The project “10 Years of EVS”, organized by VIEWS International, took place from May 30th until June 4th 2016 in Liège, Belgium. The activity gathered young visually impaired people, as well as youth workers with or without visual impairment, engaged in EVS projects. More specifically, it was an Evaluation visit under Key Action 1, in the framework of the Erasmus+ Programme.
In order to give a little bit of context, our organization has been hosting young visually impaired people since 2006, with special attention to their specific needs. Moreover, at the European level, it has been 20 years since the European Voluntary Service was launched. The project, therefore, was devised to celebrate both these important events.
The countries participating in the project were Belgium (BE), Bulgaria (BG), Germany (DE), Finland (FI), Italy (IT), Poland (PL), Romania (RO), Spain (ES) and Turkey (TR). Each partner sent two participants, a young visually impaired person and a youth worker, both engaged in an EVS project and interested in the topic. The activity saw the participation of 20 people, as there were two partners from Turkey.
During the activity, all participants had the opportunity to evaluate our 10-year work with adapted EVS for visually impaired people. They also had the chance to share their experiences as sending and hosting organization for volunteers.
We would like to broaden our network of hosting/coordinating organizations, so that more young visually impaired people get the chance to partake in projects such as the EVS, and with a wider range of projects to choose from.
- – To measure EVS’s impact on the professional, personal and social life of the visually impaired volunteers, as well as the associations involved;
- – to increase the ability of European organisations to manage projects for VIPs and to exchange good practices on how to adapt EVS projects for them;
- – to gather ideas for the creation of a brochure for the organisations, with tips on how to manage such projects.
In order to achieve our objectives, we adopted a dynamic approach: we organized group activities, brain-storming sessions to share experiences, and an open-space presentation with stands, where everyone got the chance to present his work with EVS.
Brief description of the activity
On the 6-day activity, all participants got the chance to share their experiences. Former European volunteers, youth workers from sending organisations and other experts brought their knowledge and experience to the table. Moreover, the participants had the opportunity to visit some of VIEWS International’s hosting projects.
During the activity, a very important question was asked: “What can we do to broaden our network? How can we improve in the future?”. Rosaria explained very clearly what the whole matter was about.
Read her article on 10 years of adapted EVS
Read what some of the participants have to say.
Ten years of Adapted EVS: time to think about the past and the future
Young people from different countries meeting each other while learning and working on a specific theme: it is a concept that Views International has been using for many years, in order to stimulate international exchange between blind and visually impaired people.
On the 30th of may, yet another exchange was organized in the Belgian city of Liège. This time, for a very special occasion: the 10th anniversary of ‘Adapted EVS’ that, coincidence or not, fell together with the 20th anniversary of EVS itself.
During six days, about 30 youngsters, representing 9 associations from 8 countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey) were gathered to celebrate and evaluate this very crucial initiative, that opened the door for blind and visually impaired youth to experience intercultural learning while offering their services as a volunteer.
The program for the week was a well balanced mix between fun and hard work, where there was room for energisers, workshops, presentations and a project visit.
The participants, of which most were visually impaired or blind and already had an EVS experience, shared their ideas about Adapted EVS, its reasons for existing and its evolution throughout the 10 years.
This information sharing turned out to be an excellent way of enlarging and strengthening the network between countries and associations. Moreover, everyone agreed that, in order to guarantee Adapted EVS’s long existence, more organisations should be informed and stimulated to pick up the role of sending, hosting and/or coordinating association.
In order to address the organisations, participants were assigned to create an easy-to-read brochure with an introduction to Adapted EVS and guidelines for becoming a sending, hosting or coordinating organization.
But as the spoken word is not to be under-estimated, a workshop in public speaking was also part of this program. That workshop ended with an action plan for the participants: the promise to give at least one presentation within the upcoming months. Thanks to modern technology, there is no escape, as participants shall prove that they actually fulfilled their task.
It has been an extremely busy week, but towards the end, we did manage to sit down with all participants, and listen to what they had to say about this celebrating exchange.
