EVS Stories: The start of a Journey – by Andrea

EVS. Let’s go back a couple of months, the year is 2017, it’s hot outside as most days in Malta are, a 17 year old, almost 18, looks down at his phone, and there it was, somewhere between a picture someone posted and an article about another new trend, three big words appeared on the screen ‘European Voluntary Service’ overlaying a picture and more text, all above a hyperlink asking whether or not one wanted to learn more.

Pressing that button more than a year ago changed my life more than I could ever know. Today, here on a sofa in what I now call my home, looking back at the past four months all I can say is thank you, thank you to whoever came up with the idea of EVS, thank you to my hosting organisation for choosing me to be part of this project, thank you to my fellow volunteers, who even though at times wanted to kill me, helped make my experience better than I could have ever dreamed, but my biggest thank you goes to my family at home, for not only supporting me every step of the way, even though they didn’t always agree with what I was doing, but for instilling in me the values of altruism, adventure seeking and independence that lead me to where I am right now. Leaving the gratitude aside for a minute, let’s delve a bit deeper into what it’s actually like to start an EVS in Romania.

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The first thing that hits you is the sheer difference between your country and the country you’ve been put into, this is obviously from the perspective of an island dweller, so anyone already from the continent should take it with a bucket of salt (as a grain might not be enough), the sheer size of the country I found myself in was inconceivable to me at first. Even now, after all those days spent travelling and learning it still bewilders me that it would be easier to get to Krakow, a respectable 3 countries away, (roughly 484 Km away), than the country’s capital (562 Km away) but I digress, the cliché “Size isn’t everything.” is quite clearly justified here, as the biggest difference for me was not the vastness which I encountered, something which could easily be found in any other continent, but the rich culture and beautiful language both of the place and of the volunteers taking part in the project alongside you.

Getting to deal with such a wide range of people, all of whom speak different languages and have different cultures is fascinating to say the least, especially when you become so close to some of these people that you almost start considering them as family. The rhetorical question ‘Aren’t all Europeans the same?’ is about as valid as asking whether a banana and an orange are alike, aren’t they both fruits? OK, fair enough, we’re not talking about visiting a different planet here, after all even cultures half the world away would still share similarities to my own, still, the change in the manner of speaking, that of dealing with people and other things such as the detail oriented-ness, or sometimes lack thereof, is quite clear, this sentiment being echoed by most of the other volunteers as well, not to say that this change is bad, in fact I believe its impact on any volunteer interested in partaking in this experience is quite unique and eye opening, Even the individuals you only have a brief interaction with will leave a mark on your being and character, hopefully for the better. All this, however, pales in comparison to the actual volunteer work you do.

Seeing the people you help, tens of them pour into a room the size of a modest bedroom, wearing clothes which roughly resemble what most of us would have set aside to be used only for repainting a room or performing a particularly intense housekeeping session, barely clean enough to leave the pattern that was once underneath visible, at that moment you realize why you wanted to do all of this in the first place. The sheer joy that beams from them when you hand them a bowl of hot soup, as though you’ve just handed them the world, the smile on their care free faces reminding you of your unnatural and unnecessary attachment to the material world and how insignificant everything you own is in comparison to the basic daily necessities.

Not everyone can accept this realization and keep on going with the project, some people just deem it too much to deal with, turn their back and go home to continue with their comfortable life. A decision which I do not believe anyone can resent them for, the harsh truths of life being what they are sometimes it’s easier to just close your eyes. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to know whether you’re cut out for such an experience or not apart from actually jumping right in, and even if you manage to get through it, the experience will be impactful to say the least. At any rate maybe this brief journal entry might provide some more context for the sort of things you may encounter during your stay in such a project.

Today, 14/03/19, I’ve had my first experience in a night shelter. The first time our coordinator suggested this new activity I felt both excited and slightly worried, I was eager to try something new but the already bursting timetable getting even worse proved hard to swallow, as such when a fellow team member asked when we were going to start I eagerly, yet hesitantly agreed. I had heard stories about this activity from other volunteers, some loved it, others hated it but all had one thing in common to say,” Be cautious.” Upon arrival the incongruity between what I had in my head and what I saw in front of me was obvious, how such a scenario was present in a European country till this day was simultaneously saddening and enlightening. As I got to meet the people I would eventually end up helping out, I could feel the tension that had been building up through the constant misrepresentation of the place by other people melt away to a sense of satisfaction for being able to contribute. A couple of hours into the evening one of the Fathers in charge of the center asked a very simple yet disconcerting question, ” Il padre è malato e non può lavorare questa notte, c’è qualcuno che può aiutarmi?” This question lead me to one of the most memorable activities of the project so far …”,

A story which will have to be continued next time as the limit which was giving to how much I could go on rambling has already been surpassed, consequently this is where I must leave you.

Thank you for taking enough interest to have gotten this far and I hope this entry provided you with what you were looking for, or if not at least a short break from the monotony of everyday life,

Looking forward to seeing you on my next one, who knows what’ll change in another 4 months?

For any further questions or anything of the sort please contact me on – randomwriting2000@gmail.com

Andrea is a Maltese volunteer and he takes part in the “SEV 4×4” project which is an European Voluntary Service financed by the European Commission through Erasmus Plus program.  The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author.