into any task and were great fun, always ready with a smile.

In October the weather changed from the warm sunshine we had been enjoying to become cooler and foggier. We spent more time weeding the Orto Botanico, the Villa's large herb garden. The vegetable garden also had to be tidied up for the winter and the remaining fruit and vegetables harvested. This was also the season for the kiwi and kaki (persimmons) of which we had hundreds. We even took a wheelbarrow round the streets to try selling them to the neighbours!

By November the weather took on a wintry edge. With the cold weather, the third international volunteer finally arrived, Katharina from Germany. The weather also meant we spent more time indoors, doing jobs like sewing curtains and painting furniture in an effort to make our little house even cosier for the next volunteers. We also went to help harvest the olives at Don Calabria, a community for men with mental health issues.

 At the beginning of December it was time  to leave Villa Buri. It was an unforgettable experience. The language barrier was often challenging, as was adjusting to a much slower pace of life. But I learnt many new skills: how to grow and care for many kinds of herbs and vegetables, how to cook proper Italian food and that you can have an entire conversation with a few words. I will miss having the peace and beauty of the park right on the doorstep, and the warmth of the people I met there. And remember: Always expect the unexpected!

Manon reports on volunteering in Japan

 Manon reports on volunteering in Japan
After spending about 2 weeks visiting major cities in Japan, I left the main island of Honshu for Hokkaido. Destination? Onuma Quasi-National Park (大沼国定公園, Onuma  Kokutei Kouen), at the southernmost tip of the island, near Hakodate city (函館). The aim of the workcamp? 1 ½ weeks of mostly environmental work. Along with six other volunteers (two of them Japanese and the rest international), we built rafts to depollute water and cut some plants for forestry work. I did not know much about environmental work before this workcamp. Eighteen rafts and some tree-cutting later, here is what I learned:
1.       Building rafts: It may seem strange just hearing about it, but our main work was to build rafts to depollute lake water. Explanation: Onuma Park has three lakes. Two of them, Lake Onuma and Lake Konuma (大沼 and 小沼) are quite polluted. Visibility of the water is low, some species have become extinct; there is little underwater life in general. At first, people thought this was due to man-made pollution. However, they soon realized that it was caused by intensive agriculture and animal grazing instead. Worrying about the long-term consequences of this process, a university professor decided to design a project to protect the lakes.
·         Why are the lakes important locally? They are vital to agriculture, as they provide water for irrigation. They mean a lot to the people because the national park is quite a beautiful area and home to many species of plants and animals. Tourism is also one of the main activities that people live off of.
·         Why was it important to set up this project? Other than the local degradation aspect, this pollution problem has a wider impact. The lake water goes into the sea. Not interfering at the root of the problem would mean spreading the pollution to other places. On the other hand, solving the pollution problem early causes less trouble to other people. The rafts thus represent a sustainable means to prevent further pollution.
·         How do the rafts help to depollute?  The rafts improve the visibility of the water so that underwater life can redevelop. Their main function is to trap algae floating on the surface of the water into a net. By bringing in more light, there is more underwater oxygen production, and the water becomes a more habitable space. Roots and dirt are also placed on top of the rafts, so that new plants can grow and wildlife is once again attracted to the lake.  (Esthetically, I thought it had a third advantage of making the rafts become virtually invisible. Ducks seemed to like them as well, as they made their nests on the rafts.)
·          Do they work?  From what is known, they do seem to have a positive impact on the lakes. According to a series of recent surveys, Onuma Lake has been gaining on average 20 cm per year in visibility (80 cm visibility in 2007, 120 cm in 2009.)

