As a Regional Volunteer Manager for our Full Time Volunteering programme at Volunteering Matters, I am passionate about the impact young people can bring to volunteering, and frequently get to see many of the benefits volunteering can bring to young people through my work based here in the UK. I was delighted to have the opportunity to be involved in Volonteurope’s recent Apathy or Action: Young Europeans Take a Stand conference held in Nantes because it gave me the chance to hear about volunteering across Europe on a wider scale.
Throughout the conference I got to meet many young Europeans, volunteering for different charities and causes. I attended a workshop that was planned and delivered by three young people who volunteer at a charity called Gemeinsam leben & lernen in Europa e.V. (GLL) that supports the education of young people, with the aim of reducing xenophobia and promoting community engagement and integration. The workshop highlighted the fact that while many refugee children were receiving an education through the state, there was an expectation that these children would understand German language in a short amount of time and thus being able to receive their education in that language. In fact, these refugee children were often struggling with the language, and as result these issues were hindering their learning. During the workshop, GLL explained that their response to the problem is to deliver a mentoring project wherein each child has the opportunity to have a mentor to support their development of the German language in a one to one informal setting.
In the workshop the facilitators also told us about the volunteer work they were involved in with young people in local schools. GLL provides education to young pupils on refugees in order to dispel myths and misconceptions they may have, as well as helping to reduce the attitude of ‘them and us.’ I was very inspired by the three volunteers that spoke so positively and passionately about their work. It was impressive to see that they were actively responding to their community’s needs and working in a preventative way to foster integration and wellbeing within their own communities for the future.
As part of the conference I also got the opportunity to see the work of a local NGO in Nantes, OREA. I visited a sports centre that promoted accessible, inclusive and affordable opportunities for all to engage in a variety of sports. We were introduced to the game of Baskin, which is an inclusive sport, played by teams of five which comprised people with a range of differing ages and abilities. It was great to see the diversity of people engaging in this community resource.
The conference highlighted the excellent voluntary work that young people across Europe are doing to make a difference within each of their own communities, and how doing this work helps them feel a valued community member. Furthermore, what was most apparent was the way in which it showed the impact that young people can have on promoting social justice and change when they work together.
Claire Erskine, Regional Volunteer Manager for Volunteering Matters