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Brochure "10 years of EVS"

10 YARS OF EVS WITH VIEWS INTERNATIONAL

TRAINING COURSE & SEMINAR
Liège, 30/05 – 5/06/2016

With the support of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission.

Introduction

This brochure is the result of the activities carried out at "10 years of EVS", a project that took place in Liège, Belgium, between 30th May and 4th June 2016. The representatives of the 8 participating countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey) contributed to the writing of the brochure with the experiences they have gathered in the field of adapted EVS over the last 10 years.

The brochure aims to give an exhaustive overview of the situation of adapted EVS, as it is 10 years after it was first put in place. Though it mainly targets sending and hosting organizations wanting to carry out this accessible form of EVS, it can also be consulted by visually impaired people interested in the programme.

EVS overview

What is EVS?

The EVS (European Voluntary Service), organized in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme, enables people between 18 and 30 years of age to volunteer abroad: almost all EU Member States participate in the programme, as well as other countries.

There are two types of EVS: short-term (between 2 weeks and 2 months) and long-term (between 2 months and 1 year). Volunteers are allowed to take part in only one EVS, but they can do a long-term one if they only did a short one.

What kind of work can an EVS volunteer do?

An EVS volunteer may do different kinds of work, such as office work, social care, projects, at a school, associations, hospitals, art, sport, culture and much more, as long as he doesn't act as replacement for a paid employee and is not directly and solely responsible for vulnerable people. The volunteer’s work must be something useful not only to him/her, but also to the hosting organization and the society.

Finance

After the project has been approved, the hosting association is asked to provide an estimation of its total costs. Before the co-operation starts, the hosting organization will receive 80% of the estimated amount, whereas the remaining 20% will be provided once the project is finished and the final report has been submitted. The volunteer's travel expenses to and from the hosting country are covered by the Erasmus+ programme and their financial optimum level is defined through the distance calculator available here.

The total amount is divided into three parts. The first part is the budget given to the hosting organization to pay for the volunteer's accommodation and food, as well as his license for the Online Linguistic Support (€150) and other daily living equipment. The amount provided depends on the hosting country; however, there are fixed rates, which can be found in the user guides of the Erasmus+ Programme.

The second part of the budget concerns the pocket money, which the hosting organization receives and transfers to the volunteer on a monthly basis; its amount, as in the previous case, depends on the hosting country (more information can be found on the Erasmus+ user guide). This is the only amount of money that the volunteer receives directly, and he can do with it whatever he prefers.

The last part of the budget concerns special costs, which may include mobility and daily living sessions, as well as the adaptation of documents (Braille, large print etc.). They may also cover adapted language classes, when the language of the hosting country is not available in the OLS or if there are accessibility issues with the platform. The fourth part of the budget, henceforth defined as "exceptional cost", is dedicated to expenses such as city hall registration, vaccination and visa (including trips to the embassies, as long as the expenses can be justified with receipts). The exceptional costs budget may be also used for the Advanced Planning Visit (APV), an optional visit arranged by the hosting organization to meet the volunteer and understand his specific requirements; the visit is a great opportunity for the volunteer to have a first contact with his future accommodation, as well as the people who will support him throughout the project.

It is worth noting that the hosting organization is entitled to apply for external funding, to integrate that of the Erasmus+ programme. Furthermore, after the approval of the project it is strongly recommended that sending, hosting and co-ordinating organization sign a voluntary agreement with the volunteer, with all the estimated expenses.

At the end of the EVS, the hosting organization will have to produce all the invoices and receipts for the encountered expenses, except for pocket money which does not need to be justified. The part of the budget that has not been used for the volunteer is shared between sending, co-ordinating and hosting organization, and the first two usually keep about 5% of it.

Covered expenses for the volunteer

All EVS volunteers get free board and lodging, as well as free health insurance. They also receive pocket money from the receiving organization. To give an example, in 2016 at VIEWS International, in Belgium, volunteers received a monthly amount of €112 (pocket money) and €200 (food).

How to prepare for an EVS?

If you're between 18 and 30 years of age and you want to do an EVS, the first thing you need to do is find both a sending and a hosting organization. Also, you should choose in which field you would like to work: would you find it interesting to deal with culture, leisure and sport, or would you rather do something in the domain of social services or office work? You must be honest with yourself and choose a field that you are truly interested in and which can bring out the best of you.