Building rafts

2.       Cutting plants: For two days, we participated in another activity, aimed at protecting the forest (rather than the lakes) of the park. We worked with the forest rangers of Onuma to clear paths in one area of the park. Like 40 other percent of forests in Japan, the forest in Onuma Park is man-made, rather than natural. The forest rangers are responsible for its conservation, and aim to restore it to a natural forest state over a period of about 100 years. Clearing the paths helps them patrol the forest. Our work meant simply cutting unwanted plants, but it also had the effect of protecting special species from parasite plants. (Potential damage can come from animals or other plants, if those use all the nutrients in the soil or monopolize all of the available sunlight).  This work was therefore more straightforward than the raft-making, but it was also more physically demanding: we worked our way by going slowly uphill and the forest was very humid.
Other activities: Towards the end of the workcamp, we took part in a third activity, with a cultural focus. We had the chance of helping at an o-matsuri (お祭り), a Japanese festival.  It was a sort of o-Bon (お盆) matsuri, a festival held to remember and celebrate the dead. Families write the names of their dead on lanterns and put them on the lake to float. The spirits of the dead are supposed to be attracted to these lights and follow them. In Japan, this festival is generally held in early July or early August; however, because of tourism issues in Onuma, the local government decided to have it at a different time.  It was touching to see it take place, especially because of the earthquake and tsunami which happened in March.
As a group, we wanted to make the most of the festival, therefore we unanimously decided to attend it while wearing yukata (浴衣). Yukatas are a sort of summer kimono that people (both men and women) wear for the festivals. (They can also be worn on a daily basis, generally by the elderly, and the less fancy ones can be used to sleep in). We wore them for the lantern ceremony, to enjoy the o-matsuri and to watch hanabi (花火, literally ‘flowery fire’), the fireworks. 
The o-matsuri and wearing the yukata were the cultural highlight to this workcamp. However, they were not the only cultural experience we had; we were able to experience a lot more. We slept on futons (布団), in the traditional style, ate on a traditional low table (without chairs), and tried some local specialties. While touring the village upon our arrival, we had free o-dango (お団子), a typical Japanese sweet. We also tried local ice cream and cheese, as milk is also renowned in the area. 抹茶ソフトクレムはおいしいです ! (Matcha sofuto kuremu  wa oishi desu!,  Matcha –Japanese traditional green tea- ice cream is delicious!) Last but not least, we tastedジンギスカン (Jingisu Kan), a kind of dish with a special meat named after… the warrior! (I think it was named as such in an attempt to mock him.)
Conclusion: This workcamp was a very intense 10 days where we were able to experience many things. The aim of the workcamp was well-explained to us. We could understand the type of work we were doing and why we were doing it. We were also treated very kindly by the people we worked with and there was an excellent atmosphere within our group. This made the activities interesting and enjoyable. I did have some doubts about the effectiveness of our work at some point, but I do feel like it was important in the end, and that I have gained a lot from this workcamp. It will remain an amazing memory. 皆、ありがとうございました ! (Minna, arigatou gozaimashita; thank you so much everyone!)

Our volunteer Regina from Argentina reports about her volunteering experience in the UK

“If you think you are too small to make a change, then you’ve never slept in a closed room with a mosquito”.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              African Proverb