It was clear that everyone agreed on the necessity of more organisations to be involved in the Adapted EVS. Young people want a variety to choose from and that can only happen when more choices of projects are available. Therefore, they found the creation of the brochure an excellent idea and there is the hope that, once translated in all languages, Adapted EVS will grow and more volunteers will get the chance to step into this wonderful experience.
Bahar from Turkey, for example, seemed confident that Edged, the organization she represented, will be ready to send or host a volunteer very soon. Therefore, she found the guidelines extremely handy.
On the other hand, the testimonials of former EVS participants were extremely helpful for potentially future volunteers. As Jessica from Spain and Michela from Italy will be volunteering in Belgium very soon, they listened very carefully to what will be expected from them, and what they can expect from their stay abroad. Surely, this week has given them more confidence and reassured them that a life-changing few months awaited them. Learning a new language and new skills that will be useful in their future professional lives, but also, gaining independence, leaving the home environment in order to be self-reliant… Can a person get a better boost than that?
Concerning the evolution of Adapted EVS, Italian Anna Rita is happy to see that volunteers are now able to stay up to nine months in their project. In her case, she felt that her project was not completely finished, as she had to stop her work with the children in the middle of the school year, and no proper hand-over to the next volunteer could be provided. Also, 4 months seemed insufficient to gain complete independence and to fully integrate into the new society. ‘Good point’, according to Senni from Finland, who definitely is considering a long-term EVS experience, after she already had been in Slowakia for a short-term stay.
One stakeholder that also deserves our attention is the mentor. We were lucky to have Alba from Spain in our midst, who was looking at this week’s events from her perspective. Being a mentor, she admits that it is not always easy to estimate what exactly the needs are of individuals who join the EVS program. She learned that dialogue is crucial and that not all individuals need the same assistance. Although, there is a well-written scenario on how to be a good mentor, it is essential for the volunteer to know that he/she is not alone and that the mentor is there to support in the most comfortable way possible.
The interviews went on for a few hours, but it was a joy to see that everyone, from their perspective, had a good feeling about the past 10 years, a great appreciation towards the evolution, and the genuine believe in the further success of Adapted EVS.
And to hold that thought, it was time for the one thing that cannot be missed in such an important jubilee: the party, where traditional songs and dances could not come without local snacks and drinks.
By Rosaria Fusco from Italy
Brochure "10 years of EVS"
10 YARS OF EVS WITH VIEWS INTERNATIONAL
TRAINING COURSE & SEMINAR
Liège, 30/05 – 5/06/2016
With the support of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Commission.
This brochure is the result of the activities carried out at “10 years of EVS”, a project that took place in Liège, Belgium, between 30th May and 4th June 2016. The representatives of the 8 participating countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and Turkey) contributed to the writing of the brochure with the experiences they have gathered in the field of adapted EVS over the last 10 years.
The brochure aims to give an exhaustive overview of the situation of adapted EVS, as it is 10 years after it was first put in place. Though it mainly targets sending and hosting organizations wanting to carry out this accessible form of EVS, it can also be consulted by visually impaired people interested in the programme.
What is EVS?
The EVS (European Voluntary Service), organized in the framework of the Erasmus+ programme, enables people between 18 and 30 years of age to volunteer abroad: almost all EU Member States participate in the programme, as well as other countries.
There are two types of EVS: short-term (between 2 weeks and 2 months) and long-term (between 2 months and 1 year). Volunteers are allowed to take part in only one EVS, but they can do a long-term one if they only did a short one.
What kind of work can an EVS volunteer do?
An EVS volunteer may do different kinds of work, such as office work, social care, projects, at a school, associations, hospitals, art, sport, culture and much more, as long as he doesn’t act as replacement for a paid employee and is not directly and solely responsible for vulnerable people. The volunteer’s work must be something useful not only to him/her, but also to the hosting organization and the society.
After the project has been approved, the hosting association is asked to provide an estimation of its total costs. Before the co-operation starts, the hosting organization will receive 80% of the estimated amount, whereas the remaining 20% will be provided once the project is finished and the final report has been submitted. The volunteer’s travel expenses to and from the hosting country are covered by the Erasmus+ programme and their financial optimum level is defined through the distance calculator available here.
