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Ten years of Adapted EVS: time to think about the past and the future

Young people from different countries meeting each other while learning and working on a specific theme: it is a concept that Views International has been using for many years, in order to stimulate international exchange between blind and visually impaired people.

On the 30th of may, yet another exchange was organized in the Belgian city of Liège. This time, for a very special occasion: the 10th anniversary of ‘Adapted EVS’ that, coincidence or not, fell together with the 20th anniversary of EVS itself.

During six days, about 30 youngsters, representing 9 associations from 8 countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey) were gathered to celebrate and evaluate this very crucial initiative, that opened the door for blind and visually impaired youth to experience intercultural learning while offering their services as a volunteer.

The program for the week was a well balanced mix between fun and hard work, where there was room for energisers, workshops, presentations and a project visit.

The participants, of which most were visually impaired or blind and already had an EVS experience, shared their ideas about Adapted EVS, its reasons for existing and its evolution throughout the 10 years.

This information sharing turned out to be an excellent way of enlarging and strengthening the network between countries and associations. Moreover, everyone agreed that, in order to guarantee Adapted EVS’s long existence, more organisations should be informed and stimulated to pick up the role of sending, hosting and/or coordinating association.

In order to address the organisations, participants were assigned to create an easy-to-read brochure with an introduction to Adapted EVS and guidelines for becoming a sending, hosting or coordinating organization.

But as the spoken word is not to be under-estimated, a workshop in public speaking was also part of this program. That workshop ended with an action plan for the participants: the promise to give at least one presentation within the upcoming months. Thanks to modern technology, there is no escape, as participants shall prove that they actually fulfilled their task.

It has been an extremely busy week, but towards the end, we did manage to sit down with all participants, and listen to what they had to say about this celebrating exchange.

It was clear that everyone agreed on the necessity of more organisations to be involved in the Adapted EVS. Young people want a variety to choose from and that can only happen when more choices of projects are available. Therefore, they found the creation of the brochure an excellent idea and there is the hope that, once translated in all languages, Adapted EVS will grow and more volunteers will get the chance to step into this wonderful experience.

Bahar from Turkey, for example, seemed confident that Edged, the organization she represented, will be ready to send or host a volunteer very soon. Therefore, she found the guidelines extremely handy.

On the other hand, the testimonials of former EVS participants were extremely helpful for potentially future volunteers. As Jessica from Spain and Michela from Italy will be volunteering in Belgium very soon, they listened very carefully to what will be expected from them, and what they can expect from their stay abroad. Surely, this week has given them more confidence and reassured them that a life-changing few months awaited them. Learning a new language and new skills that will be useful in their future professional lives, but also, gaining independence, leaving the home environment in order to be self-reliant… Can a person get a better boost than that?

Concerning the evolution of Adapted EVS, Italian Anna Rita is happy to see that volunteers are now able to stay up to nine months in their project. In her case, she felt that her project was not completely finished, as she had to stop her work with the children in the middle of the school year, and no proper hand-over to the next volunteer could be provided. Also, 4 months seemed insufficient to gain complete independence and to fully integrate into the new society. ‘Good point’, according to Senni from Finland, who definitely is considering a long-term EVS experience, after she already had been in Slowakia for a short-term stay.

One stakeholder that also deserves our attention is the mentor. We were lucky to have Alba from Spain in our midst, who was looking at this week’s events from her perspective. Being a mentor, she admits that it is not always easy to estimate what exactly the needs are of individuals who join the EVS program. She learned that dialogue is crucial and that not all individuals need the same assistance. Although, there is a well-written scenario on how to be a good mentor, it is essential for the volunteer to know that he/she is not alone and that the mentor is there to support in the most comfortable way possible.

The interviews went on for a few hours, but it was a joy to see that everyone, from their perspective, had a good feeling about the past 10 years, a great appreciation towards the evolution, and the genuine believe in the further success of Adapted EVS.

And to hold that thought, it was time for the one thing that cannot be missed in such an important jubilee: the party, where traditional songs and dances could not come without local snacks and drinks.

By Rosaria Fusco from Italy
EVS