A group of former European Solidarity Corps participants who are resident in the UK met online on the 28 November to share their experiences, reflect on what they have learned and find out more about future opportunities.
The Make it Matter online event, organised by EIL UK and the Erasmus+ UK National Agency, was a celebration of solidarity and a step towards strengthening the European Solidarity Corps community.
In a full day of activities via Zoom, volunteers who have completed their placements and returned to the UK within the past year talked about the impact the European Solidarity Corps has had on them and provided valuable feedback to the UK National Agency.
Finding a vocation and friends
In an activity called World Map, attendees were invited to add a photo to the location of their placement on a virtual map. They briefly talked to the wider group about the activities they had been involved in.
Haley Plumb from Shropshire shared an image of her taking a photo of a short-finned pilot whale in Tenerife. Passionate about outdoor activities and working with animals, she volunteered at the Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation for two months.
“I learnt how to take photographs of dorsal fins for individual identification and monitoring purposes”, said Haley, who wants to be a conservationist in the future.
"I have had an amazing year, despite everything happening in the world right now; if anything, I was motivated to use my time in European Solidarity Corps to the fullest", said Daniel Walsh.
Ella Lemon from Derbyshire volunteered for seven months at a school in Kodersdorf, Germany. Her photo was taken on a group ice skating trip, where they had lots of fun. The highlight of her European Solidarity Corps experience was the people and the community.
“The friends I made there were amazing”, said Ella.
Alannah Shafiq shared a picture of one of the three-level buildings the volunteers built with natural materials, along with a permagarden, in Evia, Greece. Her project, called Free and Real, was about resource-based economy – a different way of living if compared to London, where Alannah joined us from during the event.
Alannah also ran workshops for the local community in Greece once or twice a month, but mostly, she was “getting very muddy every day”.
The attendees were put into smaller discussion groups to talk about their placements and have a chance to get to know each other better.
For these former participants, the best aspects of their European Solidarity Corps experiences included meeting other volunteers, the sense of community, the many moments of laughter, but also the immense impact of their work. Click on the images below to find out more.
Alex McDonald from Wales went to a project in Norway, at a volunteering centre called Fjaler frivilligsentral. He helped with social media, decorating the building and language lessons in the local school. Alex also worked with refugees a little bit, which he enjoyed.
“I have developed my bicycle maintenance skills by repairing bikes for the organisation and for local refugees”, he shared.
An immersive experience
Alex felt it was very helpful for his language skills when people talked to him in Norwegian, especially at the school.
“I have started learning Norwegian as a second language and can have basic conversations. This was really exciting, and I enjoy using Norwegian”.
Daniel Walsh from Liverpool went on a placement with the Portuguese Red Cross in Braga. He was glad to stay in Portugal during the pandemic, but his activities had to be adapted. He and other volunteers started working at the community shop during lockdown, which allowed it to re-open much earlier than expected. Although the task was not what he initially had planned, Daniel recognised:
“Working at the shop helped my Portuguese skills”.
The immersive experience that a placement abroad offers is perfect for brushing up on your language skills. This was one of the most important learning outcomes highlighted by the participants, together with the practical experience, the importance of education and exploring new ways of living, as well as a better understanding of the issues their projects were addressing.
Volunteering boosted the volunteers’ employability by offering them practical, real life experience. They now have many plans in mind, from carrying on improving their language skills to helping more people, as well as studying, staring a career or even starting their own business! Some have already stepped into the world of work back in the UK, including as a COVID-19 tester and as an intern at a multinational manufacturer.
A European Solidarity Corps experience can be transformative. Life does not always come without challenges, and a placement might not be any different, but these former participants felt more confident and independent afterwards. They are already engaged in some amazing projects.
Now that most of the volunteers are back in the UK, they are also finding ways to give back to their own local communities, including continuing with work they started during their placements. Haley, for example, helped to create a garden for children with brain damage in Tenerife. She is planning to get involved with something similar at her university.
At the end, the volunteers completed European Solidarity Corps postcards including inspiring quotes, shared above.