EU, volunteering, and WTF is EVS

Hi. My name is Anna and in less than a month, I’m moving to Berlin to spend a year as a volunteer in a youth centre, with the help of the European Union. It’s called European Voluntary Service (well, sort of).

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First, a disclaimer: I’m not official… well, anything, and this isn’t supposed to be a complete or objective resource. I want to tell the story of this big thing in my life, and I figure that without a bit of “what is what” before I get into the thick of it, none of it will make any sense.

Okay? Okay.

European Voluntary Service, shortened EVS, is a project within the Erasmus+ programme. Erasmus+ supports education and training, and EVS is specifically aimed at young people under 30.

It works something like this: The hosting organization writes a project, which the volunteer applies for, and they’re helped by their sending organization. During the project, EU pays for the volunteer’s living expenses (food and housing), as well as some pocket money for toiletries and other necessities.

Hosting organizations are non-profits of various kinds — mostly working with children and youth, but also focused on ecology, integration of refugees, or helping the elderly. The volunteers help in their activities, promote volunteering, represent their country, and generally make themselves useful.

At this point, you might be wondering, what’s the point of this?

Man, if you want to lose an hour of your life, ask an EVS volunteer this question. It’s not that there is no good answer — it’s just that there is none that would nicely sum it all up, and any attempt ends in a long monologue with lots of flailing.

Or maybe that’s just me.

But let me try:

  1. EVS is a controlled mutual culture shock. The best way to fight xenophobia is to give people positive interactions with foreign cultures, right? So how about you get a young, impressionable person, and place them in a foreign country, doing good deeds. The locals don’t feel threatened by someone so hopelessly out of depth, the volunteer gets the experience of their life, and if things go pear shaped, there is a pretty solid support system that spans two countries.
  2. EVS is another way to educate young people that complements structured education in schools and universities. (It’s called “non-formal learning” and it probably needs its own article.)
  3. EVS helps normalize volunteering amongst young people.
  4. EVS is a way to network non-profits across borders, so they can share experience and know-how.

If I really go for the big picture, I think that EVS makes the type of people that society needs more of. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve met ex-volunteers and they’re… solid. Self-assured, in a good way. They think about the world and their own role in it. They know they have a power to change things, and that they’re part of something bigger.

I’m not saying every EVS volunteer goes on to save the world, but many of them will make it a better place.

To bring this back to reality, the situation with EVS in 2018 is a little complicated. By which I mean, “there is no EVS anymore” kind of complicated.

Due to Bureaucratic Complications (TM), EVS is currently in the process of morphing into European Solidarity Corps, a same-but-different project that… as far as I know will continue doing what EVS is doing. From what I can see, it’s a case of strangling by the red tape and everyone is doing their best to keep things going, but it’s a mess.

I’m choosing to see it as a learning opportunity. non-formal learning: +1.

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