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What did 10 years of EVS mean for participants?

Bulgaria

The schedule of the event was full and time was put to good use, which contributed to the successful results of the activities. However, there was also enough rest and free time which gave a chance for informal communication between participants and for experiencing the atmosphere of the city.
Informational activities concerning volunteers and the ones related to organizations were performed with dynamic methods such as working in small groups, brainstorming, short presentations, and this gave chance to each participant to be actively involved and to have an individual contribution.
There were also many activities dedicated to the intercultural exchange between participants from the 8 different countries. This created an open, friendly and stress-free environment and helped everyone feel the spirit of acceptance and solidarity, typical for the work in EVS.

Finland

I Senni Hirvonen, participated the "10 Years EVS" seminar in Liege together with the youth worker of FFVI (the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired) and my friend Solja whom I met while doing my own EVS last summer. I'm a blind 23-year-old woman from Joensuu, Eastern Finland. I study special education at the university, and through a coincidence I ended up doing a short-term EVS (6 weeks) in Slovakia last summer. My task there was to organise activities for disabled young people and adults. Because of my EVS experience and my membership in the Finnish national youth activity group of the FFVI, I was asked to take part in this seminar. And I am very happy that I participated. Although I have been busy touring different events and camps of the visually impaired around Finland, this was my very first time to attend an international meeting of visually impaired people. Therefore, I did not know any other participant beforehand. It was amazing and (figuratively) eyes-opening to meet visually impaired people and representatives of VI organisations from other European countries. Although we worked hard during the week, the atmosphere was easy-going and relaxed, and it was easy to get familiar with others. I really hope that our network and friendships are going to last also in the future, providing a good basis to projects like this as well as unofficial meetings and gatherings that are, in my opinion, equally important.

Before this project, Views International was a completely unfamiliar concept for me. It was amazing to hear how Views has established methods of adapting EVS to visually impaired people, and how these methods have also spread to other countries such as Spain. These include training in mobility and daily living skills that are important to everybody doing a long-term EVS but especially for those who have not lived independently in their home countries. I also liked the idea of a peer or "koala" mentor who is also a volunteer and, if possible, visually impaired him- or herself. I also think the local visually impaired persons could act as mentors to EVS volunteer, helping the volunteer to understand the situation and services of the visually impaired in the country and supporting him/her to network with the local VI people.

One of the biggest highlights of my week was the introduction of the local hosting organisations, including for example a school for the blind and a youth centre. I even started to dream of doing a long-term EVS in Belgium. However, that would probably take place after my studies, since I do not know any French at the moment. Many people consider EVS as a life-changing experience. To be honest, my last summer short-term EVS did not significantly change my life, perhaps because it was so short and I did not really feel independent there, compared to the independence that I have in my home town. To gain this "life-changing" experience, one needs to be as autonomous as possible. This naturally requires longer period of time abroad than just six weeks, mobility training and, if possible, contacts to local visually impaired people and their organisations.

In the middle of July I am participating in a summer camp for visually impaired young people (aged between 12 and 30) in Finland. The camp has long traditions and it has become a highlight of the year for many youngsters. The camp will be a good opportunity to raise awareness of EVS and to promote it by means of a workshop or a speech. We have also been planning to broadcast the speech on the Internet radio of FFVI.

In conclusion, the week in Belgium was an unforgettable experience for me. In addition to receiving a lot of new information and a new perspective about EVS, I had a chance to make new friends to whom I wish to keep contact also in the future. I also learned a lot about different cultures, their traditions and ways of communication. I was curious to ask about education and rehabilitation systems in different countries and how they treat people with disabilities. For me it seems that every system has its own good sides to be proud of and problems to struggle with. None of the countries has perfectly succeeded in creating an inclusive society for people with disabilities. That is why disability organisations and projects such as EVS have an important role in raising awareness of diversity and thus promoting our social inclusion.

Italy

It was with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity that I left my hometown that Sunday morning, on the way to Anna Rita’s place, 800 km away. It was cold and cloudy in Torino, and I remember thinking “I am starting my rainy week one day in advance”. It was the first contact for me with VIEWS International and EVS, and even if Anna Rita had told me extensively about it and I had all the information about the activities I would have took part in Liège, I wasn’t really sure about what was expecting for me in Belgium. I knew it was an evaluation workshop for the project “10 years of EVS with VIEWS International”, this meaning that it was 10 years since when it was possible for people with a visual impairment to do the European Voluntary Service. I also knew that many people from different countries would have participated in the project, including ex volunteers and next volunteers (with an ex and a future volunteer leaving from Rome to Belgium with me the day after). Nonetheless, I was eager to jump into this new experience. The not-so-warm welcome that Belgium gave us when we arrived – non-stopping rain, not even worth keeping using the umbrella and a general public transportation strike - was not enough to calm down our enthusiasm. The three of us got to Espace Belvaux in Liège very tired in the middle of Monday afternoon, but it was very nice to see how the hostel was getting more and more crowded as the people from different nationalities where getting there.

