22.08.2016 | Blog

EVS fun, fun, FUN!

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In my opinion one of the most valuable experiences you can get in your lifetime is volunteering and this is simply for the fact that despite not being paid in money you gain so much more amazing things that money cannot buy! From about the age of 16 I have volunteered for many charities and organisations whenever I had the time to and worked with a wide variety of age groups and with people from all kinds of backgroundsbackrounds, but i particularly have focused much of my volunteering life working with young people. Particularly young people with various additional support needs and those who are from backgroundsbackrounds of fewer opportunities. I feel what has perhaps contributed to me being so involved in this area of volunteer work is due to the fact that I too am a young person from a backgroundbackround of fewer opportunities.

From the age of 7 I had to grow up very quickly, as I have been a young carer for my 2 younger brothers, who are both on the Autistic spectrum along with having other complex needs, as well as helping some other family members whom at some periods have suffered with various physical and mental health illnesses. Due to these factors it has had an effect on my economic statusbackround, as it meant that my mother, who is a single parent can’t work, and at many times even when I was at the right age to hold a job, Ii simply couldn’t, as I had to be a full time carer and due to the very spontaneous life of being a carer, you can never be sure when you will be available, which doesn’t necessarily go down to well with employers who are looking to employ you. This was where volunteering played a huge role in my life as it gave me the sense of having some sort of job and commitments, along with a sense of purpose outside my caring role and also an opportunity to what i’m passionate about and meet some really amazing and like minded people!!

When I was around 15 years old a new charity was formed In my hometownhome town called ”Create Paisley” which hosts many open mic nights, Art and Film projects as well as having some amazing youth work and has really had an impact in some way or another for many people in paisley in my generation! These guysguy have seen me through some of my best and worst times, I started off as a confused teeneager who was super creative but didn’t think it was something you could really focus much of your life towards, to me now a 22-year-old who is currently on a 2 months EVS project In the Mladinski Centre in Zagorje.

You may now be wondering, ”how did I go from being a Paisley girl to being in such an unusual country for a scottish person to end up like Slovenia?” Well the simple answer to that is everything happens for a reason (well at least I believe so anyway). After being a young person attending Create for a while, I then started to become a volunteer firstly with little creative tasks that the staff and volunteers would give me the opportunity to carry out, to being an official part of the volunteer team who does youth work, organises events etc. However like most young people who come from a town where the mentality is very much ”there’s nothing positive for anyone here and in order to make something of yourself you have to get out”. This is why create was and still is so valuable, as they are great at creatively proving that Paisley isn’t such a bad place after all and you can Create a better environment, mindset and opportunities with a positive attitude and reaching out to other people.

However despite this I was keen to still see more of the world and experience something out of what I was familiar with and looked into opportunities such as working at various summer camps in America and was starting to get places with the process that would allow me to do so. But then my own health took a turn for the worse and I was diagnosed with a long term chronic Illness called Fibromyalgia which causes symptoms such as chronic fatigue that can get so bad, that I can’t even lift my head from the pillow some days, widespread pain, nausea, brain processing problems, migraines, nausea and the list goes on. When I was diagnosed it was through being hospitalised due to the dramatic shift in my health and mobility and it took me months to be able to just walk unaided, therefore I had to give up my American dreams, and my life was at a hold for some time. But here now is an example of ”everything happens for a reason”.

A summer later, after many baby steps and support from friends family and even an incredible amount of support from my volunteer family at Create, I slowly started to get some sort of normality back and found ways to work around my health condition, and it couldn’t have been more perfectly timed, as an opportunity then arose for a team of 5 of us from Create to go onto a 9 day european youth exchange in Zagorje ob Savi in Slovenia, where we would get to meet other young people from other countries, participate in some amazing activities and the theme was ”Healthy and Wealthy”. This was perfect, as I was nowI now was presented with the opportunity to experience another country, meet other like minded young people and the great part was I wouldn’t have to pay so my financial situation couldn’t hold me back and the theme was focused on something I’d just dedicated my whole year towards in my recovery. Had I not fallen ill I would probably have been doing something way different that summer and missed out on the amazing and life-changing opportunity I was about to experience!

