Volunteering Stories: We are where we needed to be – by Elena

If I think about my EVS in Romania, three words come into my mind: SEEDBOMB, COCONUT COOKIES, and BARROW.

SEEDBOMB: it was, in the beginning, a rainy day, I remember it well; confusion, sense of loss, sadness, anger. These were the emotions associated with 16 or 17 of May, in which, to tell the truth, I felt like a fish out of the water. (Literally, because I was so far from my home sea). I wanted to feel emotions, immerse myself in emotions, and perhaps this time I had exaggerated. I also remember very clearly the two days before leaving, in which I seriously considered to give up the project. Maybe I underestimated myself, I underestimated my resources to be able to face all this, that were, finally, part of my story. Or, simply, I felt as always as at every beginning of a new experience: small, like a dot in the sky. Yeah, I’m like that, starting slowly, on tiptoe. The seed bombs were a simple symbol, actually the seeds of various flowers that we, the volunteers, had to plant in small pieces of clay, that once scattered in the city and flourished, would have given color and liveliness. It was a simple initial activity proposed by the coordinators of the various projects, in which I understood absolutely nothing. Perhaps, because they all spoke English so well, and my English, on the other hand, especially after the year of volunteering in Brazil and after practicing Portuguese, was definitely worse, if not even forgotten. Or maybe I just had to understand and experience what my role would be for the next days, weeks, months.

COCONUT COOKIES: about a month or two later, after long and probably normal moments of hesitation, I started to really appreciate this project and felt part of it. During the first few weeks I didn’t take initiative, I let others to do it. Then something happened. Slowly, I understood how much and what I could do in every field of work and, step by step, I started to develop empathy with the volunteers of my project and in general of the association. I felt that everyone, although arriving with very different motivations and experiences, shared something important, which perhaps I can now explain simply as the desire to do something good for others that have more needs. Even with the locals, coordinators and people connected to the association, the main feeling was one of welcome and openness. Also, thanks to these positive relationships my participation in working moments became more and more active. Whether it was in organizing a game for the children of the orphanage, preparing drawings for the little ones in the pediatric department of the hospital, or inventing tasty cooking recipes (like the coconut cookies), to be tested at the center for disabled youth:

Slowly I felt the sensation of being in the right place, at the right time.

The last word, BARROW, corresponds to the phase experienced recently, to which I could associate other words like bomb, fire, storm. In this last month of EVS what happened outside and inside me was literally an explosion: of ideas, of energy, of motivation and, above all, of awareness. Awareness of not being able to change the world or save anyone, but simply to  bring a little joy, a smile or something good to learn to those who needed it most the next day (even outside the timetable of work). The activity in which I have understood over time that I can fully express my abilities it was on Mondays, in one of the Roma communities of the city. Here the children live in wooden houses, many of them cannot read or write and the level of attention of more than two minutes is non-existent. Although, in that hour and a half a week, what I observe was a need of equality for everyone, from the bigger to the smaller ones. A need for essence, listening, or simply loving. These children from the community welcomed us in a way that little, especially from the material point of view, things are important, even just a hug. I remember smiling one of those Monday afternoons, in which, as usual, we decided to go through the community to arrive at the “common space” dedicated to the activities. With me, another volunteer takes the same path; together we meet a local boy who, on top of a burrowed trained horse, invited us to ride it to get to the point faster, to start the activities. It was definitely crazy, it felt like a roller coaster, I made my ankles full of mud and for the first time I really felt like I was doing something, not just for, but WITH the community. I mentioned a little while ago that being a volunteer in this EVS does not mean just being included in the activities specified in the contract. No, volunteer is more, it’s a choice, a lifestyle, every day, at every hour. If I could associate a last word for the last phase lived in the past weeks, I would choose ”Denisa”. She is one of the many gypsy girls who beg for money on the street, near the apartment where I currently live. That day she asked me too, while I was waiting with someone to eat lunch in a small bar, in the area. That person was thinking like me, and together we invited the child to sit down, she told us her name, a little of her life, and we ordered something to eat together. I think that the essence of the project, or at least the reason for me being here now, is to get involved and accept, setting aside prejudices or stereotypes that have no purpose but to create walls that divide people from each other. What I felt and tried to put into practice every day in this EVS, and not only, is to consider everyone as an important piece of a great puzzle, perhaps conceived by someone “bigger” than all of us. I found it curious and not entirely casual that the symbol of the Team for Youth association was just a puzzle piece. I like to use this metaphor thinking that coming here, experiencing this culture, for me, was a way to find and put together a special piece of MY puzzle.

Five months before…

My  name is Elena, I am twenty-five years old and since I was about one year or one and a half  I live in a city not too chaotic in north-east Italy, near the sea. My first, very first, moments of life I spent the, right here, in Romania. There, at that time, I was given a name, Florina, then it became the second, a baptism and a safe place where I could continue my days. I have always lived with the presence of being lucky and I wanted to “thank” this life or who gave me the data, helping me become someone else, this time in my home country. Volunteer experiences, education and social activities are not something so new for me: about two years ago I finished my studies as a social worker and last year I spent as a volunteer in a community of children in Brazil. Once I was back, I felt that I wanted to continue in this direction, so, I started looking for a possible new project, and one in particular caught my attention. The name of the project was 4×4 and involved staying in a city in the north of Romania, Baia Mare, for four months as a volunteer at the Team for Youth Association. The chosen volunteers established in all four, one from Malta, two from France and only one from Italy. The target group  was composed of vulnerable groups, such as children from an orphanage, kids Roma community, hospitalized kids or adults in a day center for the disabled.

Thinking about it, but not too long I decided to organize and send my application for this project ….

Elena is an Italian volunteer and she 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.