My name is Vladimir Tsvejanov and this is my story. I spent a memorable 9 months within the framework of the volunteer program, during which time I volunteered at an employment center for people with mental and physical disabilities.
I got to know the program through a dear friend of mine, and considering my active volunteer history, I immediately liked the opportunity the program offered and what it represents. Finally, with the help of the Hungarian Voluntary Foundation and (with my catchy profile picture), I was invited to Valencia, in warm Spain. My host organization is BONAGENT, where I covered two locations with my French roommate.
The members of the host organization were waiting with open arms. I was surrounded by support and understanding, and early on I was taught the term “Poca a Poco” (Step by Step).
As I mentioned, I worked at two locations: the main building and a farm. At the headquarters, they were entrusted to the careful hands of Noelia, and although no one spoke English, we were able to understand each other. Working with the participants was easy and I was always greeted with cheers and applause when I walked through the door. A general week was filled with various crafts, mainly drawing and board games. However, some days were spiced up by preparing for my own circus performance. They didn’t shy away from exercise either, we held soccer matches, played tennis and took long walks in the nearby parks.
The aim of the session on the farm is to teach the participants about farming, growing vegetables and making money from it. At the beginning of each week, we walked around the land, examined what happened to the plants over the weekend, and wrote down the weekly tasks. Then the work could begin. We weeded, dug, tilled the land with a small tractor, mowed lawns and bushes and planted new plants, from which we later harvested the vegetables we deserved for the work. They took what we produced to the organic market every weekend. The profit generated was divided among themselves.
I was able to meet new people in both places. We supported each other, we cared about each other, and although I didn’t always understand, when they laughed, you couldn’t help but join in the wave of laughter. These people showed the value of everyday pleasures and reminded me of a feeling that is lost in the rush of the world.
My name is Sára, and the idea of ESC volunteering first occurred to me when I was still an online university student, and I also worked from home, so the biggest variety was the screen I spent long hours in front of. I felt that I needed something that would take me out of the ordinary, that’s when I found a volunteer opportunity in England, in Bournemouth.
In February 2022, I landed at the airport in the southern English seaside town to start my 6 months volunteering with the YMCA in Bournemouth. Before my arrival – although I toyed with the idea many times – I could not have imagined how incredible and at the same time it would be a strange feeling to sleep in Budapest one day, and the next day to move to an unknown country, unknown city for months accompanied by heavy suitcases. I was lucky because the international volunteers who were already out there quickly made the unknown seem natural to me.
The YMCA organization tries to help those in need in almost every major city in England. In Bournemouth, their main profile is supporting people struggling with housing difficulties, homelessness, and various addictions, as well as organizing youth groups and programs. During my daily work, I mainly worked in the city center with the residents of the YMCA hostel, for whom the YMCA tries to help the process of recovery and reintegration with diverse group sessions, self-knowledge and community-building groups, but also with individual therapy sessions. During my time abroad, I was able to get involved in the work of many such groups, my favorite was perhaps the art therapy session, which was also a social program for the residents, but also provided an opportunity to quiet down.
In addition to the experience of volunteering, the company also gave a lot of extras. For six months, we lived together with seven other volunteers and two ex-volunteers – for months, this community took over the role of family for us. Although our mother tongue was different and in many cases we had a different cultural background and system of customs, after a while it was no more natural for us to live together, to share this phase of our lives with each other, without thinking that it is only temporary.
My name is Eleonora and I spent 9 months in Valencia as part of the ESC program. During this time, I volunteered at an employment center for people with mental and physical disabilities. I was lucky enough that my friend and I could participate in this program at the same time, in the same city, but in a different project.
I’ve always wanted to try myself in a foreign environment, to get out somewhere where I’m really on my own and it’s not just a short vacation. In addition, I also made sure that this whole plan fits my personality, my profession and, last but not least, that I can help others during my stay. As the name of the program indicates, this is a Solidarity Board, that is, it provides assistance to those who are disadvantaged for some reason. I wanted to be a part of this program as its mission is completely in line with my views. After all, there is nothing more beautiful than taking care of the well-being of your fellow human beings.
On the first day, I went to the employment center with my coordinator, where I introduced myself to the director, colleagues, and the employed mentally and physically disabled people. Luckily for me, the physiotherapist working there knew a little English, so in the first couple of weeks I managed to get used to the place better, to learn how the daily routines go. In the meantime, I studied intensively and used the Spanish expressions immediately, and although I did not understand the answers, I was happy that at least they could understand me.
Already in the second week, I was able to hold physical exercises and group sports lessons, of course with very basic instructions and “imitation” methods. When something really had to be explained, I had help and tried to learn and enrich my vocabulary and expressions.
We are Eszter and Bogi and this summer we spent 3 weeks in a small village in Finland in Markkuu. Before the project, none of us had been to Finnish soil and we didn’t know each other, so everything and everyone was new to us. The aim of the project was to help the local community, primarily in manual work. In the process, we learned to build a fence, make a roof from self-adhesive shingles, distinguish between types of potatoes, and heat a sauna. We were taught all these jobs by the local residents, sometimes we worked under the supervision of one of them on the local tourist trail, sometimes someone else guided us at the local country house, but we also helped on a family farm. All of this was a great experience for us, as we were able to get to know the people there even better, their daily life, their work ethic and what is important to them in this small rural community where they live.
Fortunately, our days were not only filled with physical work. In one week, the main role was played by programs organized for children. We baked chocolate salami, played football, played dodgeball, made potato prints with them and even organized a treasure hunt for one day. But there was also the case that we participated in a family sports day held on the beach of the local small lake and organized programs for the participants, among whom there were already many familiar faces.
Our leaders were very kind and welcoming people, we often felt that they treated us volunteers as family members, even though we only spent three weeks there.
We both came away from Markkuu full of experiences and sad, as the volunteer team and the locals are all great people to whom it was difficult to say goodbye. We are very satisfied with the project, because in addition to the friends, mosquito bites and experiences we gained during the three weeks we spent there, we learned a lot about certain jobs, ourselves and different cultures. We will never forget this little village and hope to have the opportunity to go back at least once.
I’m Kata, my ESC story probably started with the fact that I dreamed of participating in the program back in the days when it was still called EVS. It seems that there was some chemistry between me and the Aarhus Red Cross, even via Zoom, because as I found out, they decided right after the interview that they wanted to work with me – so I started my project in November 2021, contrary to expectations, in sunny Aarhus.
Aarhus is the second-not-so-smallest city after Copenhagen. As a Budapester, used to the hustle and bustle, I was a little nervous about whether I would like this ‘small town’ existence. Well, I can say that I had no reason to worry from this point of view, this city has a lot to offer; beach, forest, museum, alternative party place, mainstream party place, pub, cafe, non-profit eco cafe, techno club, art gallery, youth center, contemporary dance studio – so everything is here.
And what was my volunteer work? We had to organize pop-up second-hand clothing fairs for the local Red Cross. After that, we had one month to organize each pop-up. Our work had a kind of cyclical nature: we collected the clothes from the containers – usually with a van – and then selected and priced the best pieces. We were both quite afraid of driving, me, who has had a license for ten years but has not yet acquired a routine, and my partner has only driven a small automatic car so far. Once we even parked right on top of someone, we had to be rescued, but then in the end we got so into it that I managed to drive the largest vehicle allowed by category B driving license.
I think that the world can really open up as a result of such a program – especially for us Hungarians, for whom it is not necessarily natural to spend some time here and there around the world approx. since we were 16 years old. For those who, like me, would rather participate in the program towards 30 and are afraid that everyone around them will be too young, I have to say that this will indeed be the case.