Why be an EVS Volunteer?

article by Luca Bini, EVS volunteer 2015

During the past year I have been working in AMURTEL through European Voluntary Service. (EVS) I will start with the acronym EVS, volunteer service characterized by something more, represented by the simple little word “European”.

Our project was funded by the European Union, within the Erasmus + program that provides young people between 18 and 30 years a volunteer experience for a of maximum one year in any of the countries belonging to European Union and other nations participating in the project. The program has strong financial support for seven years, from 2014 to 2020.

The process is relatively simple for anyone who wants to participate. There must be a sending organization, a host organization, and the corresponding project that will be performed during the service.

In today’s globalized world we are accustomed to traveling and moving from country to country in Europe without borders, and often even using the same currency. This was not always the case .. The volunteer experience serves to close the gap between young Europeans, for a greater integration of the EU itself. A noble commitment in times like the present, where the EU is often seen as a set of contrasting economic interests.

We can say that we are special volunteers. We give life to the concept of Europe that the founding fathers envisioned.

In my case, I’m a volunteer in Romania. It’s certainly not one of the most economically developed states of Europe, nor where I think people would want to emigrate for work. Indeed, one million Romanians have come to us in Italy and represent the largest immigrant community in our country.

I really knew little about Romania before coming here, despite knowing several Romanian people. Today, after more than nine months, I know it almost as well as my native Italy. After having visited a lot of places, I feel at home. Although it’s true that officially EVS allows, as I said before, service for the selected project, with accommodation and meals paid (and it’s very good, considering the times we live), I can assure that this is in all the aspects an extraordinary life experience. It’s true that the project is the core of the program, on average you work thirty hours a week and often it is not easy work, so we have to adapt to many different situations.

But let us consider the social experience, the human emotions of a unique adventure.

This part starts with the week-long on-arrival training, which takes place in a mountain resort. All volunteers in the host country must participate at the end of their first month

It’s there that we learn the first steps, the first interactions with your peers, in what will become your main network, the network of EVS volunteers. These volunteers will accompany you for most of your experience. From the perspective of social and cultural life it’s really interesting. It teaches us that we are all equal, that the different provenances are nothing more than matter of curiosity and discovery. Age-wise, those 18-20 years old are perfectly at ease with those ten years older. We found we only needed to just talk and know each other ten minutes to clear distances, and break down barriers and different stereotypes.

I think EVS volunteers are certainly not representative of the society of their home nations. The program gives volunteers the opportunity to be among a group of people who more or less share the same interests and have similar ideas, with great open mindedness, attention to dialogue, tolerance and diversity. Values which the European Union promotes, but often are regretfully not the reality in Europe.

It seems to me that EVS is a hope, a vision of our beloved Europe. I believe without exaggeration that EVS volunteers represent an elite, not of course in the political and economic sense of the term, but in the social and cultural.

So we are faced with a next step in building a better Europe. This program certainly moves in this direction, as did the old Erasmus for university students. Let me clarify what I think, as I was in Erasmus two years ago and it was a really great experience. However, EVS represents something more. It is not ‘just’ study to pass the exams, you acquire personal responsibility for your volunteer project.

Volunteering. The most beautiful human achievement is to be useful for others, said Sophocles. I believe this is true, as in my experience I learned that to do something for others fills your heart. But I would be a hypocrite to deny that I do it more for myself.

It is an intense experience, alternating joys and difficult times. It is life.

The EVS system, in another difference with the Erasmus project, pushes you to face unpredictable circumstances. . Sure, on paper your project is crystal clear, the activities and tasks to be performed are listed exhaustively. But the projects are so various and the environmental contexts so different even within the same country and only in a few kilometers distance that sometimes it becomes an adventure. And that’s what makes it pretty special in my eyes.

There are so many experiences and memories that I’ll never forget., like the time when I was in a small village in Transylvania. The village contained a significant Hungarian minority, and I walked in the hills with other volunteers, some of whom had musical instruments and started to play. With the rhythm of music they approached the Roma children who were playing not far away, and the kids joined us to play and sing, to dance. Extremely pleasant. Or my hitchhiking experiences, something I never tried in Italy, but here is really simple and all the volunteers travel this way, by specifying promptly ‘suntem voluntari, nu avem bani’ (we are volunteers, we don’t have money).

On one memorable ride to a town in Transylvania, the man who gave us a ride brought us first to a viewpoint of the city, so we could see it from above, then he drove us over a dozen kilometers away to show us his own house and his small farm. He proudly introduced his familyto us, and ordered his nephew to drive us back to the town centre where we were headed. I don’t think many people would act the same!

Are just two simple episodes, but such experiences really happen, and we EVS volunteers are full of stories to tell, which is why we are special. To be truthful, sometimes there are poor experiences, difficult moments when you are concerned about what’s happening with the service and other matters, or some lack of affection by trusted friends or family. But you have to believe that the positive elements outweigh the negatives! This is EVS, and, as people like to say in Romania, ‘aşa e viața’ (that’s life).

Or at least I guess so.

In doubt, try to believe.