The total amount is divided into three parts. The first part is the budget given to the hosting organization to pay for the volunteer’s accommodation and food, as well as his license for the Online Linguistic Support (€150) and other daily living equipment. The amount provided depends on the hosting country; however, there are fixed rates, which can be found in the user guides of the Erasmus+ Programme.
The second part of the budget concerns the pocket money, which the hosting organization receives and transfers to the volunteer on a monthly basis; its amount, as in the previous case, depends on the hosting country (more information can be found on the Erasmus+ user guide). This is the only amount of money that the volunteer receives directly, and he can do with it whatever he prefers.
The last part of the budget concerns special costs, which may include mobility and daily living sessions, as well as the adaptation of documents (Braille, large print etc.). They may also cover adapted language classes, when the language of the hosting country is not available in the OLS or if there are accessibility issues with the platform. The fourth part of the budget, henceforth defined as “exceptional cost”, is dedicated to expenses such as city hall registration, vaccination and visa (including trips to the embassies, as long as the expenses can be justified with receipts). The exceptional costs budget may be also used for the Advanced Planning Visit (APV), an optional visit arranged by the hosting organization to meet the volunteer and understand his specific requirements; the visit is a great opportunity for the volunteer to have a first contact with his future accommodation, as well as the people who will support him throughout the project.
It is worth noting that the hosting organization is entitled to apply for external funding, to integrate that of the Erasmus+ programme. Furthermore, after the approval of the project it is strongly recommended that sending, hosting and co-ordinating organization sign a voluntary agreement with the volunteer, with all the estimated expenses.
At the end of the EVS, the hosting organization will have to produce all the invoices and receipts for the encountered expenses, except for pocket money which does not need to be justified. The part of the budget that has not been used for the volunteer is shared between sending, co-ordinating and hosting organization, and the first two usually keep about 5% of it.
Covered expenses for the volunteer
All EVS volunteers get free board and lodging, as well as free health insurance. They also receive pocket money from the receiving organization. To give an example, in 2016 at VIEWS International, in Belgium, volunteers received a monthly amount of €112 (pocket money) and €200 (food).
How to prepare for an EVS?
If you’re between 18 and 30 years of age and you want to do an EVS, the first thing you need to do is find both a sending and a hosting organization. Also, you should choose in which field you would like to work: would you find it interesting to deal with culture, leisure and sport, or would you rather do something in the domain of social services or office work? You must be honest with yourself and choose a field that you are truly interested in and which can bring out the best of you.
One of the core goals of the EVS project has always been to engage as many young people as possible, even the most disadvantaged. This has definitely been achieved with regards to blind and visually impaired people, in the form of adapted EVS. Main focus of this brochure, adapted EVS has been carried out by sending and hosting organizations since 2006, only 10 years after EVS itself was launched. All the countries contributing to this brochure are engaged in this accessible form of EVS, be it as sending organization, hosting organization or both, and it is their experiences that we want to share with the readers.
Adapted EVS’s primary aim is to meet the special needs of partially sighted and blind volunteers. Therefore, the sending organization should have an open dialogue with the visually impaired person about his/her specific needs and the opportunities offered by EVS. The hosting organization, on the other hand, should be aware that some activities may have to be adapted to each person’s specific needs. Volunteers are provided with mobility and daily living skills sessions, as well as adapted apartment, workplace, language classes and timetables.
Specific aids such as dymmo Braille, white cane etc. are included in the special costs covered by EVS, as well as targeted training (orientation and mobility, daily living skills), reinforced mentorship, assistance, adaptation of working and living environment).
Laws, rights and facilities
Each country has different laws pertaining visually impaired people, e.g. public transport’s costs. It is therefore important to get familiar with these laws before starting the adapted EVS. A very good way to get information and advice is to contact blind-related organizations in the hosting country, e.g. for the UK you can consult RNIB’s website. The key to success is the close co-operation between sending and hosting organizations and the engagement of local associations for visually impaired people.
Disability rights and facilities, too, can vary greatly from country to country. The hosting association can get information on these matters through local relevant associations.