Adapted EVS

One of the core goals of the EVS project has always been to engage as many young people as possible, even the most disadvantaged. This has definitely been achieved with regards to blind and visually impaired people, in the form of adapted EVS. Main focus of this brochure, adapted EVS has been carried out by sending and hosting organizations since 2006, only 10 years after EVS itself was launched. All the countries contributing to this brochure are engaged in this accessible form of EVS, be it as sending organization, hosting organization or both, and it is their experiences that we want to share with the readers.

Adapted EVS's primary aim is to meet the special needs of partially sighted and blind volunteers. Therefore, the sending organization should have an open dialogue with the visually impaired person about his/her specific needs and the opportunities offered by EVS. The hosting organization, on the other hand, should be aware that some activities may have to be adapted to each person's specific needs. Volunteers are provided with mobility and daily living skills sessions, as well as adapted apartment, workplace, language classes and timetables.
Specific aids such as dymmo Braille, white cane etc. are included in the special costs covered by EVS, as well as targeted training (orientation and mobility, daily living skills), reinforced mentorship, assistance, adaptation of working and living environment).

Laws, rights and facilities

Each country has different laws pertaining visually impaired people, e.g. public transport's costs. It is therefore important to get familiar with these laws before starting the adapted EVS. A very good way to get information and advice is to contact blind-related organizations in the hosting country, e.g. for the UK you can consult RNIB's website. The key to success is the close co-operation between sending and hosting organizations and the engagement of local associations for visually impaired people.

Disability rights and facilities, too, can vary greatly from country to country. The hosting association can get information on these matters through local relevant associations.

PRACTICAL ASPECTS

Mobility

The term "mobility" indicates a series of sessions where the volunteer is taught how to autonomously reach all the places he/she needs to reach in his daily life throughout the whole project. This includes, of course, the way from home to the workplace, as well as routes to essential places (supermarkets, pharmacies, shops, train station, bus stops) and entertainment places (cinemas, museums, theatres). The sessions will enable the volunteer to get to know the city and to navigate it independently, using either a cane or a guide dog. The way sessions unfold varies according to the sight level of the volunteer (partially sighted or totally blind) and his/her familiarity with the white cane. The sessions are led by qualified instructors, who can be found in local associations for the blind.

Daily living skills

The daily living training depends on the volunteer's level of independence and visual impairment: someone may need to learn how to cook, clean and iron, whereas someone else may just need to get some quick adaptations for the apartment and its equipment (washing machine, oven etc.). The daily living training is carried out by experts, who can be found in local associations for the blind.

Language classes

It is essential for the volunteer to learn the language of the hosting country. Before departure, the volunteer should have at least a basic knowledge of the local language, though the required level depends on the project he/she's embarking on. Language courses are provided by the Online Linguistic Support, shortened as OLS, even though not all the languages of the hosting countries are currently available. Before the starting of the EVS, each volunteer will receive a license which will enable them to access the platform throughout the whole duration of the project.

If the language of the hosting country is not available on OLS, or if the platform is not accessible to the visually impaired person (which is often the case), he must attend an offline language course, that may be provided by schools for foreigners and the like. The course material shall be provided either in electronic format or in Braille, according to the volunteer’s preference.

Advanced Planning Visit (APV)

Every visually impaired volunteer is invited to an adapted preparatory visit to the hosting city (2-3 days), so as to get a real idea of the place where he will be living and working: as pictures are of little use to him, he can physically walk from and to the places he will use the most, being thus able to create his first mental map of the surroundings. Besides, the visit enables him to figure out whether he really likes the work he would be doing as volunteer and whether he actually feels ready to do it.

During the visit, the volunteer gets to meet all the people who will be engaged in his EVS project: mentor, mobility instructor, daily living skills officer, foreign language teacher, etc, as well as other volunteers. He gets to see his apartment and his workplace, and all the other places that he may need in his daily routine.

EVS Mentoring

A mentor is a person who guides the volunteer throughout the EVS journey. He does not only find solutions to problems, but also helps the volunteer with his personal growth through goal-setting, a process which encourages the volunteer to be more autonomous by taking responsibility for their choices. Mentors, therefore, are not supposed to show volunteers "the right way", but to help by giving information and asking the right questions in order for the volunteer to:

  • discover their strengths and improvement potential;
  • realize the consequences of made decisions;
  • identify helping forces and obstacles to the achievement of a goal.

