We can talk a lot about European Solidarity Corps. About conditions, technical moments, opportunities, short and long term, about trips and ways of impact on local communities. But the best way to ensure you that ESC is worth to try its listen voices of ex-volunteers. In July 2021 group of young Ukrainians and Italians met in Polish city Gdynia and… To understand what they were doing during their volunteering read their stories and impressions.

Irene Borushok:

“Imagine: you are scrolling through the tape of “opportunities” in Telegram, noticing “#children #Poland #Gdynia #month” and just in case applying for it. Of course, soon you forget about it (having already dreamed a little about the “cold” Baltic Sea), and here you receive a call from an unknown number, listen to the details of volunteering and at that moment *trite* you cannot even imagine what you will go through and how lucky you are…

To be (or at least seem) clear, I will highlight the main things.

1. Yes, you should go volunteering.

2. Yes, “Prostir idey” is an organization worth trusting. It was here that I felt the presence of not only constant support, but also care, you know the feeling when people worry about me, and people are interested in me.

3. The very same can be said about the hosting organization – CWM.

4. What I’ve been doing this month: worked in a development center focused on children from disadvantaged households. The work took 4 hours/ 3 days a week and one “travel day”, that is, a longer one.

Friday was an evaluation day, and it turned out to be quite a necessary process. Stopping in the middle of a whirlwind of events, focusing and analyzing what is happening… force yourself to find, dig up the answer to various questions, listen to others and help each other in this search.

5. Yes, we not only worked with children, but also relaxed, spent time with other volunteers, visited cinema, exhibitions, national parks, the sea (btw, it’s not cold), had inspiring night conversations, both Ukrainian and Italian traditional  dinners, visited a bunch of bars and parties, had lots of funny (and not so) everyday moments, traveled to other cities (sometimes even spending 7 hours standing in the train), lived at couchsurfers’ place, met people from all over the world, listening and telling stories not only of our lives but also our countries…

6. Yes, now looking back, I simply cannot imagine myself having gone to another project, to another country and would never have known those (such!) people, adventures, impressions and insights.

7. Personally, this esc youth volunteering seemed to be a miniature model of society – a group of strangers is placed in certain circumstances, are given certain tasks and goals, indicating that tolerance and respect for the boundaries of others reign here, and there is a place for everyone.

A representation of the society we all strive for.

8. Yes, in my opinion, such projects are one of the most successful EU capital investments. Definitely.

9. Yes, I am grateful to everyone involved in this project for giving young people the opportunity to feel this life, to rethink and realize things that are often impossible to understand without such experience…

10. Yes, you should go volunteering!

I will be glad to answer any of your questions!

Telegram: https://t.me/irenebkm

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/irene.borushok

Diana Davydova:

“The goal that I pursued when applying for volunteering was, first of all, to get a new experience. At the time of applying, I graduated from the university, I already had work experience in general, but I had never worked with children and had practically no contact with them. And in general, you can say, I was afraid of children.So this trip was a challenge for me.
Earlier I was in Poland and therefore this country did not cause me anxiety before something new. Now, when I graduated from volunteering, I had the idea that it was worth choosing another country, since volunteering gives a great opportunity to live in an environment that you have never been. My expectations from volunteering were as follows: we come to work, where we actively interact with children and participate in all processes. But, unfortunately, everything turned out quite differently. We were more like escorts and our help was not particularly needed there. Fortunately, I had a good educator, so every week she gave our group of volunteers some responsible tasks. For example, to lead a group of children to the venue of the event or to make a purchase of products before the trip. When I received at least some tasks from managers, I felt that I was here for a reason. We also had a day of activities, during which volunteers should come up with and organize interesting activities for children for the whole day. It is very important to have a good connection with your team, because people do not always have ideas or want to express them, but when you are together, it becomes easier and more interesting. In general, we were not required to do anything and were not forced to do anything. We went somewhere every day, went a lot, looked at the city. We were well fed, during the trip we, like the children, were given water, cookies or a bun, a banana. The second time we were fed at lunch together with the children. Most often it was fast food like pizza or French fries with nuggets, but there was also a healthier meal in a cafe where we could choose what we wanted for a certain amount.

