Anna Sowa’s life has been completely changed since becoming a volunteer. From helping young people at schools in Devon to working to support other volunteers with her own film company, she has fully experienced the world of the European Voluntary Service (EVS).
Volunteering experiences like this can now be supported by the European Solidarity Corps, funding opportunities for young people to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe. Anna shares below her journey and the powerful impact the experience has had on her and her business.
From big to small
Anna Sowa started her EVS journey in the small, seaside town of Dawlish, Devon, in 2005. Coming from a big city in Poland, arriving in Dawlish felt like a bit of “a time machine”. The South West Youth Ministry (SWYM) was her hosting organisation and they also organised a host family for her to live with; a family that she is still in touch with today.
As part of her volunteering she worked during the day in schools, both primary and secondary, providing support for children that needed extra help and in the evenings she helped run youth clubs in the local community.
Anna’s whole experience started with a simple Google search. She always knew she wanted to do something different and volunteer internationally, and the initiative opened up the opportunity.
Her volunteering inspired her to work on a project with young people in London, which led to her receiving social enterprise support and creating her own film production company, Chouette films. As a filmmaker, Anna was approached by Change Agents UK to help produce the #BristolEVS – European Green Capital 2015 video. She was very keen to get involved in any way possible, including being shadowed by an EVS volunteer for a few days while working on the film.
"Our volunteer brought fresh thinking and showed us what works for young people. She also brought a dose of (much needed) Spanish sunshine to our work and challenged our Spanish language skills."
The experience of hosting a volunteer was a good reminder of what she’d been through; having been in that situation herself allowed her to sympathise with the volunteer and create a relaxed environment and be patient and caring – just like her host family were when she was a volunteer.
What are the benefits?
For Anna, ‘it exposes you to new perspectives, which changes you as an individual for the better. The journey it takes you on’, she added, ‘is never ending.’
“I genuinely think this was the beginning of a great change in my personal and professional life; I was perhaps too comfortable in the way I lived my life – my belief system, values and perspectives. What EVS does it pushes your boundaries, exposes you to international circles and allows you to take full advantage of multiculturalism and multilingualism in Europe and beyond. It seems that sometimes we’re still very much constrained by stereotypes, prejudice and misconceptions. EVS helps to us to look beyond all this, you really become the citizen of the world”.
When considering what an organisation stands to gain from the initiative, Anna said one of the major benefits was having volunteers from all over Europe:
There is so much that we can learn from each other. If you bring people from different cultural backgrounds together, they bring different experiences with them. It’s really enriching.
Anna noted that the job market is competitive, so this opportunity gives young people a reliable way to get valuable work experience.
“I would definitely recommend it – the beauty of learning from each other that comes from EVS was the greatest thing for us and I can’t imagine my life going any other way. The only problem that it has created for us is that we’re never satisfied, we always have a hunger to explore new places and learn more.’
Anna’s hint: “Don’t worry about being a shy person – during my EVS I met people who wouldn’t speak for the first month. People who are shy should be encouraged to do it for the good it does to your confidence. It helps professionally to prepare you for interacting with different people and speaking confidently about yourself and your job.”