She is positive, decisive and brave, steeled in the heart of Siberia. Her family moves from Uray to Ufa, the capital city of the Republic of Bashkortostan in 1999, when she is 9. Later on, she receives her post-graduate education in Applied Computer Science and Economics.

In today’s interview we are introducing you Gyuzel, one of the 6 ESC volunteers in our team, part of the project “Volunteering circles”.

Hello, Gyuzel, it’s nice to have you here. Starting from the very beginning, can you tell us how did you decide to become a volunteer in this project?

I have been a volunteer for 5 years already. After my first volunteering experience in 2015, I got addicted and since then I have always been trying to look for opportunities in Russia or abroad. I have participated as a volunteer in many international sport events, such as the World Football Cup. Then I went to a volunteer camp in Finland and after this I got to know about EVS, because before that I didn’t know so much about it. I started to search for projects abroad related to refugees, because I really liked my experience in Finland and I wanted to work again with refugees. So, I found this project and also one in Turkey. I was accepted in both, but I chose Bulgaria over Turkey because, the project in Turkey was in a city in the border between Turkey and Syria and I was afraid to stay there.

Do you like the project you are involved in right now?

Yes, I really like to go to camps and to organize excursions for refugees and also when we organize the Refugee Month. I also really liked it. (The Refugee month is November)

What do you enjoy most in your volunteering activities?

To interact with kids.

Did you have chance to make new friends there?

No, not yet. (smiling)

And did you learn something about their culture for example?

Yes, especially these gestures. For example when you want to ask someone to come to you, you make like wave with your fingers but they do it in the opposite way.

Oh, really?

Yeah, yeah. So when you do it your fingers they look up but when they do it their fingers look down because when you do it with the fingers looking up that means that you want to come and mock the person and for them it is rude.

Interesting. And how do you find the life in Sofia. Is it easy to live here or not so easy?

In the beginning it was difficult, because before that I was living with my parents and I didn’t have to face with problems like buying stuff every day and cleaning all the time, but here I am responsible for my life by myself so I have to think about all these things starting from food, cleaning, also leisure time and everything. So I think I became more independent here.

What was the most challenging thing for you in your work, life, adapting here?

I didn’t have problems with the language, so maybe the currency. Because in the beginning I had to convert everything to Russian rubles, because I didn’t know the value of leva, I know the value of Russian rubles that’s way I had to convert and every time when you go somewhere if you pick up 10 things, you convert 10 things in your mind but then I realized I need to think in levas not in rubles.

How do you spend usually your free time?

Before the quarantine I tried to participate in as many activities as I could. My friends volunteers, who I met during the trainings, were often organizing storytelling, cultural nights, I tried to go and visit them. Also I had a sport card, I was going almost every day to the gum and I practiced yoga, also I was making videos for my Youtube channel. 

Do you find this volunteering experience helpful for your self-development?

Oh yes, I think yes. I started to understand myself more. I think I have become more independent open-minded really. Because as I live in a Muslim Republic we have a lot of restrictions. Here you can do all you want and no one will judge you, that’s way I think yeah I have become more open minded and patient as well.

Do you have any plans what you want to do after your project?

No. (smiling)

What about during your project, would you like to travel somewhere after the quarantine?

I would like to visit some places, but as Russian citizen I don’t have Schengen visa to travel, so probably I will travel only to Balkan countries I haven’t been before, like Albania, Crna gora.

Are there any tips you would like to share to the future volunteers?

To take advantage from the beginning, from the day you come here, be initiative, spread your ideas, don’t wait for a task but be really active and initiative.

Thank you very much Gyuzel. We wish you good luck with the rest of the project and many unforgettable experiences.

With friends at Rila’s lakes
“Human library: Make food, not war” at Cinema House, November 2019
During Human library in Plovdiv, September 2019
Drum circle
In front of the Belgrade Fortress

The project “Volunteering Circles” (2018-2-BG01-KA125-048262) is Co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and Human Resource Development Center (HRDC).

