Volonteurope’s membership came together virtually earlier this month for an Extraordinary General Assembly like no other.

Despite the challenges facing members across Europe and beyond, the network came together online to share their experiences, adopt Volonteurope’s Strategy document and hear the powerful speech of this year’s keynote speaker Tonia Wilson.

Tonia who works for UK member Volunteering Matters gave a personal account of her challenging upbringing and how her identity as a woman of black heritage has shaped her values and identity.

Speaking about gender-based violence, racism and how teachers wrote her off as a failure, Tonia went on to talk about her motivations to protect vulnerable young people and help them find resilience and strength.

She said: “….looking back I was young and vulnerable and I was manipulated by professionals who I thought would protect me but who turned out to be perpetrators.

“When I realised this, this was my most defining moment as an individual and I knew what I wanted to do…..I realised that my blackness was not negative but beautiful….

“I was an angry teenager but significant people in my childhood showed me how I could harness my inner strength and show resilience.

“…..I started volunteering at a community centre where I was accepted and valued, I became good at something….I realised no one, no matter what their experiences, can’t be supported.”

After a career in social work and youth work, Tonia now 49, works as a project manager for Volunteering Matters in Ipswich.

Talking about the Black Lives Matter movement and White Ribbon Day Tonia ended her speech by asking everyone to think about gender imbalance, violence, shame, racism and bias and how everyone can play a role in changing the future.

Speaking afterwards, Piotr Sadowski, Volonteurope Secretary General, said: “I feel very privileged to have witnessed such commitment amongst our membership to ensuring that Volonteurope continues to grow in strength and, most importantly, provides us all with a platform for cooperation, sharing of experiences, best practices and stories of positive change, despite the challenges we are all facing.

“Oonagh and I were both left with so much admiration for the incredible work that our members have been carrying out throughout 2020, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The responses to the needs of those in the most vulnerable situations by the voluntary sector across Europe have been remarkable, and we must now continue ensuring that the appreciation for the gift of time of volunteers continues to be recognised, including through adequate funding programmes, as we go into the period of recovery and rebuilding from the crisis.

“I would like to extend our thanks to Tonia who delivered an insightful, personal and empowering speech about the campaign to end gender-based violence, White Ribbon Day 2020, the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, about identity and personal journeys, and how they shape who we are.”