I can single out the language barrier as one of the main problems for myself. I have a poor level of English and I have never used it in communicating with people. Things are better with Polish. I was quite good at interacting with children, although we did not always understand each other. I was lucky, my educator was Ukrainian and we could freely contact her. However, it was more difficult for me with foreign volunteers who only know English. So this led me to the idea that it is worth seriously taking up the study of English. Also, every Friday we attended rallies at which, most often, we also spoke English, as a public language for all those present. Therefore, as a person with a low level of English, it was very difficult for me to express my thoughts fully. I felt insecure and incomplete. My poor understanding of the language did not give me the opportunity to be maximally involved in the volunteering process and created difficulties in communicating with foreigners. Therefore, I would advise people with at least basic conversational English to go to volunteering. This will be especially useful for people who want to improve their spoken English, since there are a lot of opportunities to communicate with foreigners there. In the major cities of Poland, you can meet people of various nationalities.
It took very little time to work. Our work started at 9 am, and at 13:00 we were already free. During this time, you do not have time to get tired, so there is an opportunity to walk around the city or go to the neighboring one for an excursion. Volunteering is a great opportunity to go to another country and get a new experience. When you come somewhere for a couple of days, you do not have time to feel the life of local residents, most often tourist trips do not give you the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the life of the country, the city. Thanks to volunteering, I had the opportunity to live for a whole month in a small town near the sea. The city itself did not impress me much, since it is very small and more touristic, but there are two other cities near it that can be reached by train in 20-30 minutes and these are completely different impressions. Each of the three cities is special and interesting in its own way.

Housing. We were settled in a large hostel, 2-3 people per room. The rooms are comfortable, cozy, there is enough space for three, there is a private bath and toilet. The kitchen was shared. Life inside the hostel did not cause discomfort, the problem was different. The hostel itself was located a 10-minute drive from the center, since the city is small, it is not difficult to get somewhere at all. But the problem was that the hostel is located near the port in an industrial area, there are only highways and overpasses around us, which is why there are no shops nearby. If you urgently need to buy something – there is no such possibility. It is necessary to go to the center. This has its drawback.
On Fridays, we held meetings in the office, where all the volunteers and our coordinators gathered. We discussed how the week went, the coordinators gave us tasks that helped us better understand our emotions and feelings during work. These were very interesting meetings that made us think and look inside ourselves. Also, many tasks were related to interaction, we were often put in pairs or groups where we could communicate and share our experiences and thoughts with each other. In addition to working issues, it was possible to discuss personal experiences and problems related to living there. The coordinators write down important questions and try to listen to everyone, they are very open and tolerant people.
I have never taken part in volunteering before, so it was a useful experience. I want to say that one month is not enough to get some professional skills from volunteering, but as an opportunity to go to another country and study culture, this is a great option. Also, I want to emphasize that this type of leisure is suitable for social people. Personally, I am not a very sociable person, I quickly get tired of spending time in large companies, so it was difficult for me to get used to this pace of life. In general, I do not regret that I had the opportunity to participate in this project. Any movement gives you valuable experience and changes your perception of the world.”

Alyona Kryvosheiinko:

“When I was going on the project back then, I could never imagine it would turn out to be the best month of my life. The time in Poland wasn’t only about acquiring working experience abroad and discovering a new country. It was much more than that! It was about the whole best multicultural volunteer squad that would always be by your side; that would cheer you up on the gloomiest day; that would make you hot tea, bring food and take care of you while you are lying almost dead after the vaccination you had got just recently; that would open up their deepest parts of their souls to you; that would accept you no matter what race or religion or sexuality you are; that would never shut you up only because your opinion is totally different from theirs. It was about acceptance and inclusiveness. It was about our caring mentors who would help with any issue we had, who would give support when needed, who would always remind us of what amazing people we are, and what great change and improvement we were making. It was about broadening your outlook by hearing other people’s great new ideas and opinions, listening to their stories about past experiences realizing how different life conditions can be, and this way making you feel more empathy for others.
Such experience is indeed life-changing. It will inevitably make you look at some things from a different angle and expose you to new unexpected situations if you are ready to expose yourself to it and embrace what you are given.

