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!