 Posted by Monika at 12:46 EVS news, Volunteer activities, Volunteer news Comments Off on Gyuzel Gaffanova – to keep on expanding

Coming from sunny Madrid with a suitcase full of smiles, optimism, wild hitchhike stories and unceasing excitement, Bea becomes part of the project “Volunteering circles” part of the European Solidarity Corps program, driven by her desire to bring positive impact in refugees’ lives.

For her 25 years she has behind her a BA in Psychology and a Master degree in International Solidarity Action. Being a volunteer supporting women involved in prostitution, she holds the dream to work in the field of gender violence and migration empowering women survivors of trafficking to reclaim control of their lives and  to move on from thеir past.

In today’s interview we are introducing you Bea and her volunteering experience in Sofia – just the way they are.

Hello Bea, will you tell us first how you decided to become a volunteer here?

I wanted to work with refugees. At the time I was looking for a project there weren’t so many options. Apart from the “Volunteering circles” project in Sofia I had selected two more – one in Slovenia – volunteering in a center for mental pathologies and in Stockholm being a social worker for refugees. As I was looking to work with refugees I had to choose between Sweden and Sofia. I didn’t want to freeze so much,  so Sofia felt more appealing to me – easy to travel, not so ordered, strict, a bit chaotic, messy just like me – I am messy and disordered so the project and the city were a good combination for me.

Did you have any challenging moments living and volunteering in Sofia?

Generally no. The biggest challenge for me was to adapt in the office. I came with a lot of energy at the beginning and wanted to start working on things right away, but in the process you come to see that things need time to be planned and delivered, so I had to learn how to be patient. Also what was difficult for me was to see that here at 9-10 o’clock there are not so many people in the streets, in Madrid it’s just the same as it’s a very vibrant city. People are also more open. Here I happened to observe two types of people – cold and suspicious and more welcoming ones. I am a very welcoming person but for me is not easy to bond in the workshops I am attending for example because people prefer to speak in Bulgarian and I don’t really speak the language. But I like Sofia as the atmosphere is more free – the bus driver can stop suddenly and grab a coffee, I have seen this and I really like it.

You have immersed yourself in different initiatives apart from your activities at CVS, can you tell us more about them?

Yes, in the beginning I wanted to support the project of Caritas in Busmantsi. I joined the organization team behind the Feminist march for 8th of March, I am part of an informal group raising the awareness of the refugee situation in the border. A cause that I also want to support more is Fridays for Future.

What about your free time, how do you spend it?

I am a really sociable person. I like to be with people. I hang out with the girls, attend cultural events, bars, I travel, dance – I am going to salsa classes, I cook a lot and I am active in different initiatives regarding gender and equality.

Do you have any plans what you would like to do after finishing your project?

I don’t want to think so much about it.  I want to continue traveling and working in different countries. I’d like to find a project in South America and to explore this part of the world, as well India at some point. I want to combine discovering and traveling with something more organized. But I don’t want a commitment for 1 year.

Are there any tips you would like to give to the future volunteers?

Yes, totally! First of all, to feel what they want to do, to prepare mentally and to set their priorities –language learning, to gain work experience in certain sphere, to meet other people, what they want to develop. Then to find as much as possible information before they decide to apply.

International volunteering is often said to be a life-changing experience. What do you think about it?

In my case, I still don’t have the sensation of “before” and “after”, even though I’m waiting for it or maybe it will happen when I’m back at home, although right now with all the coronavirus crisis I don’t know what is going to happen with the project. Nonetheless, coming to Sofia radically changed my life and my mates’ because we moved to a new country with a new language, started a new project with new people, moved in a new house and a lot more of “new” etceteras.

If you compare yourself before starting your project and now in its middle – do you find any changes in yourself?

I think I have realized through team work and coexistence in the apartment that I am not as flexible as I thought and now I am trying to develop more patience in myself. It’s really easy to blame others before blaming yourself, but this is not a nice trait. I have also learned more things about me through seeing myself in such a new situation. So for the moment, the change would be more in the level of self-perception or self-knowledge. I came to Bulgaria to challenge myself and gain confidence as a professional and that is still in process – I hope to have the chance to develop my ideas, to feel proud of my work and skills.