To me, not only was it a place to add a brand new experience under my belt but it also was a community where I found truly wonderful people who we made friends with.

It felt like home.”

Artem Verchyk:

“It all started with a regular post on the «Prostir Idey» page on Facebook. Seeing him, thought “What will happen and will happen.” I have long wanted to try myself on volunteering but every project was a long term and I could not leave college and just go. But now I would do it). Long-awaited call: Congratulations, you were accepted and you had priority because you are one guy in the team. Wow… Everyone who heard it said lucky – strange people. Then a meeting with the Ukrainian team of volunteers in Kremenchug. A week has passed since and it’s time to go.  Honestly, there have been doubts in recent days. At the time of filling out the questionnaire, I was not thinking about anything other than this project, and later there were many reasons not to go). But still leaving the comfort zone, I was at Kiev airport 8 hours before departure to spend more time with volunteers who arrived + – at a similar time) P.S. I had the opportunity to come later but….

 Well, then the project began. Many new acquaintances, evening gatherings by the sea, trips to Krakow, to the national park, millions of trips by night trains to Gdansk, WELL AND OF COURSE WORK WITH CHILDREN. It was quite easy. Once a week we had a volunteer day when we did activities for children, on other days we just accompanied the children, talked to them, made puzzles and played uno).

This project was the best in my 18 years. He helped me discover many new things in myself, new interests, become more open to others, find new friends and learn more about Poland.

The most interesting thing is that such projects surprise you in various aspects:

not knowing English you start talking to foreigners in English;

saying that: “discos and clubs are not mine” – you start flexing on the party, not understanding how you agreed to go to her.

Such projects open you and everything for you. THAT’S WHY I advise everyone. If you are reading this leave all doubts and GO)

If you are interested in more, you can write to me on instagram @WPS_RK

And there is a short video https://www.instagram.com/tv/CSMCdXWoVkW/?utm_medium=copy_link. ”

Tetiana Solonetska:

“However our project was quite short, only month, but it was full of emotions. Despite our fears and team’s diversity we became real family for that July. Everything started with week quarantaine in Poland, about what we were informed just a few days before flight. The most important in such situation, when circumstances aren’t the best, be sure in your decision and have no doubts that you’re right. It’s better to go on project with smile and hope, than with doubts and indecisiveness. It’s cool that all ukrainian group was ready for temporary discomfort and we spent that week with laugh and joy. Common movie watch, different discussions, cooking, bathroom queue, day sleep, waiting for meeting with italians – all that stuff made us real family. Sick after vaccination, we moved to hostel where all our sleepless adventure begun. Visited a couple of cities, saw a lot of destinations, met huge amount of people, and our volunteering project became a free vacation with non-stop partying. Now guess it’s time to talk about volunteering itself.

Like everyone I thought we would spend more time with children, because our project was connected with work in children centers. As it revealed, summer is time for everyone to relax and enjoy, so every day we went on leisure trips to different museums and entertainment centers. I remained pleased with working time though we had not so many interaction with kids because of the language barrier. It’s was a little bit challenging, but very interesting. In this month each of us faced some difficulties, fears, and successfully overcame them. I’m sure that everybody morally grew up and made some evaluations during this volunteering. Personally I have faced two of my biggest fears and absolutely unexpected situations became triggers for that.

I was scared and frustrated in the moment, but even then I was happy. I felt through that anxiety I have understood better myself and my behavior. Only accepted reality became easier to express myself, understand my feelings and realize my desires. We had a lot of fun, slept for 3 hours, made bruises, cought flu, were dying after vaccination, were back to sleep during day, were tired of partying, bathed in Baltic Sea, had queue to do laundry, were late, cried, laughed, were upset, admired, resented, sort things out, were silence, shouted, danced, sang, were worried, found relief, hugged, kissed, fell in love, said goodbye with sadness. And all that for that short month duration of hundred memories.”

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By alena

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European Solidarity Corps    Eastern Europe & Caucasus Resource Centre    Громадські ініціативи України