Because the bonds and relationships you make with people when you volunteer, a member of staff at Create had remembered that we had a conversation in which I spoke about wanting to be taken out of my comfort zone and challenged, and that was presented to me in the form of me being asked to be the team leader for our scottish team! At first I was carefully considering asking not to have this responsibility, as there was too many doubts going through my head like ”Why me? I’m not a leader!”, ”This is too scary and I will most definitely fail.” and many other thoughts where I was merely putting myself down, like I had my whole life. But then after some self reflection and telling myself to stop thinking like this and an encouraging conversation with a good friend of mines whom I met through volunteering I accepted this challenge with much anticipation and a very positive attitude!!

My first responsibility as team leader was for me and one of my other teammates to go to a 2 day A.P.V, where the other team leaders and 1 other participant from each country met for some activities, to meet each other and the facilitators and partners as well as discuss the youth exchange, and discuss what the exchange was going to look like and help plan some activities of our own. This experience originally started off with me being absolutely terrified, as I had only been to a different country once before, and I really didn’t know what to expect as I’d never heard of Slovenia before and after a google search all I really knew was it was a small European country somewhere near Italy. What was worrying me even more was knowing that with my health condition I was still getting used to living with, my body could give in at any moment and if I was stressed etc. this could easily trigger it!

However it turned out that I was worrying over absolutely nothing and I was about to have some of best experiences I’ve had so far in my lifetime! In both the A.P.V and the youth exchange I learned so much, and learned so many valuable things that I still carry in my heart a year on and has opened my eyes so much and will contribute to me continuing to grow! Seriously, if I could give anyone from the ages 18-25 a word of advice on how to change possibly their life in just a week or so, it would be to go on a European Youth Exchange through Erasmus plus!

And now, if you refer back to the start of this blog, this is how a Scottish girl from a town with a not always so positive reputation ended up in Slovenia this summer for a 2 month EVS project. Slovenia after these amazing experiences had a place now in my heart, and I wanted so badly to return back to the country that I fell in love with and discovered a lot of myself in. As I mentioned, I really love volunteering and I had always dreamt about volunteering for any length of time in a country that wasn’t my mother land Scotland or even in the U.K altogether, the youth exchange opened my eyes so much I was feeling ready more than ever to stretch my horizons! However like a lot of other things throughout my life I thought my economic background was holding me back, and it was something that would either never happen on a voluntary basis, or it would have to happen later in life when I perhaps had a stable job and in a better financial position. For me my perception of volunteering abroad was very much that it was for those that had the money to do so and from a more middle class background, and not someone like myself, a Scottish girl from an area in Paisley, where 1 in 3 children are living below the poverty line and whose caring role has been a very large part of her life!

This was of course before I’d ever discovered what an EVS was, despite it still being voluntary your travel, accommodation, food is covered and you also receive pocket money too, which is definitely enough as you don’t have to worry about paying for an apartmentor buying food with your own money. I wish that more people, particularly in my country, were more aware of these amazing opportunities as I feel that an EVS is for absolutely everyone no matter their backgroundbackround, experience, economic situation, gender, ethnicity and so on. Even when it comes to your EVS project it’s unique to every person. I remember at the start of mines one of my biggest fears was that I wouldn’t be as good as other EVS my centre has had as I’d seen some awesome videos and heard of past projects which I was worried I wouldn’t be able to live up to. But my coordinator and mentor, who are both reallly supportive, explained that although you’re giving something to the organisation your volunteering for, it’s also about what you gain from it too. Although 2 months sounds like such a short time, I have learned so much from my experience here and I even feel like I’ve developed and grown so much as a person that I definitely won’t be going home the exact same person I was, which may sound very cheesy, I know, but it’s probably something that other past EVS can relate to!

