We organized all together an event for mothers of disabled children. It was held in a picturesque place that it was about to open for customers – cafe BUSZ. We were first in that new place.
We were around 10 volunteers and our goal was to interact with children while their mothers had cosmetic tratments.
I was satisfied with taking part in such activities cause my experience in working with disabled children is small. I think the work with vulnerable people requires attention, empathy, inner energy but I was doubting whether I could have such features.
I started to observe how another volunteer Zeynep was communicating with one guy, using gestures. Later i had found – it was a Makaton. I asked Zeynep to teach me simple signs and repeated after her. So I had learnt main gestures from Zeynep and used them with Maciek, a sunny boy around 10 years old.
We were playing quiet long trying to knock down pins. How much fun we had!
During the whole day I didn’t have any doubts or fears of playing with children. I know that actions are repetetive and very simple but your trophy is smiles on their faces.
Due to this little but decent experience I can say that I dont have any fears or prejudice about people with special needs.
I’m totally sure that they are more than we know about them. They can teach us patience, tolerance and love.
My first impression about the event is that it was done professionally. The panel was really interesting and the ideas that were discussed were really important.
On the first day there was a movie by the Lebanese director Nadine Labkeh, I didn’t attend however I heard it was a really good movie. On the second day there was a panel presenting different topics which was really interesting and I think it was planned really well.
It was also very interesting for me that there were people from different backgrounds and different ages coming to attend to know more, there were also volunteers from different countries helping for the event which in my opinion the event wasn’t going to be successful without them.
Afterwards on the same day there was the traditional iftar, which is the name for the meal that Muslims eat after fasting for approximately 15 to 20 hours depending on where you live where they fast of food but also of drinks even water, pretty tough right!!! But they believe in the benefits of it spiritually and health benefits too, in general this happens during Ramadan so fasting for everyday for a whole months and because the event was done in Ramadan time, they celebrated this with lots of people and cherishing the beautiful tradition, even the food was so delicious and there was a lot of Arabic variety which made a really nice atmosphere, the place was also a great time for networking and meeting open minded people.
On the following day there were different workshops that you could choose from and at the end there was a panel discussion.
I believe that this conference was really a success and I think it will be an opening to a whole new thinking about the other.
My name is Edyta. I have had the opportunity to spend the last four months in Kalmar, Sweden, where I carried out EVS in a table tennis club.
Well … to be honest, the Scandinavian countries have never been on my travel list of must-see places. But as they say: never say never. The aspect that determined my decision to participate in this project was what I would do there. Table tennis picked up a piece of my heart already when I was a little girl and accompanied me for almost my entire life. I decided that perhaps an attempt to taste Scandinavian culture in conjunction with the table tennis passion would bring about quite a positive result.
During the project, mostly I worked with children aged 8 – 12 years, teaching them the proper technique of table tennis, organizing games, supporting children during competitions by coaching, while drawing inspiration from the richer experience of trainers. From time to time, I also had the opportunity to participate in training for seniors and handicapped people.
What made this project to me?
Patience and consistency in action can work miracles.
For several years I have been taking care of the kids in the camps and so far I have not had any major problems with making contact with them. Here it turned out to be a huge problem because of the language barrier. Unfortunately, the children, who were attending the training, either did not speak English or were just ashamed and as soon as they saw me, they fled to the other end of the training hall, just not to speak with me. Such a game lasted about 1.5 months. But I realized that all you had to do was smile, give them time to get used to, and little by little the children’s attitude changed every day. It was an amazing experience to see how they develop, they become more confident, more open.
However, cooperation with the seniors and the handicap people reminded me how to enjoy the game and how to enjoy the smallest achievements, starting even from hitting the ball with a racket.
Lack of knowledge of the Swedish language, unfortunately, hindered communication with children or handicap people. But what interesting did I discover in that language?
The most important word in the Swedish dictionary is “Fika” – kind of coffee / tea break. No matter how busy you are, you have to find time for “Fika”. So you sit in a cafe, office, wherever, just with your friends, and you enjoy a delicious cofee or tea with something sweet like cinnamon rolls or cookies, in peace. Hurry? Inadvisable. So relax, take it easy.
Other interesting fact about Swedish dictionary: you will never find in there the expression “bad weather”. Rain? Snow? Sun? It does not matter what is happening behind the windows – the Swedes always bravely get their bikes and go in a certain direction. I watched with admiration the men in suits struggling with at least a four-inch snow.
Observing the Swedes, I understood why the Scandinavian countries are considered to be the happiest countries in Europe. Total slow life, a lot of physical activity and a lot of time spent in the fresh air (really fresh one).
The first sun at the end of February? It’s the perfect time for the first barbecue (according to Swedes).
Do you have any problem? No worries, it is time for Fika and we will discuss this problem and we will figure it out.
A lot of friends asked me: “And how is this Sweden? People are closed, aren’t they? ”
Ah these stereotypes. In fact, the Swedes have no open nature, but behind all this there is incredible kindness, helpfulness and positivity, you just have to give them a chance.
To sum up: Am I satisfied after the project? Do I recommend EVS? Would I go again?
First of all tea, tea is a national drink of Britain, it is a tradition to drink it at any possible break time: in the morning, evening even midday breaks. This unfortunately is an aspect which lacks in Germany, and a lack thereof is likely to cause frustration for a German is much more likely to drink coffee with tea being reserved more for the elderly. For someone like me who doesn’t drink coffee it was rather a shock and immediately had to stock myself with some Earl Gray and Green.
Another rather stark difference is the mentality especially when it comes to communication, a typical English interaction starts with two people exchanging pleasantries, what went right is the code that the British speak, what went wrong is something you learn after a compulsory cheeky pint with the lads 😉
Opposed to that is the German style of directness, for instance let’s say your pet passed away, in Britain you can’t just say that, you have to entertain your listener and having established a right level of trust such information can be shared; British people are often confounded having to listen to a German who they have never met before tell them how their marriage is going, how their kids are at school, what prospects do they have, it all leaves us with just ‘woah’ and ‘wow’ So that just happened!
Furthermore it is hard to disguise your emotions, in Britain we have a culture of understanding that what one sees is not necessarily what one feels, we have to guess and can never be sure, given the circumstances assume what someone feels despite what one says, in Germany what you put out either verbally or via expressions is what is taken for granted, it is what it is without further need to occupy yourselves with the feelings of others. It sounds harsh and can initially produce many incorrect conclusions, after all who is to know that you sitting down with a grumpy face in the morning doing work is not you being dissatisfied with what you do or others but just letting the morning tea kick in and carry on doing what you enjoy!
Another difference is following the rules, in Britain it goes: ‘if it’s not going to kill me and I can get away with it then let’s do it’. We are quite averse to danger and strangers but when it comes to cutting corners we do it, nobody bats an eye since everyone does it! Cross the street where you weren’t supposed to, ‘ehh, whatever’ says the chap next door, ‘back in my days I did the same’ an intergenerational understanding and trust is the story of the British. Germans however, oh that wouldn’t fly with them!
Coming from the Prussian style educated people, obedience to the state and the rules is overly upheld, and cutting corners is a risky business, it’s 2 am middle of the street with no cars and 2 minutes till the light turns green, well you better wait, God forbid you cross and someone sees you, if you’re lucky maybe their stern look of disapproval will be it but if you’re unlucky a hefty fine is already being written by the local Polizist.
Another difference is how they educate people, a typical British school teacher will tell you what to do and write, your goal is to remember and apply further, the ground is set you just need to make sure something grows out of it. Memorise and apply and there’s a lot of freedom to do what you want. Teachers are there to teach what is in the curriculum, your own motivation and passion is what is supposed to drive you through the boring bits. This isn’t always a good thing, students are segregated into ability sets based on that curriculum with set 1 as the highest and set 3 as the lowest but nothing is more demotivating than being put in the lowest set despite some initial motivation, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure for those selected systematically to be lower.
Germans on the other hand do things differently, a teacher doesn’t explicitly say do this and that but rather it’s always on you to follow your intuition and use logical thinking skills to produce an effective solution. Let’s say you want to connect a device to the right port, a British teacher would just say connect the yellow cable to the yellow port and then connect it via HDMI into the television so you can move on with the lesson, a German teacher on the other hand will ask you questions and the task is on you to figure out how everything fits. The usual boring bits which are seen as nothing more as a distraction or annoyance are given greater attention in the German world. Initially seen as rude or impolite, or even pointless for a person raised in Britain, the genius of that reveals itself with the fact that it teaches patience and thoughtfulness; not brushing things aside to get to the ‘fun’ bits but seeing the potential fun in what is normally brushed aside, a valuable life lesson which may betray the secret of stereotypical German efficiency, after all if you take care in performing even the most mundane tasks, you are bound to do everything right, right?!
Text and pictures by Seweryn, EVS/ ESC volunteer sent to Germany by IB Polska.
Last week I had a pleasure to participate in classes provided by Staromiejskie Centrum Kultury Młodzieży in Cracow. I was invited as a guest to journalism classes where children learn the basics of journalism and media knowledge. I heard that for the past weeks they have learned what an interview is and they were preparing to conduct and give an interview. This day was a big day for them, because they had to do their first interviews. I was a bit surprised that the guest that was invited to this special day – was me!
At the beginning, the teacher introduced me to the young students. They looked a bit nervous, but for sure not more than me. Then I was asked to tell a bit about the life of a foreigner in Krakow and about my volunteer work. Some children could not resist asking questions in this moment, they were so interested. After that students got into pairs and came to me pair by pair to ask me interview questions that they have already prepared during last classes. Some of them were so interesting. They asked me if it is difficult for me to learn polish and work with kids with disabilities that can not speak spanish or english, they wanted to know what I like the most in Poland and what is my favorite polish dish. Some kids asked what are the differences in the teaching system in Spain and Poland and where children are more polite in schools – in Poland or in Spain.
At the end everyone thanked me for the interview and it was really nice. Even some students wanted to ask additional questions apart from the interview, because they were curious about life in Spain. I saw all children very interested and focused on the work of a journalist.
They did a good job and I hope that in the future they will become great journalists!
Today EVS volunteers Maria from Greece, Josie from Germany, Aurore from France, Maram from Egypt and Zeynep from Turkey visited a place where old people with disabilities live (Dom Pomocy Społecznej im. Helclów w Krakowie). At this interesting meeting the volunteers did some activities to present their countries.
Specifically, Aurore from France and Maria from Greece showed to people traditional dances from their countries and put traditional music. Also Maria and Zeynep make a presentation. At these presentations they showed photos of their countries and they talk about customs and habits typical for Greece and Turkey. People seemed to enjoy it and I think it was a nice opportunity for them to meet people from other countries and listen about other cultures.
Also music was in the event! Josie sang a songs and played music and some people were given an instrument and they have to play music too. The people enjoyed it and they seemed very happy.
Last but not least volunteers cooked a traditional meal of their countries and people who were living at the center tried it. Specifically, the volunteers prepared chalva, Turkish cookies and tiramisu. In general, it was a nice meeting. Both volunteers and people who were living there enjoyed it.
For old people it was a nice chance to meet people from other countries and spend their day in a creative way and for volunteers it was a nice chance to meet people at a different age and see how works the organization who hosts old people with different kind of problems.
The more you know about different things from you the better you become!
On Friday March 22, the volunteers were invited by the City Council to talk about the ‘Open Kraków’ program. The program was briefly presented to us after which we were able to ask questions.
Open Kraków, or Otwarty Kraków in Polish, is a program created in 2016 by the City Council aiming to create an sense of solidarity, awareness and knowledge of the culture and customs of people of different nationality or ethnicity living in Krakow.
The program is firstly addressed to foreigners living in Poland by providing assistance for various issues. Some parts of the program however are also addressed to all of Krakow’s citizens, such as a multicultural festival.
As the program is still recent it is still a work in progress, but the main achievements already obtained include:
A welcome package for foreigners which consists of a guidebook full of information about education, health care, social benefits, insurance, work principles, the procedure in cases of crime, renting apartments, driving license, legal advice etc. The guidebook can be downloaded for free here. Additionally, a Krakow guide for families was also created.
Information Point for Foreigners, launched in April 2018. The aim of this information point is to provide information on all kinds of subjects in Polish, English, Ukrainian and Russian. In addition to these four languages, help might be provided in another language as the Information Point tries to compose a team as diversified is possible language-wise. The main focus lays on increasing the knowledge of foreigners about their rights and obligations and issues related to city life, increasing civic involvement of the foreigners living in Krakow and their integration with the inhabitants of Krakow and strengthening the information and promotion of activities in the area of integration of foreigners.
Interkulturalia Festival with the aim of integrating the local environment around the idea of cultural diversity, good neighborlines, the community of regional and European heritage and respect for religion.
Educational and informational activities such as Polish-Ukrainian Culinary-Educational Workshops and Middle East Speaks
Conferences referring to the idea of multiculturalism. Issues addressed include gender balance in leadership, multicultural schools, dialogue and intercultural cooperation, Polish Armenians on the path to Polish Independence, migration etc.
MURAL project in cooperation with Great Britain, Portugal, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany. This project’s aim is to promote the principles of pluralism and democracy, to support transnational cooperation and the exchange of knowledge and the most effective practices to counteract intolerance.
A few volunteers had some questions about the program as well. Most questions concerned either the specifics of their educational program or the residence / work permit application procedure for non-EU citizens. The question about the educational program was asked by those working in a primary school as they wanted to know what exactly the workshop held in schools consisted of.
More information about the Open Kraków program can be found on their official website.
Merhaba! I’m Izabela, 23 years old and I spent two months in Ankara, Turkey doing my EVS project. Was it worth it? Am I recommending EVS experience? You’re about to find out.
When anybody asks me, why Turkey, I always answer that it wasn’t like I chose Turkey but Turkey chose me. I’m during my gap year, so as it is commonly assumed it’s time for travelling. I hadn’t any specific country I want to visit, nor things I want to do. The only thing I was aware of was my will to travel abroad, no matter where. I found out about EVS projects by accident and applied for some random ones. My project, Meeting of Generations hosted by System & Generation was first to answer my application, so I was like – why not? Ok, I’m kidding, decision was the hardest part of my experience. I talked a lot with my friends, family, hosting and sending organisation. I was afraid of losing my job, taking a break of my volunteering in Poland and most of all that I’m doing it due to social pressure, not because I want it. Words aren’t enough to express how much support and kindness I got; people understood my fears and at the same time enabled my journey. So I took my stuff and flew to Turkey.
My project focused mostly on disabled people but it was mix of everything. In addition to this activity me and other volunteers were teaching English in one school, taking part in meetings with politics, hosting language exchange, working in the office and many many more one-shot actions. What I really want to share with you is my experience of disabled people’s attitude, which I was happy to came across especially in cafeteria I was working. Cafe Down is small cafeteria in the centre of Ankara. Almost all of staff has mental disabilities, not to mention nobody speaks English there so communication was a challenge. Many times we didn’t understand what they want us to do and they didn’t understand what we need. However, despite that everyone were so thrilled that we’re there. We weren’t able to give them much, just a little help in cleaning dishes or making tea, we couldn’t give them even a small talk but that didn’t matter. All we could give and all they needed was our time. Time spent together meant everything. How wonderful philosophy; everyone, no matter of age, religion, country, education is able to give and receive time and that’s enough. Disabled people taught me that I don’t need anything more from people that are willing to see me. It’s like disability opens their eyes for this simple truth that I can’t see. That’s of course not everything I learned during my EVS. But what I find important is the fact that not everything I learned was so beautiful as the lesson above. I found out that what I considered my strength isn’t this strong as I thought. I found out about my new flaws. Everyone before my EVS told me that it would be the greatest experience in my entire life. Everyone said that travelling is so amazing. I blindly believed in all this stuff without any thought and that was my bad. During the journey bad things happened too. And it wasn’t like excitement all the time, I faced everyday’s life and even boredom there. It was my first real journey abroad and the first time I really felt like foreign somewhere, so it was a surprise to find out that there’s something beyond all this great adventures that people always talking about when giving you speech about their travels.
Okay, I’ve got probably little too deep into this but I really hope that my experience and words will be helpful for someone who’s not sure whether to make EVS or not. For me it was worth it, even if I learned there that I did it because of social pressure and travelling is not for me. Now I know that everyone is different and I don’t have to feel about something the same way most people feel. It’s a surprise that it took all of this for me to finally get to know that. Take care and see you somewhere somehow!
On Wednesday 20th of February, a couple of volunteers were invited to School number 11 for the Tortilla festival. It was a joyful event with lots of tortilla, fun and music…
In total, three classes participated in the Tortilla festival. The ultimate goal was to make the tastiest tortilla. In order to do so, the class was divided in small groups of two to four people who then prepared a tortilla at home and presented it at the festival. The jury, consisting of volunteers, then tasted all tortillas and graded them. We must admit that we were surprised by the creativity of the participants! While some tried to respect the traditional recipe, others added some surprising elements like vegetables, meat or even decoration. They were all really delicious and ranking them was quite hard! In the end, we were able to decide on a top three, but not after some debating and discussion between the volunteers.
After eating the tortilla’s, it was time for some musical break. Joao took out his guitar and started playing and singing La Bamba, twice. The first time, only Joao and a few volunteers sang, but the second time all volunteers, students and teachers sang loudly. It’s a fun song to sing and I’m sure some people were singing it all day long as it’s a real earworm!
Below, you can find some impressions from Julieta and Javi, two Spanish volunteers:
Julieta: It was a funny idea that makes children engaged to be part of the event and learn about Spanish culture through it’s cuisine, there was also music by one Spanish volunteer which helped creating the atmosphere. They all did a very good job with their tortillas and sometimes it was difficult to decide.
We end up full of tortilla but we had a great time!
Javi: Yesterday We were in the omelet festival which was very very fun. The children were excited to present their tortillas. First we learnt the history about “Tortilla de patatas” and the children explained how they cooked the tortillas and with what ingredients. Then we went to try those spectacular tortillas of all flavors and shapes. It was a great day in which the volunteers enjoyed a lot with teachers and students.
Text and pictures by Pauline, volunteer from Belgium.
On the 7th February, about fifteen volunteers came for a lecture in the Jewish Community Center organised between the center and Internationaler Bund Polska. They got the chance to meet rabbi Avi Baumol who told them about the history of the Jewish community and also about his own story.
Firstly, he talked about himself and his own belonging to jewish community. Born from polish parents in the USA, he came to Poland to teach judaism to people. In fact, many people, jewish or not, want to know about this culture, this believe, according to him. Nowadays, and after everything that happened in the jewish community in the past, there are still many jewish people in the world. Even though they are not so visible, and some of them, according to the rabbi, don’t tell their children they are jewish, we assist to a « reborn » of the belief and the proudness to be jewish.
Then, came the time where volunteers could ask questions and exchange thoughts with the rabbi. Here, a good exchange between them happened. Between his own past and the jewish community’s one, volunteers learned more about the jewish community. Their past in history, also during war, their believes, how they practice being a jew.
And it was more interesting in the fact that, coming from differents countries, differents religions, the curiosity and interest is still the same. This afternoon was about sharing knowledge and stories about jewish community to those people, the volunteers, who now will be able to share it in return.
On 4th of February, volunteers went to the Historical Museum of Kraków to see the exhibition Nativity scene (exhibition still visitable until the 28th of February). Here, they learned about this Krakowian tradition, where Krakowians created a competition to build nativity scene, called szopka. Then, people were invited to choose the most beautiful one. In that exhibition, you can admire some of them. Ones with lights inside, some with little caracters in motion. During this afternoon, volunteers could learn more about Krakowian past and traditions.
Pictures and text by Sarah, volunteer from France.
Cześć! My name is Lilith, transformed in Poland into ‘Pani Lily’. I come from Armenia. Yes, I know, you have no idea, where it is, so feel free to googlemap it. No worries… I’m lying! How on earth you don’t know where is Armenia?!
I passed 2900 kilometers, survived 11 hours on the road with 3,5 hour stopover for one destination -Kraków!
There are many reasons why people decide to do an EVS. Some need refreshment, someone got stuck, for someone it is a perfect gap year, somebody eager to travel and meet new people. But there is one thing that unites all EVS volunteers – willingness to grow, to become a better man year after.
Through EVS you will discover a brand new culture. I found myself in the streets protesting against shooting of wild pigs, singing polish carols at the Main Square, celebrating Great-parents’ Day. While diving into polish way of living, you start to live like a local, you start to care. And this is one of the most important lessons for me so far.
Through EVS you will experience tolerance at its finest. Talking about Catalan Independence, seeing emotions of a German coming from Auschwitz, getting to know about Albanian-Macedonian relationships, learning about new established Ukrainian church, exploring tension between south and north of Italy and so on… I’ve become more curious, more interested, ended up asking countless questions.
Through EVS you will appreciate more your country. I may not be in Armenia, but I carry Armenia with me. You are becoming an ambassador of your country in Poland. You are appreciating its uniqueness, which I never thought about before coming.
Through EVS you are learning constantly, every day. Being thrown into totally new environment you have no other chance than to flourish.