                I’ve been asked by Concordia UK to write about my experience as a volunteer of the ROBBS Bursary Programme. I am a member of Subir al Sur, an Argentine organisation that works in the strengthening of youth groups in different parts in Argentina, by promoting local and international volunteering. It is hard to use words to describe the whole month, but to sum it up I can definitely say: AMAZING! I warn you, reader, this article will be EXTREMELY boring for those who like to read about terrible news or poor and sad experiences, for it will be loaded of POSITIVE adjectives in such an amount that you will start doubting whether everything happened for real or it was just a very pretty dream. Well, let me tell you, and I have witnesses, that this month was enough time to make a change, at least in myself, and this is real, for sure.
                My first experience was at Moulsecoomb Primary School and Moulsecoomb Forest Garden and Wildlife Project. We were eight volunteers and a camp leader participating in a 15-day workcamp, sleeping in the School’s gym, joining the children’s classrooms and working in the Community Garden. Well, Moulsecoomb is supposed to be a “deprived area” inside Brighton and Hove, and I could tell that there are many problems such as violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, etc, underneath the beauty of the streets and the important Universities. Nevertheless, I don’t know if it’s because of my extreme optimism or the fact that I come from a country where “deprived areas” are areas where there are not even basic public services, but Moulsecoomb for me is a diamond in the rough. I have to say that the Primary School’s way of teaching, their willingness to transmit to the children the importance of communication, the expression of their opinions and feelings, the relevance of working with and for the community, and actually doing it, teaching it by giving the example, was inspiring to see. Everyone I met working at the Primary School and the Community Garden is committed to the community and is working to make the best out of Moulsecoomb, mainly for the children that live there. All the School and Community Garden’s Staff members and volunteers are so involved with their community and so confident of the fact that the only way of dealing with harsh environments is working together towards a different and better future, which results in stimulating and exciting everyone that joins the project.
                During my second weekend in UK, Concordia invited me to the North-South Training that is held every year for volunteers that will participate in projects on the South part of the world, and for people interested in joining some of these projects eventually. It was an intense weekend where I got to meet many people with different backgrounds but two things in common: they were all from the UK, and all had been wondering about the idea of “change” in a particular way: by volunteering somewhere far from their home country. “Change”, I mean, in a wide and subjective form and definition; “change” conceived in a different way for every different individual. In this sense, it may mean an internal change, a social or a political change, etc. It was important to get to know what their fears and expectations are before leaving to their projects, so as to work on them before they arrive to Argentina. The training is very successful in raising questions that everyone should ask themselves before joining a North-South project: What does being a volunteer mean?, How am I going to deal with cultural differences? If any conflict arises, how am I going to cope with it? How do I think I will be feeling outside my comfort zone? Am I willing to learn from other cultures? These questions help the volunteer reflect upon important matters and situations that may happen during a project. The awareness that naturally comes with the questions help the volunteer be more prepared for the trip.
                The ROBBS Programme is not only a volunteering programme, but has another important objective that is getting to know other organisations in the UK that promote international volunteering, in the way Concordia and Subir al Sur promote it, as an intercultural experience. That is why Concordia sent me to London to meet Nigel from VAP UK, and to Cardiff, to meet the members of UNA Exchange. This experience was enriching in many ways, but mainly in an institutional level. I got to interview members of organisations that work in a similar way as we do in Argentina, and was able to exchange experiences and information, for both of us to improve.
Regina volunteering in Wales

               In Wales, I was invited to take part of a weekend project in the valley, in a place called Abercynon. This project was very different from what I had experienced before, due to the fact that we were only two volunteers and one coordinator, working in a Community Garden, together with its manager and his helpers. It was a hard-working weekend, where I learnt to make a fence, cleared weed from an area full of growing trees, dug a pipe trench and carried 20 wheel barrels loaded with soil to cover the trench to protect the pipe. But as tiring as it sounds the satisfaction of doing it and actually seeing the results of such hard work was more than enough to compensate the effort. It was a beautiful project and I enjoyed it so much!
                There are many, many things unsaid in this short article but I thought that the best way of describing my experience was by telling a bit about the different projects and people I met thanks to the Programme. I want to make a special mention to Concordia’s Team for the support they gave me from the very beginning and their constant motivation. I will be forever grateful!
                If someone is lucky enough to join this programme, I would suggest they seize every day, knowing that every minute is important to enjoy and learn from the inspiring people they will meet during the trip and to let the beauty of the places penetrate them. Everything happens so fast! And you never know how far the impact of your presence in the projects goes and how deep your footprint on someone’s heart steps. It is definitely worthwhile making the best out of the experience, because if you think you are too small to make a difference, then you never slept in a closed room with a mosquito.
                                                                                                                                                                Regina Ruete.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bety reports on the training for the leaders in Slovakia

My name is Bety, I come from Czech Republic and since March this year I have been volunteering for Concordia helping in the office to send volunteers on international projects overseas and as one of the reasons to come to Brighton was to coordinate an international residential project, which Concordia generously offered to me, I decided to go for a training for the leaders of youth projects organised in Bojnice in Slovakia. I got an invitation just a couple of days before the project started, but I decided to go for it without any hesitation, because I knew I have still lot of to learn and I wasn´t confident enough about leading a group of international volunteers. Another reason to take part emerged itself from the description of the project: 70% of all transport expanses will be refunded after the end of the training. Well, interesting, even these possibilities exist within the wide european net of youth projects and training opportunities and everybody can go for that. The only limit is age, but since I´m under 30 I can participace in any of projects funded by european organisation Youth in Action. But the real catching point in terms of inovation was the fact that there was going to be a bunch of 20 participants from differnet countries, and all were going to be trained by experienced trainers, which sounded amazing and all together with the location in Slovakia (my dearest brotherland) I basically couldn´t say no. I bought my flight tickets three days before the project started, that may sound rushed, which scared me a little bit, but all these feelings were absolutely pointless, because one week later I was leaving the project with the notice of complete, deep and cheerfull satisfaction with an expression „I can do it“ on my face.

