My volunteering story started in 2016 with participating in an international workcamp in Greece. I was 19 and I had just finished my second year at university. At that time, I was already passionate about travelling and exploring the world and volunteering abroad seemed to be a good way to add to my experience. Since 2016 I have participated in 5 workcamps (in Greece, Germany, Italy, Belarus) and in a 12-months EVS (European Voluntary Service) programme in Germany. Participation in Erasmus+ Youth exchange in Turkey became a continuation of volunteering story.
Each of the project was special for me, gave a pleasant memory and an unforgettable experience.
In my first workcamp, in Greece, in a life-sharing community “Estia Agios Nikolaos” volunteers built a chicken house and participated in activities for residents with and without special needs and mental disabilities. This project had totally changed my mind about people with special needs and that was a reason for going to my fourth workcamp (in Italy, Sardinia) to work with people with intellectual disabilities. Also I have participated in an ecological project in Germany, in Marburg, where volunteers cleaned a spring forest and took part twice in archaeological workcamp in Belarus on the territory of Mir Castle Complex, an area listed by the UNESCO. My EVS year was also connected with archaeology and the protection of cultural heritage. Throughout the year, I worked as a volunteer in an Archaeological Park of Xanten where the ancient Roman city of Colonia Ulpia Traiana was located.
First of all, volunteering enabled me to learn more about cultural diversity and cultural identity, to learn more about cultural specificities and traditions. Voluntary project abroad let to explore about both the country of the project and the countries where participants came from.
Exploring surroundings in the workcamp in Marburg, Germany
We cooked and tried traditional specialities, experienced traditional music, dancing and games, shared facts about the history. This demonstrated us, although we are very different, we have a lot in common. It helped to get rid of stereotypical thinking, however, I recognize that for me personally, there is still room for improvement.
Chicken house is ready! (Workcamp in Greece)
I have met wonderful people of different cultures, religions, backgrounds and ages, people with various interests. Stories, thoughts, viewpoints of each person were unique. Even if I did not always share their position, I had learnt a lot from them. Some of them are my close friends now, with some of them we keep in touch and travel together from time to time. I feel so happy to know that there are people all over the world, whom you are always welcome to call, e-mail or even come to think of our volunteer adventures.
Making pasta in the workcamp Villaggio Carovana in Italy, Castiadas
Secondly, volunteering supported me developing soft skills such as communicational skills and leadership, adaptability, flexibility and tolerance, acting as a team player. I consider that all these skills are essential in everyday life and for career development. Besides, I acquired new skills such as planning my trips, foreign language skills, basic construction, restoration skills, and many others.
Volunteers took part in a photo shoot in historic dresses (the workcamp in Mir Castle Complex, Belarus)
What is more, participation in voluntary project taught me that everybody can change the world. There are those who need help all over the world and special skills are not always necessary to help the other one.
Daily tasks during EVS year in Germany, Xanten (Archaeological Park Xanten)
Actually, I am often asked if I was afraid of going abroad alone or spending a long time with people I did not know, or if it was hard for me, being away from home. Honestly, such questions puzzled me, because the desire to learn about the world, have new experiences, have adventures and just stay active was stronger than fears. These issues had not even arisen when I was applying for a new workcamp, getting my backpack ready or losing my way in the middle of nowhere. Some friends believe that it is probably youthful high spirits, but I disagree, because I was excited about seeing the world since my childhood and participation in different volunteer programs convinced me that I have been following the right way. Volunteering showed me that the world is bigger than we know and the borders are in our minds.
Performing for local students in Istanbul, Turkey (Youth exchange with Erasmus+ Youth)
I will never tell that volunteering abroad is the only opportunity to learn about the world or help somebody. There are many other ways to make a contribution and positive impact on the world or developing yourselves. Similarly, I consider that travelling is not a panacea and is not necessary for everybody. However, I strongly recommend everyone to learn more about volunteering projects, to choose the project that best suits you (it can be a short workcamp or a long-term programme in every field) and just try! Quite possible that one your decision will be the beginning of a new chapter in your life. «What’s stopping you? That’s right, nothing».
Author Irina Rakhmanova