The term “mobility” indicates a series of sessions where the volunteer is taught how to autonomously reach all the places he/she needs to reach in his daily life throughout the whole project. This includes, of course, the way from home to the workplace, as well as routes to essential places (supermarkets, pharmacies, shops, train station, bus stops) and entertainment places (cinemas, museums, theatres). The sessions will enable the volunteer to get to know the city and to navigate it independently, using either a cane or a guide dog. The way sessions unfold varies according to the sight level of the volunteer (partially sighted or totally blind) and his/her familiarity with the white cane. The sessions are led by qualified instructors, who can be found in local associations for the blind.
Daily living skills
The daily living training depends on the volunteer’s level of independence and visual impairment: someone may need to learn how to cook, clean and iron, whereas someone else may just need to get some quick adaptations for the apartment and its equipment (washing machine, oven etc.). The daily living training is carried out by experts, who can be found in local associations for the blind.
It is essential for the volunteer to learn the language of the hosting country. Before departure, the volunteer should have at least a basic knowledge of the local language, though the required level depends on the project he/she’s embarking on. Language courses are provided by the Online Linguistic Support, shortened as OLS, even though not all the languages of the hosting countries are currently available. Before the starting of the EVS, each volunteer will receive a license which will enable them to access the platform throughout the whole duration of the project.
If the language of the hosting country is not available on OLS, or if the platform is not accessible to the visually impaired person (which is often the case), he must attend an offline language course, that may be provided by schools for foreigners and the like. The course material shall be provided either in electronic format or in Braille, according to the volunteer’s preference.
Advanced Planning Visit (APV)
Every visually impaired volunteer is invited to an adapted preparatory visit to the hosting city (2-3 days), so as to get a real idea of the place where he will be living and working: as pictures are of little use to him, he can physically walk from and to the places he will use the most, being thus able to create his first mental map of the surroundings. Besides, the visit enables him to figure out whether he really likes the work he would be doing as volunteer and whether he actually feels ready to do it.
During the visit, the volunteer gets to meet all the people who will be engaged in his EVS project: mentor, mobility instructor, daily living skills officer, foreign language teacher, etc, as well as other volunteers. He gets to see his apartment and his workplace, and all the other places that he may need in his daily routine.
A mentor is a person who guides the volunteer throughout the EVS journey. He does not only find solutions to problems, but also helps the volunteer with his personal growth through goal-setting, a process which encourages the volunteer to be more autonomous by taking responsibility for their choices. Mentors, therefore, are not supposed to show volunteers “the right way”, but to help by giving information and asking the right questions in order for the volunteer to:
- discover their strengths and improvement potential;
- realize the consequences of made decisions;
- identify helping forces and obstacles to the achievement of a goal.
Mentors can provide volunteers with information concerning:
- access to health services;
- opening a bank account;
- access to local services (e.g. assistance in a shop);
- visa and passport or local council registration issues.
Mentors are not entitled to:
- fill out forms for volunteers: they can write the information on the form, but only what volunteers tell them to write;
- take responsibilities for the volunteer. For example if the volunteer has a report to do for work they can give him guidance on how to write it, but they cannot write it for him;
- act as a personal assistant. For example, if the volunteer wants to do a leisure activity, the mentor could provide information about the available choices (e.g. dancing courses in the area) and even accompany him the first time, to make sure the activity is inclusive; however, they cannot attend all the classes with the volunteer (e.g. be their dancing partner).
A good mentor should:
- have experience and knowledge of the disability of the person he is working with;
- possess good listening and mediating skills;
- speak the same language as the volunteer;
- support his autonomy rather than telling him what to do;
- have psychological skills;
- be objective;
- be open-minded;
- be responsible;
- have thorough knowledge of the working, social and cultural environment;
- have enough time to dedicate to the volunteer;
- be motivated;
- be able to help with the local language;
- respect confidentiality and be trustworthy;
- be patient;
- be creative;
- be well organized;
- be flexible;
- have a clear direction in mind.