No doubt you will succeed! And finally can you tell us what are your first associations with these words – volunteering, young people, Bulgarians, kiselo mlyako?

Volunteering: solidarity, empathy, multicultural

Young people: future, opportunities, growth

Bulgarians: roulette

Kiselo mlyako: yogurt haha

Thank you for having you here Bea. From all of us at CVS we wish you good luck and much more colorful volunteering ahead. 🙂

Hitchhike with a happy ending
“Winter kids fest” with fun activities and presents for the kids from the three refugee camps
Human Library “Make food not war”
“DOBROFEST” (11.12.2019)

The project “Volunteering Circles” (2018-2-BG01-KA125-048262) is Co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and Human Resource Development Center (HRDC).

 Posted by Monika at 14:18 EVS news, Volunteer activities Comments Off on Beatriz Cintas Cantarero – to express your voice boldly


About the hosting organization

Servizio Civile Internazionale (SCI Italia) is the Italian branch of Service Civil International network (SCI), international voluntary movement present in more than 80 countries around the world. For almost 100 years it’s been promoting international voluntary projects on the themes of peace and disarmament, conscientious objection, human rights and international solidarity, sustainable lifestyles, social inclusion and active citizenship. At the base there is a concrete commitment to change situations of inequality, injustice and violation of human rights.
SCI Italia, founded in 1948, is an NGO recognized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Advisory Member of UNESCO and the Council of Europe. It is based in Rome and is supported by several regional and local groups of activists. Regional and local groups deal with training activities and the promotion of volunteering in various Italian regions,
supporting the work of the National Secretariat. In Rome, San Paolo neighborhood, SCI Italia has been carrying out “La Citt? dell’Utopia” project since 2003, which plays a significant role at local and international level.
During its existence, SCI Italia has sent and received thousands of volunteers, contributing significantly to the dissemination of both practices and values of international volunteering in Italy. Every year about 300 Italian volunteers leave through our association for international voluntary projects all over the world; we also organize more than 30 international voluntary workcamps a year in Italy that host more than 250 international volunteers, thus contributing to the development of social activities, environmental protection and historical-cultural activities. SCI Italia is also coordinating, hosting and sending organization for European Voluntary Service (EVS) projects since 1997, and implements several international projects thanks to the Erasmus+ programme and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights.

Profile of volunteers

– have good command of English
– have good command of Italian
– be able to work in a team
– have good communication skills and motivation to cooperate with colleagues and SCI Italia’s activists
– have good educational and social skills, to be able to work with several target groups
– motivated to learn and share knowledge and skills
– have good computer skills (Ubuntu or Microsoft Office, email, internet)
– have a responsible attitude and take initiative towards her/his tasks
– have administrative and organizational skills
– open mind and flexible attitude towards working hours, especially between May-July

Project activities

Start: 01.11.2018
End: 31.10.2019
– process workcamps applications of volunteers via SCI Online Placement System (OPS) at
– support the organization of public events related to volunteering and active citizenship
– support the dissemination of SCI Italia’s activities and campaigns
– take part to SCI Italia’s trainings for workcamp coordinators
– keep in contact with workcamp coordinators
– coordinate 1-2 workcamps
– support the process of workcamps’ evaluation
– look after Italian long-term volunteers engaged in EVS projects abroad
– assistance in designing promotional material or online communication -related tasks
Project language: English, Italian
Local language: Italian
Pocket money, food and transport allowance: 300 €
Travel costs: covered according Erasmus+ funding rules
Lodging: La Citt? dell’Utopia, double shared room in a flat with other international volunteers

Application procedure

Send your CV and motivation letter in English. Your motivation letter should answer the following questions:
– Why did you choose SCI Italia and this particular project?
– What do you expect to learn and experience during your EVS?
– What can you bring to the work of SCI Italia?
The deadline for applying is 10.09.2018. Please send your application to Natalia at

 Posted by Shirin at 16:25 EVS news Comments Off on EVS in SCI Italy National Secretariat


Project Start: September 1st, 2018

Project End: August 31st, 2019

Project summary:

The MJC is a nonprofit organization , we promote a non formal education. Our main goal is the development of active citizenship for young people and adults through the implementation of social and cultural activities ,including entering into the fields of leisure, recreation and sports. Education and prevention.

