Update from Oonagh Aitken

It has been a hectic few weeks for the network!  But all good!

I fetched up in Dublin for a +CARE dissemination event at the offices of our new partner organisation Viatores Christi. They are an Irish NGO which focuses on humanitarian aid and volunteering and we are delighted that they have decided to join the +CARE consortium. Our evening meeting focused on +CARE but we also had Suzanne from the Irish National Agency Leargas along to speak about the move towards the European Solidarity Corps. We had around 20 participants from other Irish organisations, keen to hear about EU Aid Volunteers (which will become part of the European Solidarity Core offer from 2020) and how they can become sending organisations. Lots of interesting questions and great craic as ever! Thanks to Viatores Christi for making it all happen.

There was also a lot of interest in the European Solidarity Corps and I was very happy to promote our Volunteering Matters/Project Scotland programme at the first Advance Planning Visit which took place last week in Dundee. We also encouraged participants to have a look at the European Social Platform poster exhibition ‘Making Social Europe’ which was on view in the office. It was also fantastic to see Colette and Conrad from Viatores Christi at our Volonteurope Conference in Brussels.

I was in Ireland for the kick off meeting for our new Erasmus+ project ‘Silver Service’. Along with Rural Hub (Ireland), Innovade (Cyprus), Proportionate Message (Portugal), Auxilium (Austria) and Spehsia Fresa (Italy), Volunteering Matters is leading this project. In a nutshell, it will match older volunteers with new migrants to help the newcomers integrate into local communities. The results and tools of this projects should be of interest to any NGO which works with new migrants, asylum seekers or refugees. More news as we progress.

I was also pleased to attend the European Economic and Social Committee’s Liaison Group – an opportunity for Brussels-based networks to come together and discuss their relationship with the committee and its work. The main topic was the format and programme for the 2020 Civil Society Days which will be in April this year. Volonteurope is keen to co-host a workshop during the Days and Piotr and I subsequently put forward a topic which would bring young people from our network to Brussels to talk about how they want to contribute to a sustainable future for Europe.

Then, what a week we had in Brussels at the end of November!  We started off with a ‘Volunteer Voices’ reception at the offices of the European Social Platform. We heard from young volunteers from across Europe who are volunteering full time through the EVS programme which, of course, is being replaced by ESC.  The following day, we had our final EVS seminar, hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee with an opening and closing address by Michael McLoughlin, an Irish member of the committee with a particular interest in youth work. It was fantastic to have a colleague from ECORYS in the UK with us for the reception and the seminar and it was great to hear so many young volunteers offer their views on the volunteering experience.

We followed that with our own Volonteurope reception to celebrate innovations in volunteering. This is the first year of our awards and the final three projects chosen were the ‘SAFE’ project from Volunteering Matters, ‘RUTIS’ the third age university in Portugal and ‘ Solidarity Bread’ from Bulgaria.  And the worthy winner, selected by Gabriella Civico, Director of the European Volunteer Centre, and who knows a thing or two about volunteering, was ‘ Solidarity Bread’. A fantastic project where volunteers and new migrants come together to make and share bread and to talk about their hopes and projects for the future.

The Volonteurope AGM was also a feature of our few days in Brussels.  A big thanks to Solidar for hosting our AGM and the Innovation in Volunteering awards. Volonteurope is at a crossroads. We have established our network as an ASBL in Belgium which, we hope, should allow us to be more present on the Brussels scene about also put us in a strong position to apply for European funding in the future. We really need to think about the direction in which the network goes in the future. The Board will do some thinking about this and then share with members so that we can all contribute to the future of the network. While the Board remains the same for the next few months, our new status means that we have to elect a new Board and office-bearers at the next AGM which will take place by the end of June 2020.

The Volonteurope conference was fantastic!  It was great to see so many of you there and a special thanks to Piotr for all his superb organisation and to all the staff who helped. Piotr made a brilliant choice of a new venue just outside of Brussels city centre but with everything we needed. Roger Casale gave us a keynote which was a call to action for civil society organisations to get more involved and to create for themselves a ‘fringe’ (reference to the Edinburgh Festival) alongside the main political events and discussions. This inspirational speech was followed by a really interesting political debate which brought together the main players from Brussels based networks – the European Lifelong Learning Platform, the European Social Platform, The European Volunteer Centre, the Economic and Social Committee and from Voluntariado y Estrategia in Spain. Moderated by Board member, David Lopez, the panel debated the key issues for volunteering in Europe.  We showcased this year projects run by and for young people – ESC in Scotland, Wake UP led by our German partners, +CARE already mentioned above and the EU Voice project. It was a great day.

The first week in December is traditionally Lifelong Learning Week. As you know, I am delighted to be serving on the steering committee of the organisation on behalf of Volunteurope and want to keep promoting our activities as part of the life-long learning community. I do believe that we need to make more of volunteering and the skills and competences volunteers gain from their experiences as part of a life-long learning experience. The week kicked off with the Life-long Learning Awards – I really enjoyed being part of the jury for these awards and enjoyed even more being the person to give out the awards. I won’t be giving up the day job but it was fun. We awarded unanimously as follows:

  1. Category “Promoting Values”

Digital Welcome, by ALL DIGITAL

  1. Category “Global Citizenship Education”

Labyrinth of senses, by KINITRO NGO

  1. Category “Learning Democracy”
    European network of Regional and Local Youth Forums, by Umbria Youth Forum

On the second day of LLL Week, I was delighted to moderate a session around ‘Acting for Global Citizenship Education Today’. The panel of representatives from four different projects shared their examples of best practice and talked about how we can overcome obstacles to global citizenship education. We were joined by MEP Domenec Ruiz Devesa who gave the closing address. Read more about the platform and how you can get involved here.

So, lots of activity in the last few weeks and more to look forward to in the first months of 2020. We will be wrapping up +CARE in Bologna in January; the final conference of our BE PART young people’s project will take place in early February and Job Bridge will run its training course also in February (read more about this project in Piotr’s blog). We will be preparing some material for the Board to consider between now and the next AGM in terms of the direction and composition of the network and will be able to share our thoughts with members then. In the meantime, joyeuses fêtes and all the very best for 2020.