Mentors can provide volunteers with information concerning:

  • access to health services;
  • opening a bank account;
  • access to local services (e.g. assistance in a shop);
  • visa and passport or local council registration issues.

Mentors are not entitled to:

  • fill out forms for volunteers: they can write the information on the form, but only what volunteers tell them to write;
  • take responsibilities for the volunteer. For example if the volunteer has a report to do for work they can give him guidance on how to write it, but they cannot write it for him;
  • act as a personal assistant. For example, if the volunteer wants to do a leisure activity, the mentor could provide information about the available choices (e.g. dancing courses in the area) and even accompany him the first time, to make sure the activity is inclusive; however, they cannot attend all the classes with the volunteer (e.g. be their dancing partner).

A good mentor should:

  • have experience and knowledge of the disability of the person he is working with;
  • possess good listening and mediating skills;
  • speak the same language as the volunteer;
  • support his autonomy rather than telling him what to do;
  • have psychological skills;
  • be objective;
  • be open-minded;
  • be responsible;
  • have thorough knowledge of the working, social and cultural environment;
  • have enough time to dedicate to the volunteer;
  • be motivated;
  • be able to help with the local language;
  • respect confidentiality and be trustworthy;
  • be patient;
  • be creative;
  • be well organized;
  • be flexible;
  • have a clear direction in mind.

There are at least 4 types of mentors:

  • mentors from the sending organization: they help the volunteer before EVS (e.g. giving him information on the hosting city, telling him how to get ready for EVS etc.);
  • mentors from the hosting organization: they help the volunteer with on-the-job issues (e.g. clarifying work duties and responsibilities and accessibility issues in the workplace;
  • koala mentors: they speak the volunteer's native language and help him socialize. They may help him access social/cultural activities he's interested in, or take him along to a party they are going to;
  • personal mentors: they usually don't speak the volunteer's native language and help him with day-to-day issues (registering with a doctor or the local council) or more specific ones (showing him a shop to buy a phone charger). The nature of this kind of support varies depending on the volunteer.

Technology, too, may be of great help to remove some of the barriers that visually impaired volunteers might be faced with: for instance, the volunteer's workplace may be adapted with larger screens, special softwares, better lighting, etc. The volunteer's accommodation may also undergo some adaptations (e.g. Braille labels on the washing machine). Such additional costs must be included in the project before the actual application and budgeted as "special costs" and it is therefore essential to discuss them with the volunteer at a very early stage, as mentors may already know which adaptations should be put in place.

In some countries, professional and technical support to disabled people are provided free of charge by relevant organizations: in Spain, for example, ONCE (the National Organization for Blind People) provides mobility and daily living training, as well as special equipment (e.g. magnifiers) for free: the volunteer can use it throughout the whole project, but must return it when he leaves the hosting country.

Formalities

Evaluation

Just like mentoring, the evaluation process does not only aim to address problems, but also to encourage personal development and identify good practices. Although it is often underestimated, it has an important role in the EVS project. When carried out properly, it could shed light on two things:
- whether the project is being beneficial to the volunteer's personal development;
- whether the volunteer has been appropriately supported and makes sufficient efforts to carry out the assigned tasks to a satisfactory standard.

The evaluation should not be carried out only at the end of the project. In fact, it is compulsory to evaluate and re-evaluate the volunteer's progress throughout his EVS journey. The evaluation can be carried out on a day-to-day basis and in an informal manner. To this end, the organizers of the EVS project (from the sending, co-ordinating and hosting organization) should promote a relaxed atmosphere, thus enabling the volunteer to voice his concerns, and provide feedback at any time.

Below is a list of evaluation activities that may be carried out throughout the EVS project. Some of them are compulsory, and it is advisable to consult national agencies to find out which ones are. The evaluation could be carried out in the form of meetings:

  • on a weekly basis, between the volunteer and the reference person from the hosting organization;
  • an initial meeting at the co-ordinating level, followed by a mid-term and final evaluation. Therefore, a 12-month EVS project should be evaluated every 4 months;
  • two meetings organized by the National Agency, one at the beginning and one halfway throughout the project, to which all volunteers from the concerned region are invited;
  • monthly evaluations with the sending organization.

The mentor may be present at all the mentioned meetings, depending on his availability.