Having fun during one of our many team building games. Can you spot me?
Situated in a beautiful village of Bojnice, which gave us many daily and night opportunities for free time activities, the training was full of enthusiastic and open minded participants and especially with great professional trainers from Estonia, Slovakia, Cyprus and Czech Republic it was one of my best holidays ever. Our main goal was to write an international guidebook for future leaders of youth projects, which was supposed to teach us by the very elaborated method learning by doing how to lead a group of young people. During different sessions such as intercultural learning, conflict resolution, evaluation methods or project managment the trainers teached us how to handle with different (problem) situations, which can occur at a group of young people, how we should behave and act to satisfy the needs of each participant and whether it is possible at all. What I really loved about the project was that besides so much handy information we got something more and it was our self development. This was very insightful and I think all the participants noticed that and it brought all the group together. All the programme was just very well organised, the trainers as flexible as they could be and they gave us the best example. All I can say for the end is that i would strongly recommend this kind of training not only to future leaders but also for those, who would like to learn or reveal some new facts about themselves as personalities.  So if you see such a project is going to take place, don’t hesitate and go for it, because it will rock and I’m sure you will love it!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Roy on EVS in Germany - 2012

Roy (our EVS volunteer) reports on his 10 months abroad teaching fun and inspiring English classes at a Montessori school in Germany. Looks like great fun, we love the illustrations.

A year in English: speaking, playing, cultural exchange and having fun.

This year I've learned a lot from my place in the European Voluntary Service here at the Montessori school in Würzburg. I've tried to share my enthusiasm for discovering new things in life. I've worked everywhere in the school, from swimming and ice skating with the afterschool club, to debates on issues such as justice and climate change disciples with the FOS (college). I would like to thank the teachers with whom I had the opportunity to work closely together in the classroom, thanks for being patient with me when I was new and could not speak two words of the German language!

Our first English project: "Casper the Friendly Ghost"
Together with the 4-6 class we watched that old ghost film in English and talked about all the animals Casper  scared away. Afterwards, everyone took a picture from the movie and everyone wrote a caption describing the image. Finally, we recorded our own version of this spooky but happy story.

Our second English Project: The Mystery of the Icelandic Iceland
Once upon a time there was a precious treasure in a small museum on the island of Iceland.
Unfortunately the next morning the treasure was missing! Who stole it?
In small groups we answered this question and finished the story. With a lot of creative thinking we have decided what the treasurer was, who had stolen it, and if they manged to escape at the end. One example was that it was an old fossilized alien who was rescued by Lula, the lighthouse keeper.
Here are pictures of two other figures from the story. We used these images as inspiration to describe the drawings in the stories.

English learning center
In the English base I've worked with all students from the 4th to 10th class. With the 10th we've talked about their "Topic-based talks," and I learned a lot about dancing, graffiti, movies, skateboarding, gymnastics, and India. And with the 9th class we read a very interesting  and motivating story about Nelson Mandela.

Furthermore, with the 4-6th classes we have learned all about the face and many adjectives to describe it. We then drew a few faces and played a game where they had to guess the face that was being described. Here are two examples of our faces

We have also written a small English autobiography. I prepared a few topics and then each pupil took a piece of paper, folded it and turned it into a small book.

We have written, all in English, something about where we come from and where we live, our hobbies and interests, and our inspiration and our dreams.

Roy Clutterbuck

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Amy on EVS in Sweden - 2012

"...I have grown in confidence and it has been a brilliant experience..." 