There are at least 4 types of mentors:
- mentors from the sending organization: they help the volunteer before EVS (e.g. giving him information on the hosting city, telling him how to get ready for EVS etc.);
- mentors from the hosting organization: they help the volunteer with on-the-job issues (e.g. clarifying work duties and responsibilities and accessibility issues in the workplace;
- koala mentors: they speak the volunteer’s native language and help him socialize. They may help him access social/cultural activities he’s interested in, or take him along to a party they are going to;
- personal mentors: they usually don’t speak the volunteer’s native language and help him with day-to-day issues (registering with a doctor or the local council) or more specific ones (showing him a shop to buy a phone charger). The nature of this kind of support varies depending on the volunteer.
Technology, too, may be of great help to remove some of the barriers that visually impaired volunteers might be faced with: for instance, the volunteer’s workplace may be adapted with larger screens, special softwares, better lighting, etc. The volunteer’s accommodation may also undergo some adaptations (e.g. Braille labels on the washing machine). Such additional costs must be included in the project before the actual application and budgeted as “special costs” and it is therefore essential to discuss them with the volunteer at a very early stage, as mentors may already know which adaptations should be put in place.
In some countries, professional and technical support to disabled people are provided free of charge by relevant organizations: in Spain, for example, ONCE (the National Organization for Blind People) provides mobility and daily living training, as well as special equipment (e.g. magnifiers) for free: the volunteer can use it throughout the whole project, but must return it when he leaves the hosting country.
Just like mentoring, the evaluation process does not only aim to address problems, but also to encourage personal development and identify good practices. Although it is often underestimated, it has an important role in the EVS project. When carried out properly, it could shed light on two things:
– whether the project is being beneficial to the volunteer’s personal development;
– whether the volunteer has been appropriately supported and makes sufficient efforts to carry out the assigned tasks to a satisfactory standard.
The evaluation should not be carried out only at the end of the project. In fact, it is compulsory to evaluate and re-evaluate the volunteer’s progress throughout his EVS journey. The evaluation can be carried out on a day-to-day basis and in an informal manner. To this end, the organizers of the EVS project (from the sending, co-ordinating and hosting organization) should promote a relaxed atmosphere, thus enabling the volunteer to voice his concerns, and provide feedback at any time.
Below is a list of evaluation activities that may be carried out throughout the EVS project. Some of them are compulsory, and it is advisable to consult national agencies to find out which ones are. The evaluation could be carried out in the form of meetings:
- on a weekly basis, between the volunteer and the reference person from the hosting organization;
- an initial meeting at the co-ordinating level, followed by a mid-term and final evaluation. Therefore, a 12-month EVS project should be evaluated every 4 months;
- two meetings organized by the National Agency, one at the beginning and one halfway throughout the project, to which all volunteers from the concerned region are invited;
- monthly evaluations with the sending organization.
The mentor may be present at all the mentioned meetings, depending on his availability.
A mid-term and a final report must also be drawn up. The final report, written by the organization which applied for subsidies, must also include the volunteer’s e-mail address, so that a link to an online evaluation form can be sent to it. It is compulsory for the volunteer to complete such form.
The evaluations, regardless of its type and frequency, should not be seen as “ticking a box”, but used in order to improve the experience of volunteers and optimize the process that their job entails. Moreover, it is a powerful means to identify good practices.
Accreditation for sending/hosting organizations
Organizations wanting to either send or receive volunteers can consult the latest version of EVS Accreditation Guidelines. The European Commission, responsible for the funding of EVS, has national agencies across the whole EU.
The Erasmus+ Programme is partly managed on a centralized level by the executive agency, and partly by the national agencies in each country. An EVS is organized as pairing between a sending and a hosting organization, both accredited by their national agencies. To obtain the accreditation, organizations must apply to the national agency and get a personal identification code (PIC). For more information, you can consult the Erasmus+ Guide for Applicants and contact your national agency.
Some advantages offered by hosting an EVS volunteer are:
- the Opportunity to have international input in your organization;
- extra help;
- establishing partnership with new organizations;
- developing the social aspect of your work, thus contributing to society;
- raising social awareness and solidarity on the workplace.
What is the Youthpass?
The Youthpass is a European recognition tool for non-formal and informal learning in youth work, for projects funded by Erasmus+ Youth in Action and Youth in Action programmes. The participants to such projects can use it to describe what he has learned and achieved. The hosting organization delivers the Youthpass to the volunteer, and his mentor supports him in the creation of the third part of the document, helping him realize what he has actually learned during the project.
