On Wednesday last week I travelled to Bucharest to attend the Roma Youth Forum conference, and to co-convene a workshop on volunteering with Romanian Volonteurope member Chance for Life. The conference was organised by the Romanian Youth and Sports Ministry, in collaboration with Nevo Parudimos Association, Civic Union of Young Roma from Romania and Roma Education Fund Romania, with its title being “The Forum of Roma Youth against Hate Speech.” Chance for Life were presenting a workshop on the European Voluntary Service (EVS), and the EVS4ALL programme – of which Volonteurope is a member of the steering consortium, along with Roma Education Fund and Chance for Life. The EVS4ALL project aims to include young people, aged between 18 and 30, who have so far been underrepresented in the EVS programme – with a specific focus on young people from underprivileged and marginalised backgrounds.

 

Participants in the week-long conference came from all over Romania, were all from the Roma community, and all had either a nascent or fully formed interest in volunteering. On Thursday morning, Iulia Paraschivescu and Diana Janitzek of Chance for Life convened the volunteering workshop, aimed at giving attendees a taste of the opportunities on offer through volunteering, and specifically through EVS4ALL.

 

Iulia began the session by asking for introductions from the group members, finding out the kind of, if any, volunteering experiences they had already taken part in. This then led onto a canvassing of ideas on what qualities the participants thought volunteers should have. This prompted a variety of responses, but was really helpful in generating lively discussion, and making the participants aware of the qualities that they already possessed – such as dedication, and being prepared for a challenge. Iulia also pointed out that one of the most beneficial aspects of volunteering is that it can prepare you for employment –while also making you more employable.

 

We were lucky enough to be joined by one of Chance for Life’s volunteers, Gabriela, who had completed an EVS volunteering mission in Germany after being made aware of the opportunities available by Chance for Life. She told the workshop participants about the benefits she gained from the volunteering experience – such as travelling abroad for the first time, gaining new skills, including language skills, learning about other cultures and also making lots of new friends. Furthermore, taking part in EVS opened her eyes to the variety of opportunities available to young people through this programme. Gabriela also highlighted the support that she got from her sending, and hosting organisations – this support, including funding, meant that she could concentrate on readying herself for her volunteering mission and having a fun a beneficial time in Germany.

 

Following Gabriela’s presentation, I also spoke about the kind of support mentors, and sending and hosting organisations offer to volunteers. Volonteurope and Volunteering Matters hosted six volunteers in September this year – three from France and three from Spain – and I was their coordinating mentor while they were here. I explained that the mentor is there as a primary contact for the volunteer, and that the sending and hosting organisations organise flights and accommodation and so on – so that this burden is taken off the volunteer. For the volunteers that came to London in September, I was available to them as a source of support and information, and as liaison between the various organisations through which were working.

 

I also spoke about the EVS4ALL projects aims, which, as opposed to the EVS project, aims to include young people with fewer opportunities and limited access to the European Voluntary Service, who have so far been underrepresented in the existing programme. It is these people, such as Gabriela from Chance for Life, who have the most to gain from these projects. This was a sentiment echoed by Dănuț Dumitru, advocacy director of Roma Education Fund, when he spoke about his own experiences as a young man – doing an Erasmus year in Estonia, and then travelling and working extensively in Finland. The session closed with questions to Iulia and Gabriela, and much excitement about the possibilities on offer through the EVS4ALL programme.