For the first few weeks here I got the opportunity to work in the English classes at the local primary school, where I got to share my culture as well as just engaging and having conversations with the pupils. It is a dream of mines to one day become a teacher, however me being me, I always put myself down and told myself I’m not good enough, however being here one thing I’ve really learned is how silly it was of me to think this way! I loved every moment of the school work and loved preparing the classes for the pupils. I definitely learned so much from both the pupils and the teachers and they were all so welcoming, which made the experience even more enjoyable. Although the level of English was of a very high standard in the schools, it was amazing to have the opportunity to work in a school where the mother tongue was not my own, and despite being a native speaker, every opportunity and encounter I’ve had, has made me really think about how I use my language, and I would say that my communication skills have improved so much since coming here. My project has been very much based around the thing I love most, and that’s youth work and working as a team of people and creative activities. I have had some really amazing opportunities here, that I will definitely cherish and remember for a long time.

Another real highlight for me was getting the opportunity to go to Nerezine in Croatia. Every year the Red Cross hosts a 10-day summer camp for young people where they have lots of amazing activities planned and for the past few years, the Mladinski Centre have been invited to come for a couple of days and plan their own activities for the young people. It was firstly so nice that I was invited to come along with the team, as it really made me feel like I am a part of the MC ZOS family and I am so grateful for how welcoming and caring everyone is here at the youth centre. But it was also amazing to go to Croatia and have the opportunity to work with the young people. Who would have ever thought that I would get the chance to teach Ceilidh dancing to 80 young people in a beautiful sunny island in Croatia, as well as some other fun activities such as slack lining, jam sessions, cedevita pong and much more! But of course there was still time to chill on the beach and swim in the sea. (another thing that is really amazing for someone who was born and raised in Scotland.

In between all of this, there have also been various events that either I organised or my youth centre or other youth centres in nearby towns have hosted and organised. After a couple of weeks here, I got the honour of having a Scottish evening, where I presented my county, prepared some traditional foods and had a ceilidh. I was so happy with how it went overall and definitely proved to myself that I CAN organise something and it won’t be a complete disaster! Also I made my first powerpointpower point presentation for this too, which for someone who has such limited I.T skills like myself, was a huge achievement, and now infact I can say I will definitely do it again and it’s not something Ii’m afraid of anymore! Another event that I really enjoyed going along to, was a syrian cultural night where 2 brothers who are now living in Ljubljana shared the positive side of their country to us. They are both really amazing young guys and it was an absolute pleasure to get to meet! I even got to help them prepare food, which was fun even if their ”quick and easy to make dish” took us nearly 3 hours!!

Now currently at the youth centre, there is an exchange taking place called ”may the heART be with you”, which is based around tackling the negativity towards the current refugee crisis, immigration and to help young people from different european countries to really understand cultural differences and understand the value of communication. I even got the chance to help out with some workshops, and planned an event where the 2 syrian brothers came and shared their culture and some of their incredible stories to participants, and Tina and Tomaž, who are both familiar faces in the youth centre, shared their experience of being volunteer paramedics at the border, where they provided much needed support to incoming refugees. The main facilitators of the exchange, along with all the other staff and volunteers at the Mladinski Centre have really inspired me during my time here through their dedication and amazing examples of youth work and Ii’m so grateful to have met every single one of them!!

Even in my free time I’ve had some amazing experiences and encounters and met so many amazing people I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have met. Everything from a massive yoga festivals to hitchhiking to Vienna and days in the city and calm, quiet days in the small town of Zagorje I have enjoyed every moment of, and one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is to make the most of every moment as well as taking time for yourself, as sometimes it’s those moments that you truly learn the most about yourself as well as the times where you are giving your time and sharing your passions to others!

EVS volunteer Lindsay-Anna Webster

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