The Youthpass consists of three parts. The first part contains the personal details of the volunteer and basic information on EVS; the second includes details of the project in which the volunteer participated; the third is a self-assessment written by the volunteer himself, with key competences illustrating what he has learned. The Youthpass is usually written in English, but it is available in all EU official languages and will be translated if the volunteer so desires. The document will be signed by the volunteer and the person responsible for the project (from the hosting or co-ordinating organization).
The Youthpass includes eight key competences:
Communication in the native language. In the case of visually impaired people, it mostly entails asking about practical arrangements by calling different organizations and sending e-mails to unknown persons.
Communication in the foreign language. In the case of visually impaired people, this can include improving their language skills by learning new Braille marks; in some cultures, language skills also include the ability to detect someone’s social status from his manner of speaking to others.
Mathematical competences and basic competences in science and technology (e.g. timetable or budget planning).
Digital competence. It indicates the ability to look up information with electronic devices. For a screen reader user, it is also useful to know which sites/softwares are accessible and which are not, and which devices or special programs are available for visually impaired people. Organizations should have good knowledge of the accessibility issues and support the volunteer to find the most suitable devices, softwares and materials.
Learning to learn. The volunteer has to find the most suitable way to learn new things, be it in Braille, audio, tactile pictures/maps, etc.
Social and civic competence. This includes the skill to connect with people who speak a language that the volunteer knows a little or not at all. For people who have been blind since birth, perceiving and interpreting gestures can be a challenge, and the volunteer needs to have enough courage to participate in social and cultural activities with others and start talking to new people.
Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship. To acquire this competence, it is vital to possess a certain degree of self-confidence and self-esteem. The volunteer should be encouraged to know their strengths and weaknesses and to take risks and accept failures.
Cultural awareness and expectations. This means adapting to a new culture. For example, visually impaired people might need support and guidance on suitable clothing, eating habits, unfamiliar traffic practices etc;
Other specific skills. This can include mobility and daily living skills.
The Youthpass is a good tool for EVS volunteers to show their international experience to future employers and can help them find a job. They are therefore strongly recommended to write one.
It is hoped that this brochure, though far from being exhaustive, has shed new light on the world of EVS, and on adapted EVS in particular. The participants to the “10 years of EVS” project have worked with enthusiasm to gather ideas for its creation, bringing the experiences of their hosting/sending organizations to the table. Though some aspects may vary from country to country, a more general approach seemed more suitable for this brochure, as it would enable any interested organizations or individuals to profit from it to the maximum. It is hoped that this work has succeeded in highlighting the countless benefits enshrined in adapted EVS, thus inspiring both organizations and visually impaired individuals to get involved in it.
What did 10 years of EVS mean for participants?
The schedule of the event was full and time was put to good use, which contributed to the successful results of the activities. However, there was also enough rest and free time which gave a chance for informal communication between participants and for experiencing the atmosphere of the city.
Informational activities concerning volunteers and the ones related to organizations were performed with dynamic methods such as working in small groups, brainstorming, short presentations, and this gave chance to each participant to be actively involved and to have an individual contribution.
There were also many activities dedicated to the intercultural exchange between participants from the 8 different countries. This created an open, friendly and stress-free environment and helped everyone feel the spirit of acceptance and solidarity, typical for the work in EVS.
I Senni Hirvonen, participated the “10 Years EVS” seminar in Liege together with the youth worker of FFVI (the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired) and my friend Solja whom I met while doing my own EVS last summer. I’m a blind 23-year-old woman from Joensuu, Eastern Finland. I study special education at the university, and through a coincidence I ended up doing a short-term EVS (6 weeks) in Slovakia last summer. My task there was to organise activities for disabled young people and adults. Because of my EVS experience and my membership in the Finnish national youth activity group of the FFVI, I was asked to take part in this seminar. And I am very happy that I participated. Although I have been busy touring different events and camps of the visually impaired around Finland, this was my very first time to attend an international meeting of visually impaired people. Therefore, I did not know any other participant beforehand. It was amazing and (figuratively) eyes-opening to meet visually impaired people and representatives of VI organisations from other European countries. Although we worked hard during the week, the atmosphere was easy-going and relaxed, and it was easy to get familiar with others. I really hope that our network and friendships are going to last also in the future, providing a good basis to projects like this as well as unofficial meetings and gatherings that are, in my opinion, equally important.