My name is Amy, I am 23 and currently on EVS in Sweden. I live in Stockholm and work for a youth exchange organisation called Youth for Understanding (YFU). I have been here for 7 months now and it has been a fantastic experience thus far. I am part of a project called `World Coloured Glasses´. Along with three other EVS volunteers from Germany, Turkey and Mexico our job is to travel around Sweden, visiting schools and holding workshops with Swedish students. We inform them about the opportunities to study abroad with YFU and discuss topics such as stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination, to enhance intercultural understanding and celebrate diversity.
In effect, we are like substitute teachers for an hour and a half, and have the freedom from YFU to devise a workshop that we feel is interesting and insightful for the students, whilst at the same time bringing a little bit of our cultures into the classroom. In the beginning, the prospect of having to present and talk to a classroom full of Swedish students was a little daunting, but that was part of the challenge of taking on this particular project. With every workshop I have grown in confidence and it has been a brilliant experience to meet with so many young, motivated and interesting students, whilst gaining lots of practical experience and personal development in such a short period of time. I would highly recommend readers to participate in EVS. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to live in the beautiful city of Stockholm, make friends with people from all over the world, and help the organisation to spread an important message of what the European Voluntary Service stands for; mutual understanding, peace and solidarity.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fly the flag for volunteering around the world! The Video!

Last year Concordia and many of our overseas partners took part in The Flag Tour 2011.

The Idea…. was for a flag to travel around the world visiting many international volunteering projects. For 9 months, from March to November 2011, three flags travelled all around the world visiting 60 projects and events of 33 voluntary organisations involving more than 1600 volunteers. Concordia finished with the flag in November for our big General Assembly that we hosted in Southampton (the flag is now hung up in our office).  The flag raised awareness of volunteering, The Alliance, promoted international volunteer projects and ran alongside the European and International Year of the volunteer 2011.

Concordia was very much involved in the whole process, from the design of the flag, to co-ordinating the flag around the world and making sure it didn’t get too lost (it did disappear a few times and got stuck in customs) but this was all very much part of its journey!!

Finally we managed to put all the pictures and comments into a small film.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tugba on EVS in the UK - 2012

"Before I came here I heard about England; there are red phone boxes at every corner , double deckers are all around, nobody go outside without an umbrella , people drink tea at 17.00"

I am 29 years old and from Turkey. I have been in Brighton in England for over 7 months.There is a cliche among EVS volunteers which is ''Time flies when you are doing EVS.'' First I have to tell you this cliche is very true , yeah it really flies!

Here I work for YMCA which is a charity organisation for community and young people. Mostly I join the sport sessions to support youth workers, recently I satrted to run my own sessions as well. The variety of social activities is really wide here.So I gain many experiences in different areas. Actually this is the biggest important thing about EVS, you cannot even imagine how many new different experiences you could have and how much they teach you during your EVS. As an example , I was an extravagant person before and I never managed to o
rganise spending my money wisely. But here, I have learnt how to use my money effectively. So even the factors you might consider as difficulty (like EVS Money is limited) can teach you a lot.

I want to mention about my time in England a bit more. We all know there are some stereotypes about cultures , nations and countries. Before I came here I heard about England; there are red phone boxes at every corner , double deckers are all around, nobody go outside without an umbrella , people drink tea at 17.00 and English people are a bit cold and formal... I cannot say telephone boxes, double deckers disappointed me but it made me suprised how friendly and welcoming English people are, the opposite of their grey and cold weather. EVS gives you the opportunity to experience it on your self.

And of course the main purpose of EVS...
Yes, working as a volunte
er gives you the sense of fulfilment and real satisfaction as you would not expect. Especially I felt in this way when I worked with kids with special needs. It is so easy to approach them, you can even communicate with them by eye contact and it sometimes tells much more than verbal communication. This is an experience which you have to have it on your own to comprehend what it really means.

I can tell you even more about my own EVS experience and elaborate it, but it would be boring. I hope you will enjoy your own EVS experience.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Happy Student Volunteering Week 2012

Hello everyone,

Happy Student Volunteering Week. This week Feb 20-26th we have been looking back at our volunteer stories from last year and are so happy to announce that in 2011 Concordia sent and hosted a total of 331 volunteers making a grand total of 5145 volunteering days!