We have many projects for a diversified public: children, young people and adults, we have different actions with educational, cultural or social aims. We have several educational activities for migrants ( lessons in French, promoting social and professional inclusion) . Our goal is to fight against exclusions. We work with the school to help students in their formal educational work and connect teachers and family – parenthood – and we organize cultural actions for families with fewer opportunities. We also work with young people, we organize many actions of support to their projects and the valorization of their initiatives and we support the engagement of the young people in the local action. We have important experience in the field of youth work and assist many young people in very different projects: social, cultural, educational and professional. Most of our actions concern the engagement of young people and we support them in their process of autonomy.

 Volunteer Tasks:

 The EVS volunteers could be involved in many project in the MJC including social, educational and cultural activities

  • Migrants program: French classes, cultural workshops and visits, social escorting
  • Leasure activities for children and teenagers during holidays or after school
  • Events: «Village des Sciences» (event promoting the discovery of Science), intercultural week, «Village des Associations» (event promoting local civil society), sustainable development week, initiative and citizenship week, International Volunteers day
  • Multimedia lab: access to Internet, office and video traineeship, games workshop, mobile computers, Web TV
  • Scientific, technological and environmental activities for children and young people: CNRS club, «small scientific» club, scientific or environmental animations within school or youth groups, organization of youth workshops
  • Support for the local civil society and development of initiative amongst the young people: help and advice for organization, training
  • School coaching: for children from the first year of kindergarten through primary and secondary school : help with homework, cultural and pedagogical workshops, introduction to English, educational outings and visits. Training, meeting and exchange days for the school coaches of the district. For families: links with the school establishments and familial outings
  • Web TV and video workshops
  • Administrative tasks as communication (flyers, advertisements, etc.)
  • Volunteers will be provided with French classes up to 4 hours per week during the project


Profile of volunteers:

  •  Willingness to work on the subject of migration and with young people
  • Willingness to be actively involved in the project and in the community
  • Personal motivation and positive spirit
  • Personal contribution to the project – ideas and proposals for activities and enrichment of the project
  • Flexibility, readiness to work as part of the team / group
  • Desire to learn new things
  • Easily adaptable, sociable
  • Basic knowledge of French is recommended, but not mandatory



Elbeuf is a small town near Rouen, the center of the Normandy region. The MJC Youth and Cultural Center works in an area where approximately 50,000 people live.

Accommodation will be in an apartment, with volunteers sharing a dormitory with a maximum of one other volunteer. The apartment has common living and kitchen areas. Volunteers will be able to prepare meals by providing 7 euros per day for food. MJC interns will also be accommodated in the facility, which will encourage contacts with the French youth. The accommodation will be a reasonable distance from the center of the MJC, provided a monthly travel card throughout the Rouen Normandy metropolis, as they will have access to entertainment, shopping, leisure facilities or sports. Individual support: 180 € per month.

Deadline for applications:

As soon as possible up to June 30th, 2018


You can look at the organization’s website:

Send CV and a motivational letter explaining which topic is most interesting to you and would like to emphasize during the project. Send the documents to

If you have any questions or need for additional information, Natalia from our team will assist you. Her email is

 Posted by Shirin at 11:43 EVS news Comments Off on Spend a year in Normandy as an EVS volunteer


Project start: September 1 2018

Project end: July 1 2019

Project summary:

The Municipality of Bremanger have short-term and long-term goals in our EVS project., so the background for our participation is

Short – term : Local youth feel that something is happening based on their interests and desires.

Long term: Contributes to the development of  local youth work and our local community.

Our main goal is to increase activity and well being for children, youth and young adults age 10 – 30 years old and vulnerable groups in our social.

We are a depopulation municipality and wish our children and young people experience quality and fun activity  in their childhood environment. With a positive experience of their childhood years, we hope they come back after end education.

Also the working area of the organization itself deals with the non-formal and informal education, in this way the volunteers will have the opportunity to try out different working and learning styles, that will help them to acquire essential competences and will contribute to their personal and professional development.

We expect our project to have a high impact on innovative activities, especially in our focus area  youth work and inclusion of youth . We expect our participant to develop their physical skills in new and challenging situation, as well as exercising important social skills such as teamwork and leadership. We also expect that the project will provide great learning, motivation and commitment to us employees.

In the long term this will affect our communities and our local cooperative partners. To increased activity and well-being measures for children and youth it will  do our youth work more visible in the community. It will hopefully lead to better cooperation in all local child and youth work and in our organization lead to better cooperation between the sections.

As a host municipality we are looking for 4 EVS participant (1 from Bulgaria) age 18 – 30 years. Interested in our focus area child and youth work.

This work involves activities such as:

Work in the local voluntary service, library, school, youth club . All activity where our local people are involved.

  • Development of intercultural activities in the Youth Clubs and for the surrounding community
  • Daily work with the youngsters in the Youth Centre/ EVS apartment – to promote a “Meaningfull Lesuretime”
  • To promote non-formal education with youngsters with special needs
  • To create or to search for innovative materials to use in the Youth Centre
  • To plan – implement – evaluate activities
  • Develop workshop with focus on inclusion\involvement of youth Active Bremanger

Specially, we value:

  • willing to integrate actively, in the project and the community
  • Personal motivation and positive spirit
  • Personal contribution to the project. With ideas and suggestions of activities and enriching the project
  • flexibility, willingness to work as part of a group
  • willingness to learn new things
  • interact with people, to be talkative and outgoing.

Application documents:

  • CV in english
  • Motivational letter in english

Deadline for applications: 24 June 2018

Contact: Please send your documents to Natalia at


 Posted by Shirin at 16:03 EVS news Comments Off on Spend a year in Norway as an EVS volunteer

A few days after the International Volunteer Day we are posting the EVS story of Vicky, who recently was our volunteer and project coordinator. She is currently EVS volunteer in SCI International Secretariat in Antwerp, Belgium. We re-publish her story for her first month there, which can only keep us warm and inspire for more happy volunteer stories and experiences. We are looking forward to her next ‘beer’ stories in her blog, where you can read the original article.

“December is a universe …”, a friend once wrote. Today, the first of December it exactly one month since I jumped into my EVS experience and  my life in Antwerp, Belgium, started. Cup of hot coffee, Beirut from neighboring computer and enough pent inspiration are a good opportunity to write a story. Or just to describe  what happened to me last month.


It all started exactly a year ago when I decided that either I will study my dream master’s degree in Germany or I will find an inspiring EVS project to digest the coming year. I quickly gave up from my master (thanks to a number of reasons and circumstances), and the perfect EVS project came to me by chance in April. It was the second one for which I applied and was rather an exception, as I was involved in the activities of the organization along CVS-Bulgaria.

While volunteering with CVS and coordinating several projects last year, I had the opportunity to become part of the Bulgarian family of SCI and to fall inlove with the every single thing I did with the girls there. This is only a small part of the reason to be an EVS volunteer nowhere else, but in the International Secretariat of SCI. A great chance to improve myself in a different meanings. To learn and to create.

For those who don’t know SCI (SCI International) is an international network of organizations whose primary mission is to promote a culture of peace by organizing international voluntary initiatives and projects. CVS-Bulgaria is the Bulgarian branch and practically my project is like continuation of my work in CVS. The challenge here is that the projects are of international level, with a lot more work, communication and coordination. The Secretariat is that core that moves larger projects, supports partner organizations, dealing with finances, promotion of the network itself online and offline, attend meetings and support each working group within the SCI. What my job is, is one of the most common questions that encounter with regard to my project. The two main things that I do are communication and support of the Create a Climate for Peace Campaign, along which will participate in various meetings and seminars related to the campaign. The challenge for me as not-very-eco-oriented person who did it is curious to learn more and more and to make more conscious and informative choices in my life. At least when it comes to protecting the environment and our nature, yes. The second thing I do is again (surprise) communication and coordination of projects within the working group SAVA, which in turn is regionally oriented and deals with the involvement of young people from the Balkans. In general, all good things… and people (especially people). Besides all communication and coordination, and I have my own projects, I am enthusiastic and motivated to accomplish with the support of SCI. I will tell you more about them later.


I already mentioned that I live in Antverpen – the last place that I thought I would live. A country which I had not even smelled. Few things that I knew were related mainly to Brussels – beer and chocolate, which I do not disregard, but believe me – Belgium is much more than its beers (for which I will write a separate post, fact!)

Antwerp is like a fairy tale decor. I’ve read and seen many things about the city before I arrived, but nothing is what your eyes see it live. Central Station is the most enchanting station I’ve ever seen. I can spend a lot of time just staring at her details. We live in the center in a romantic old house with creaky stairs and shacking floor under the streetcar. Our house is belonging to Oxfam Fondation. Entering the entrance you will meet shelf with old books and a few boxes of the same. The entrance passes the Oxfam bookshop, where so nice that no one is surprised when realize that there are working only volunteers (mainly elderly). Who would not want to spend their free time between books? Three floors up and 55 stairs are the exact distance to my attic room. Now I understand why Carlson lives on the roof. For a company of the opposite building protect us Spiderman mural. I feel absolutely at the right place. Going to work with bikes where you often “wake up” with the smell of chocolate as we have the privilege to work to the chocolate factory. Right, Charlie and the chocolate factory are a few steps away, and one of the first things you learn is where to go and ask for your boxes with free chocolate. Just saying “Hello, we are from the SCI office and looking for a chocolate” and suddenly the magic happens. I decided that every Monday will begin with chocolate of “laboratory”. In spite of all that hate-Mondays-attitude, mine Mondays will be always sweet and happy. Another reason to be a happy volunteer. And for you to be my guests. 😉

My bike – I have already mentioned it. I might not have a pet or dog or a cat, but the bike is definitely my most faithful friend (after Marta, my roommate). I got used to it quicker than I imagined and now I can’t live without my bike. There are trams, but never used them since I ride a bike. Those who know me, know how much I love trams…once I even wanted to make a documentary in the tram with all the specific and colorfull peope…
So, imagine my bike love. Fearless I drive slowly and very quickly. Sometimes I fall, but not fatal. Love at first sight.


Precisely on bike and with short distances I start to get to know more and more the beauties of Antwerp. I already had its first moment that I wanted to get in a jar, to take it home, and to open it when I’m bored or just need something inspiring for my soul. It was the last week on Thursday, when we were in Ecokot – eco-oriented organization that deals with different things. They have nice colorful garden and from time to time organize some events. Every thursday at 19:00 they cook from the garden in order to raise funds for the organization. They have their own homemade organic beer, which is not bad at all, there is a bike doctor – that’s right! He can fix your bike for free. Ecokot is also a friendly bar with a lot of books, carpets on the ground, zen atmosphere, it is like you are in someone’s huge cozy living room with a small “stage” where musician could play whatever they want. The same evening a musician had played guitar, then others join him, they played djembe drums, trumpet and even (!!!) tambourine. One lady sang Nora Jones, Manu Chao… like is the only thing that you would listen before going to sleep.

Everything was so informal and unpretentious, and I was filled with emotion and farytail-ness. I think that was the moment when I felt the spirit of Antwerp. They said it’s “the country’s capital of cool” and they are not wrong. There are enough cafes and bars that you can go to a different one every day (as Ela said once before I arrive). The rover, MAS museum where you can see all the city lights from the top of it, street musicians, many galleries, fries and waffles on every corner, cycle paths, turkish area, chinese area, maroccan area, jewish area where you feel like in a movie. All the things that one newcomer needs to get used quickly with the life here. Antwerp is definitly a living city.