Before this project, Views International was a completely unfamiliar concept for me. It was amazing to hear how Views has established methods of adapting EVS to visually impaired people, and how these methods have also spread to other countries such as Spain. These include training in mobility and daily living skills that are important to everybody doing a long-term EVS but especially for those who have not lived independently in their home countries. I also liked the idea of a peer or “koala” mentor who is also a volunteer and, if possible, visually impaired him- or herself. I also think the local visually impaired persons could act as mentors to EVS volunteer, helping the volunteer to understand the situation and services of the visually impaired in the country and supporting him/her to network with the local VI people.
One of the biggest highlights of my week was the introduction of the local hosting organisations, including for example a school for the blind and a youth centre. I even started to dream of doing a long-term EVS in Belgium. However, that would probably take place after my studies, since I do not know any French at the moment. Many people consider EVS as a life-changing experience. To be honest, my last summer short-term EVS did not significantly change my life, perhaps because it was so short and I did not really feel independent there, compared to the independence that I have in my home town. To gain this “life-changing” experience, one needs to be as autonomous as possible. This naturally requires longer period of time abroad than just six weeks, mobility training and, if possible, contacts to local visually impaired people and their organisations.
In the middle of July I am participating in a summer camp for visually impaired young people (aged between 12 and 30) in Finland. The camp has long traditions and it has become a highlight of the year for many youngsters. The camp will be a good opportunity to raise awareness of EVS and to promote it by means of a workshop or a speech. We have also been planning to broadcast the speech on the Internet radio of FFVI.
In conclusion, the week in Belgium was an unforgettable experience for me. In addition to receiving a lot of new information and a new perspective about EVS, I had a chance to make new friends to whom I wish to keep contact also in the future. I also learned a lot about different cultures, their traditions and ways of communication. I was curious to ask about education and rehabilitation systems in different countries and how they treat people with disabilities. For me it seems that every system has its own good sides to be proud of and problems to struggle with. None of the countries has perfectly succeeded in creating an inclusive society for people with disabilities. That is why disability organisations and projects such as EVS have an important role in raising awareness of diversity and thus promoting our social inclusion.
It was with a mixture of anxiety and curiosity that I left my hometown that Sunday morning, on the way to Anna Rita’s place, 800 km away. It was cold and cloudy in Torino, and I remember thinking “I am starting my rainy week one day in advance”. It was the first contact for me with VIEWS International and EVS, and even if Anna Rita had told me extensively about it and I had all the information about the activities I would have took part in Liège, I wasn’t really sure about what was expecting for me in Belgium. I knew it was an evaluation workshop for the project “10 years of EVS with VIEWS International”, this meaning that it was 10 years since when it was possible for people with a visual impairment to do the European Voluntary Service. I also knew that many people from different countries would have participated in the project, including ex volunteers and next volunteers (with an ex and a future volunteer leaving from Rome to Belgium with me the day after). Nonetheless, I was eager to jump into this new experience. The not-so-warm welcome that Belgium gave us when we arrived – non-stopping rain, not even worth keeping using the umbrella and a general public transportation strike – was not enough to calm down our enthusiasm. The three of us got to Espace Belvaux in Liège very tired in the middle of Monday afternoon, but it was very nice to see how the hostel was getting more and more crowded as the people from different nationalities where getting there.
As I said, I did not know much of the practicalities about EVS and VIEWS International at the beginning of the week, and it was very enriching for me to get to know more and more about the projects as the week went along, and from different perspectives. The week was full of formative moments. I really appreciated the fact that ex and current volunteers shared with us their experiences, so that I could hear directly from them how they felt during their voluntary service, and their enthusiasm behind the daily fights and successes. I also really liked the fact that I could get to know more about these projects also from the people that work in the administration and the organizations behind these projects. People working at different levels in coordinating and managing the realizations of these projects that with their work can make all this possible. Talk by talk, activity by activity, it was as if I was adding a new piece to a very complex puzzle. And I realized that what these people manage to do, – the people working in the administration, in the hosting/sending or coordinating organizations, mentors, volunteers, every person which gets involved in these projects in one way or another – it is just stunning. In the last days of the week, we tried to condense the information we got in a brochure addressed to potential hosting associations, to provide them with guidelines in case they wanted to host a volunteer. We hope that this brochure will prove a useful tool to broaden the collaboration network of EVS with VIEWS International.