A mid-term and a final report must also be drawn up. The final report, written by the organization which applied for subsidies, must also include the volunteer's e-mail address, so that a link to an online evaluation form can be sent to it. It is compulsory for the volunteer to complete such form.

The evaluations, regardless of its type and frequency, should not be seen as "ticking a box", but used in order to improve the experience of volunteers and optimize the process that their job entails. Moreover, it is a powerful means to identify good practices.

Accreditation for sending/hosting organizations

Organizations wanting to either send or receive volunteers can consult the latest version of EVS Accreditation Guidelines. The European Commission, responsible for the funding of EVS, has national agencies across the whole EU.

The Erasmus+ Programme is partly managed on a centralized level by the executive agency, and partly by the national agencies in each country. An EVS is organized as pairing between a sending and a hosting organization, both accredited by their national agencies. To obtain the accreditation, organizations must apply to the national agency and get a personal identification code (PIC). For more information, you can consult the Erasmus+ Guide for Applicants and contact your national agency.

Some advantages offered by hosting an EVS volunteer are:

  • the Opportunity to have international input in your organization;
  • extra help;
    • establishing partnership with new organizations;
  • developing the social aspect of your work, thus contributing to society;
  • raising social awareness and solidarity on the workplace.

Youthpass

What is the Youthpass?

The Youthpass is a European recognition tool for non-formal and informal learning in youth work, for projects funded by Erasmus+ Youth in Action and Youth in Action programmes. The participants to such projects can use it to describe what he has learned and achieved. The hosting organization delivers the Youthpass to the volunteer, and his mentor supports him in the creation of the third part of the document, helping him realize what he has actually learned during the project.

The Youthpass consists of three parts. The first part contains the personal details of the volunteer and basic information on EVS; the second includes details of the project in which the volunteer participated; the third is a self-assessment written by the volunteer himself, with key competences illustrating what he has learned. The Youthpass is usually written in English, but it is available in all EU official languages and will be translated if the volunteer so desires. The document will be signed by the volunteer and the person responsible for the project (from the hosting or co-ordinating organization).

Key competences

The Youthpass includes eight key competences:

  1. Communication in the native language. In the case of visually impaired people, it mostly entails asking about practical arrangements by calling different organizations and sending e-mails to unknown persons.

  2. Communication in the foreign language. In the case of visually impaired people, this can include improving their language skills by learning new Braille marks; in some cultures, language skills also include the ability to detect someone's social status from his manner of speaking to others.

  3. Mathematical competences and basic competences in science and technology (e.g. timetable or budget planning).

  4. Digital competence. It indicates the ability to look up information with electronic devices. For a screen reader user, it is also useful to know which sites/softwares are accessible and which are not, and which devices or special programs are available for visually impaired people. Organizations should have good knowledge of the accessibility issues and support the volunteer to find the most suitable devices, softwares and materials.

  5. Learning to learn. The volunteer has to find the most suitable way to learn new things, be it in Braille, audio, tactile pictures/maps, etc.

  6. Social and civic competence. This includes the skill to connect with people who speak a language that the volunteer knows a little or not at all. For people who have been blind since birth, perceiving and interpreting gestures can be a challenge, and the volunteer needs to have enough courage to participate in social and cultural activities with others and start talking to new people.

  7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship. To acquire this competence, it is vital to possess a certain degree of self-confidence and self-esteem. The volunteer should be encouraged to know their strengths and weaknesses and to take risks and accept failures.

  8. Cultural awareness and expectations. This means adapting to a new culture. For example, visually impaired people might need support and guidance on suitable clothing, eating habits, unfamiliar traffic practices etc;

  9. Other specific skills. This can include mobility and daily living skills.

The Youthpass is a good tool for EVS volunteers to show their international experience to future employers and can help them find a job. They are therefore strongly recommended to write one.

CONCLUSIONS

It is hoped that this brochure, though far from being exhaustive, has shed new light on the world of EVS, and on adapted EVS in particular. The participants to the "10 years of EVS" project have worked with enthusiasm to gather ideas for its creation, bringing the experiences of their hosting/sending organizations to the table. Though some aspects may vary from country to country, a more general approach seemed more suitable for this brochure, as it would enable any interested organizations or individuals to profit from it to the maximum. It is hoped that this work has succeeded in highlighting the countless benefits enshrined in adapted EVS, thus inspiring both organizations and visually impaired individuals to get involved in it.