By Himanshu Shukla
“How did you get to be an EVS volunteer? Isn’t it only for Europeans?”
This is the question I got asked so many times by my friends, my acquaintances and even by my co-passengers on my flight to Slovenia. I told them that I am on a parallel EVS project under which India sends volunteers to Europe.
While gathering more information about Slovenia as part of my preparation before I left, I found so many interesting things about the country – things that were very different from my country, but also some similarities too.
The EVS is part of the Youth in Action Program of the European Commission. It gives young people between 18 and 30 years of age the opportunity to participate in voluntary activities abroad, in all the countries of the European Union and its Partner Countries. The EVS lasts between two and twelve months. It has three important actors: a sending organization in the home country of the volunteer, a hosting organization abroad and, of course, a volunteer. After waiting for more than half year, my departure date to Slovenia was confirmed.
Dora, an EVS volunteer from my co-ordinating organization, Zavod Voluntariat, received me at the airport. Slovenia, although foreign to me, gave a pleasant first impression, especially because in February the temperature fell below zero.
On my arrival in Ljubljana, I was surprised and excited to see snowfall. It was the first time I saw snow!
The EVS project includes an on-arrival training and a mid-term training. I found the on-arrival training very informative, and I was able to learn so much about European culture as well as initiate my own topics of discussion. The training was conducted in a hotel outside of the Ljubljana, in Laško. We were divided into two groups – those who had just arrived and those who were on their mid-term evaluation. This allowed us to discuss more easily our current feelings and experiences of EVS so far. The training involved games, discussions, and presentations, and this allowed me to meet and interact with all the other volunteers.
In our free time, we used the swimming pool and the sauna at the hotel, which in the cold winter was just perfect, and kept us relaxed before the next day’s discussion.
I live in an apartment with two other volunteers – Dora and David. They helped me a lot to adapt in the new environment easily and rapidly. When not in training, I spent some time travelling in Laško. I even climbed a mountain!
The city centre is full of historical monuments and must-see attractions, such as the Prešeren trg (Prešeren Square). I particularly enjoy walking around the city and interacting with the local people, and understanding culture and habits. I am also learning basic Slovenian.
Once while I was walking on the streets in Laško, a police car came over and stopped beside me. They asked me to show them my documents, which I confidently did. I also used some Slovenian phrases which I learnt before my departure from New Delhi. The police were polite and nice. This was my first interaction with Slovenians outside of my voluteering organization.
Initially, my time here was easy as I found the weather very exciting. Later, while traveling around the city I often lost directions, but now I realize that it was part of the learning. I now understand that learning is a continous process.
In this learning, my host organization Zavod Voluntariat provided me with much support and help. Zavod Voluntariat is a non-profit organisation to promote the ideas of peace, social justice, sustainable development, international cooperation and solidarity through exchange of volunteers and volunteering projects.
I realize that time is flying quickly. I intend to utilize all the time I have here by taking the opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries (countries within the Schengen area because I have a Schengen visa), and also to enjoy my time in Slovenia as much as I can. I will be sad to leave this small but beautiful country behind.
I know there is no glamour in being a volunteer. We don’t wear fancy clothes, attend exclusive parties, stay in posh hotels when we travel. But there is passion, a sense of adventure, and a constant need to do more, hear more stories, have more experiences, and visit more places. As volunteers, we are eager to embrace and explore the new, and at the same time we get to share who we are. There is a will to make our work better, to contribute to the community in which we are living, and to reach more people with our activities. There is pleasure in sharing our knowledge about our own countries, sharing our vocabulary, explaining our habits, and sharing our pictures.
With all this, comes a bond that we inevitably create with extraordinary people as a result of coincidence, work, and through common friends.
There is some sadness in knowing that eventually we will move onto our different paths. There are people with whom we share so much, with whom we connect so instantly, and grow to love in such a deep way that it is hard to imagine that in a short time from now, we all will be living with the distance of many countries between us.
About the author – Himanshu Shukla is a former ETASHA trainee and is currently an EVS volunteer in Slovenia.