For many people, volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience. For others, like Calum, it can be life-saving.
His story followed another path when he got involved with the European Voluntary Service (EVS) under Erasmus+. Placements 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.
In 2010, Calum travelled to Italy for his placement, supported by UNA Exchange, a youth organisation that offers community-based volunteering opportunities in Wales and around the world. As a young person with a troubled past and limited prospects, he had no idea of the profound effect that the experience would have on him.
I think EVS was the best cure for mental health – better than any drug, therapist or doctor.
‘Since I was a kid I was always in trouble, and then I turned 16 and was getting into worse stuff – trouble with the law, drugs, hanging out with the wrong people. I think this was the reason my youth workers arranged to send me to a project in Italy – to keep me out of jail. It was a real eye-opener and life-changing. In that place, I started to behave. Because it was different, I was outside of my comfort zone. I became quite open-minded, because I realised that people in other countries are just people like me. I learnt about respect, I learnt about loyalty. If I hadn’t gone, I would probably be dead or in jail.’
A new path
Calum has gone on to take part in and lead other volunteering activities with UNA Exchange in Poland, Wales and Lithuania. In Lithuania he took part in an eight-month long EVS programme and discovered a love for the outdoors and a new career path in landscaping. He continued to volunteer, working with children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and at a homeless shelter.
Read Calum’s full story in his blog on the UNA Exchange website or watch him in this short video from the Fixers UK YouTube channel: