My name is Maria, I’m from Belarus. It’s hard to believe it but I’m staying in Baia Mare for almost 9 months now (I feel like I have arrived here a week ago)! Only 3 months left and my EVS experience will come to the end. Now I can definitely say that the time I spent here is one of the brightest and the most memorable experiences of my life.
Before coming here I had already had some experience of volunteering in orphanages, in children cancer center, in adult institutions, and I also have an experience of volunteering in Italy, where I accompanied Belarusian children from Chernobyl area for summer and Christmas holidays. Volunteering is something I really enjoy for some reasons: you really do something to change the situation around you, and you inspire the others to do the same even if your impact is really small, you do things you really enjoy and you have enough freedom to use all your ideas and your creativity, and of course you meet new people and make new friends.
So I was invited to join my project ”Eye Care/Day care” by organization Office of Initiatives Promotions, the project was quite long, for the whole year and it took place in Romania, the country I didn’t really know a lot about (well, yes, I only knew that Dracula came from Romania, and also according to my Italian experience I knew that many Romanian people work abroad, and It’s really a pity for me to realize now how little information Belorussian people know about that wonderful country). I had to think really carefully about my decision. The project description was really interesting to me, it consisted of two absolutely different fields, after school activities with kids and working with blind people, I love working with kids, and I was really curious about working with blind people so the decision had been taken, and in March I arrived in Baia Mare.
Romanian culture seemed me quite similar to Belorussian and I found a lot of common things in traditions, food habits, citizens’ lifestyle, but there are some things that seemed to me really unusual. Road lights of Baia Mare are really not friendly to pedestrians and sometimes ¼th of your way you spend waiting for the green light. Bus drivers are not that friendly as well, and sometimes it seems that they have no idea that there are some people in their bus and they try some extreme driving tips, and it seems that that they all had one driving instructor who taught them because their manner of driving is absolutely the same. And of course, great amount of churches. Never (seriously, never) set an appointment with anybody near the church. The possibility that you and your partner will wait for each other near different churches is really high, every 200 meters or sometimes even less you will meet a church. And the strangest part is that with the time you start to love those things, and if you don’t wait for a green light for a long time or you don’t see any churches around you, you have a feeling that something is missing.
I loved my new EVS family from the first day of being in Romania, open and creative office staff, positive and so different volunteers from all over the world, I have to say I felt comfortable with people most of the time of my EVS, and I’m really grateful for that. I’ve met a lot of amazing new friends and great flat mates. The saddest part of EVS is that one day you have to say good bye to people you really got used to, with whom you have spent a great number of amazing (and sometimes not so amazing) moments, the tragedy of long term project is that there are too many moments like that. But there is some good news: you keep in touch with them after they come home and you have an opportunity to meet new amazing volunteers as well.
I absolutely fell in love with Romanian people, positive, open minded, hospitable and friendly, always ready to help. They love their culture and respect their traditions. Here I have discovered hitchhiking (the main volunteers’ way of traveling), that I really enjoy, because most of the time we meet interesting and positive people.
About my activities, I can say that I enjoy all of them, but of course I have my priorities. My favorite one is working with visually impaired people; I can definitely say that my whole EVS is about this. I have discovered a new world with its rules that are so different from the rules that we got used to follow. Now I know, visually impaired people can be absolutely independent, if they have nice and friendly surrounding where they can develop themselves, when their family and friends support them and encourage them. We have met amazing examples of fully independent visually impaired people. Most of them are really talented; they sing, dance and play musical instruments. Together with my colleague from Ukraine we have English lessons for two amazing visually impaired young people, Norbert and Raluca. Norbert has musical band and plays drums, Raluca is really smart and good at studies. My favorite event that we organized was and exhibition called “re-discover Baia Mare by senses”. People could “discover” different places of Baia Mare by touch, smell taste and listening. As all of them were blindfolded, they could discover the world around them just like blind people usually do it.
EVS definitely changes you, mostly in a positive way. It opens up your mind, it teaches you to trust yourself and people around you; it helps you to understand who you are and what you really want. If I had to start my EVS from very beginning, I would repeat every single moment of it, no matter positive or negative one, because in the end above the cloud with its shadow there is the sun with its light.
Maria Ivanova is enrolled in the ”Eye Care/Day Care” project, an European Voluntary Service (EVS), hosted by Team for Youth Association, in Baia Mare and financed by the European Commission, through the Erasmus+ Programme.