To celebrate this and Student Volunteering Week we have a facebook competition to win one of our brand new bright blue hoodies. Like our page on Facebook
for more details...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Heather on EVS in Hungary - 2012

The Jetsetters Guide To Christmas and New Year in Europe :-)

At first the prospect to spending Christmas aboard saddened me. I would miss the annual round of parties and dinners with friends and family. However, I'm learning that EVS life is never dull!
I went to Vienna and Bratislava for four days with five of the other volunteers. We stayed in Vienna for two days and in Bratislava for one night. Vienna is so beautiful. On the first night we went to the Christmas Markets and had punch. Mine had cream and chocolate on the top :-) I also tried a dessert made with thick pancakes, fruit and apple sauce. It was so tasty! The sissy palace was huge. It wasn't very exciting inside the Palace. I guess that I'm used to the wonderful houses/castles that we have at home! The grounds are so pretty. If you walk to the top of the hall, you can see great views of all Vienna. In the evening we went to see a performance of Daphne at the state opera house. We got standing tickets for 4 euros. I enjoyed it but found it difficult to follow because it was in German!! The hostel we stayed in was cool. Bratislava is a nice place. Its very small. We looked around the castle and the City Centre (there was a small market - mostly food and punch).

For Christmas and New Year, I went to Romania to stay with the family of another volunteer. It is a very pretty country. The mountains are beautiful in the snow. However, it is very poor and there are signs of formal communism rule everywhere. The train journey from Budapest took 14 hours. Still, we saw a lot of the country, so it was good. We stayed in Budapest the night before. Sarolta studied in Budapest and she showed Annelie and I around the city by night. The view of the City from the river is lovely. I would like to go again in the summer and see the City properly. We stayed in an all night beer tent next to the train station all night (our train was at 6.40 am). It was ok because the bar sold tea and we sat by the fire :-)

We stayed at Sarolta parents house. Her grandparents also live there. They have cows, pigs, chickens, dogs and a cat. We ate sooo much food while we were there! I tried loads of traditional Romania dishes. On New Year's Eve, we went to a house party (friends of Sarolta's brother). We were the oldest people there! Lol It was fun. At midnight, we walked around the village and wished everybody a Happy New Year.

It is certainly one Christmas and New Year that I will never forget :-)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Orlaith on EVS in Poland - 2012

"Greetings from Wrocław! Here I am to fill you in on what I've been up to during my first three and a half months in Poland..

Three and a half down..Eep! Only four and a half to go..boo hoo hoo! The time is going way too fast.

I spent over a year looking for the right organisation (one that I wanted and one that wanted me). Luckily, after this time, I have ended up in one of the most amazing projects I could ever have dared to imagine, working in one of the most amazing organisations I've ever had the pleasure to be involved with.

Myself and five other volunteers are working in the regeneration of a very deprived area near to the city centre. Really we can choose to do whatever kinds of projects we want so long as they are valuable for the local area or its inhabitants.

I'm getting such wonderful experience here. I am learning so much, meeting so many people, and being enabled and encouraged to develop any projects or workshops that are viable. In my first week of being here, I completed my first funding application and spent the next six weeks preparing (amongst other things) an anti-racism exhibition in the district. This has now been taken by the University for display there.

That has been my main project so far. Now I'm beginning funding applications for my second big project. Other than that we've helped to renovate private and public buildings, organised an international football tournament, developed workshops for the local children, TRIED to learn Polish (had to give a ten minute presentation in Polish yesterday), participated in a 'week of tolerance' with Israeli and Norwegian youths, developed Poland's first outdoor 'vertical garden' and much much more.

I've also helped local children with English homework and am currently giving English lessons to seniors.

I love my flat, my flatmates, co-workers.....everything really.

All in all, things are going so well. Haven't been home-sick yet. Fingers crossed I won't be for the next four and a half months. None of this would have been possible without Chloe's help and support. Thanks Chloe."