Some days have passed now from that week in Liège, but I can still say that this experience was so amazing and enriching for me, that it even felt a bit strange to come back home. It felt different to speak just one language and not three different ones at a time as it happened in Espace Belvaux every time we had a break. In Belgium, I shared almost every moment of the day with people that I didn’t know just few days before, but that by the end of the week felt like friends of a lifetime. It was great to hear about other people’s experiences and about how EVS with VIEWS International had changed so many lives, in positive. Last but not least, in these times when country borders are closing and we are told to be afraid and cautious with the stranger that is sitting next to us on the metro, I felt more European.
The workshop has ended, but our work within the project is not over yet, as we will be working on delivering a presentation of EVS with VIEWS International in Italy. And we’ll spread the voice.
The Project which was done by VIEWS International in May 30th to June 5th 2016 was the first experience for both some of us and EGED in terms of adapted EVS. We, the two Turkish teams, three of us from EGED (Turkish Association of Visually Impaired in Education) and three of us from Kalp Ankara, four visually impaired participants and two assistants, prepared for the journey of getting informed about EVS in detail. For EGED, it was their first EU Youth Project. We wanted to learn about how EVS could be adapted, what kind of difficulties could be faced with, what could be the possible solutions and so on. As EGED, since we haven’t had any experience in EVS, we had lots of question marks needed to be clarified in our minds. So we were very excited; then, the day that we will fly to Belgium came and we safely arrived Espace Belvaux, the hostel where we are going to stay during the Project.
Throughout the project, we had different type of sessions. On the first day of the program, we tried to get to know each other and remember the other participants’ names. Then, slowly but surely, we began to learn firstly about what Erasmus Plus and Youth pass is; secondly, what has been done in Belgium by the experts. Because of the public transportation strike, our both speakers were not able to be with us physically but, via and thanks to skype, they were able to meet us and give a very nice speech that clarifies many ambiguities. On the other weekdays also, we learnt a lot about, as a NGO, how to enlarge our networks and what kind of supports we can provide the EVS volunteer that we are going to host. In the informative parts about EVS, the other participants who have done their own EVS shared their experiences. In terms of adapted EVS, we had some interactive discussions, brainstorming sessions on the key concepts. particularly, we talked so much about mentorship, what a mentor should do and what he or she shouldn’t, what kind of relationship should be between the EVS volunteer and the mentor, how many mentor should contribute the EVS volunteer etc. Finally, we worked intensively to prepare a brochure about Adapted EVS, giving essential information that is needed by anyone or any NGO that is interested in being part of an Adapted EVS. On the other hand, we had some free time that we can spend as we wish. Thus, one night, we walked near to Espace Belvaux while another night, we had a chance to taste Spanish Sangria at Espace Belvaux. We also had the opportunity to buy some chocolates in the city center. But, unfortunately, heavy rain started to fall on us with all our heavy bags so we had to drink coffee in the city. Nevertheless, we managed to return to Espace Belvaux by taxi with our chocolates. After this adventure, we had some sessions about public speaking on Friday. In my opinion, Friday was the day that I liked most. We had so much fun while trying to improve our skills. On Saturday, we completed our brochure work, evaluated the whole project and finished.
In brief, it was very nice, different and informative project. (Çağrı) “For me, it was the first time in my life that I went abroad and encountered showers with buttons allowing water flow just for 20 seconds. And I did not know that I needed to bring my slippers. However, first experiences are never forgotten so, I always remember these days with a big smile on my face.” In terms of EGED, we are now equipped with much information about Adapted EVS so we are ready for EGED’s EVS Accreditation interview. We intend to become both a sending and hosting organization in the near future so we can organize Adapted EVS for real in Turkey!