As I said, I did not know much of the practicalities about EVS and VIEWS International at the beginning of the week, and it was very enriching for me to get to know more and more about the projects as the week went along, and from different perspectives. The week was full of formative moments. I really appreciated the fact that ex and current volunteers shared with us their experiences, so that I could hear directly from them how they felt during their voluntary service, and their enthusiasm behind the daily fights and successes. I also really liked the fact that I could get to know more about these projects also from the people that work in the administration and the organizations behind these projects. People working at different levels in coordinating and managing the realizations of these projects that with their work can make all this possible. Talk by talk, activity by activity, it was as if I was adding a new piece to a very complex puzzle. And I realized that what these people manage to do, - the people working in the administration, in the hosting/sending or coordinating organizations, mentors, volunteers, every person which gets involved in these projects in one way or another – it is just stunning. In the last days of the week, we tried to condense the information we got in a brochure addressed to potential hosting associations, to provide them with guidelines in case they wanted to host a volunteer. We hope that this brochure will prove a useful tool to broaden the collaboration network of EVS with VIEWS International.

Some days have passed now from that week in Liège, but I can still say that this experience was so amazing and enriching for me, that it even felt a bit strange to come back home. It felt different to speak just one language and not three different ones at a time as it happened in Espace Belvaux every time we had a break. In Belgium, I shared almost every moment of the day with people that I didn’t know just few days before, but that by the end of the week felt like friends of a lifetime. It was great to hear about other people’s experiences and about how EVS with VIEWS International had changed so many lives, in positive. Last but not least, in these times when country borders are closing and we are told to be afraid and cautious with the stranger that is sitting next to us on the metro, I felt more European.

The workshop has ended, but our work within the project is not over yet, as we will be working on delivering a presentation of EVS with VIEWS International in Italy. And we’ll spread the voice.

Turkey

The Project which was done by VIEWS International in May 30th to June 5th 2016 was the first experience for both some of us and EGED in terms of adapted EVS. We, the two Turkish teams, three of us from EGED (Turkish Association of Visually Impaired in Education) and three of us from Kalp Ankara, four visually impaired participants and two assistants, prepared for the journey of getting informed about EVS in detail. For EGED, it was their first EU Youth Project. We wanted to learn about how EVS could be adapted, what kind of difficulties could be faced with, what could be the possible solutions and so on. As EGED, since we haven’t had any experience in EVS, we had lots of question marks needed to be clarified in our minds. So we were very excited; then, the day that we will fly to Belgium came and we safely arrived Espace Belvaux, the hostel where we are going to stay during the Project.

Throughout the project, we had different type of sessions. On the first day of the program, we tried to get to know each other and remember the other participants’ names. Then, slowly but surely, we began to learn firstly about what Erasmus Plus and Youth pass is; secondly, what has been done in Belgium by the experts. Because of the public transportation strike, our both speakers were not able to be with us physically but, via and thanks to skype, they were able to meet us and give a very nice speech that clarifies many ambiguities. On the other weekdays also, we learnt a lot about, as a NGO, how to enlarge our networks and what kind of supports we can provide the EVS volunteer that we are going to host. In the informative parts about EVS, the other participants who have done their own EVS shared their experiences. In terms of adapted EVS, we had some interactive discussions, brainstorming sessions on the key concepts. particularly, we talked so much about mentorship, what a mentor should do and what he or she shouldn’t, what kind of relationship should be between the EVS volunteer and the mentor, how many mentor should contribute the EVS volunteer etc. Finally, we worked intensively to prepare a brochure about Adapted EVS, giving essential information that is needed by anyone or any NGO that is interested in being part of an Adapted EVS. On the other hand, we had some free time that we can spend as we wish. Thus, one night, we walked near to Espace Belvaux while another night, we had a chance to taste Spanish Sangria at Espace Belvaux. We also had the opportunity to buy some chocolates in the city center. But, unfortunately, heavy rain started to fall on us with all our heavy bags so we had to drink coffee in the city. Nevertheless, we managed to return to Espace Belvaux by taxi with our chocolates. After this adventure, we had some sessions about public speaking on Friday. In my opinion, Friday was the day that I liked most. We had so much fun while trying to improve our skills. On Saturday, we completed our brochure work, evaluated the whole project and finished.

In brief, it was very nice, different and informative project. (Çağrı) “For me, it was the first time in my life that I went abroad and encountered showers with buttons allowing water flow just for 20 seconds. And I did not know that I needed to bring my slippers. However, first experiences are never forgotten so, I always remember these days with a big smile on my face.” In terms of EGED, we are now equipped with much information about Adapted EVS so we are ready for EGED’s EVS Accreditation interview. We intend to become both a sending and hosting organization in the near future so we can organize Adapted EVS for real in Turkey!