I have many ideas that I hope to realize during the coming months. Challenge myself with little things that so far I haven’t experienced or seen. Small challenges as spices. And, yes, I am lucky to live with Marta from Catalonia, with who we get along so well as we always knew each other before. She is one of the most sincere people here. We share food, beer, gossip, sometimes room when we have guests. She cooks tortillas, and I cook tarator. She makes risotto and I mishmash. Food connects, but to have someone with whom to share it is even better.

A month, and it is like much more. I will not stop repeating that to be an EVS volunteer is one of the best things that can happen to you. This blog is just to show (you) and tell all the stories all around. And maybe to inspire you.

 Posted by Victoria at 15:14 EVS news, Volunteer activities Comments Off on EVS volunteer in Belgium and someone ride a bike

We present you with the story of Theodora Stankova, who was a volunteer with Nukanti Foundation in Colombia thanks to European Voluntary Service (EVS). Her project “Empowering young Colombians through Leadership and Participation” was for a period of one year – from the beginning of February 2013 to the end of January 2014 – and it was financed through the programme Youth in Action of the European Commission.

riding a horse

Riding a horse – or just posing for the picture 🙂

It all started in 2012 when I went to South America for the first time. My friend and I had only 3 months and a very ambitious agenda starting in Brazil and finishing off in Peru. This time I did not have the chance to visit Colombia, but I fell in love with another South American country, Chile, and for the first time started dreaming about spending more time in South America.

So when I got back home I started thinking of how I could go back to Chile with almost no money. I had been involved with a local NGO, CVS-Bulgaria, for about ten years and I knew that there was a great opportunity for young people to do long-term volunteer projects abroad, not only in Europe but also outside of Europe. This great opportunity was called European Voluntary Service (EVS), part of the Youth in Action Programme funded by the European Commission. I know that EVS was available for young people up to 30 years old, so it was my last chance to do it!! CVS-Bulgaria had never sent volunteers outside of Europe through this program but they decided to support me in this adventure. So now I only had to find a hosting organization in Chile!

happy birthday in Quinchia

A great surprise for my birthday in the headquarters of Nukanti Colombia 🙂

Well, I had no luck in this… But I managed to find an organization in Colombia and I said “Why not? It’s close enough!”. So I wrote to Nukanti Foundation, who were looking for English teachers in the Coffee Region of Colombia, and told them about the EVS opportunity, through which volunteers could have not only their food and accommodation covered, but also up to 90 % of their travel costs. Based on my experience we decided what kind of activities to include in the project and then I only had a few weeks to write the project, with the support of the EVS coordinator at CVS-Bulgaria.

So to cut a long story short project submitted in June and approved in October. Now when the dream was slowly becoming a reality I had to take care of a lot of details – organize my travel, visa and insurance, with the priceless help of Natalie Jivkova, my EVS coordinator. And so at the end of January 2013 I had my visa and ticket to Pereira, a town in Colombia that I had never heard of before. I would spend the next one year in Quinchia, a small village about 3 hours from the capital of the Risaralda department.

last English class with the children in Quinchia

My kids in Quinchia 🙂 Five of the children from the children’s English group who were the most motivated and always came to the classes

The day when I arrived to Quinchia was my birthday and they had a great surprise for me. Everyone from Nukanti had gathered in the office to welcome me with a small cake and a sign saying (or at least trying to say!) “Happy birthday!” in Bulgarian. This day I met Leonardo, the director of Nukanti Colombia, my supervisor throughout the project, and Fernando, my colleague and mentor. I also got to know Orsolya, a Hungarian volunteer who had arrived about one month before me – I think the most important person for me during my stay in Quinchia. During the four months that we worked together we shared our daily lives, both work and leisure. I must say that it was a great

support to have another foreign volunteer with me in the first few months!! When you go to a place where everything is new – new people, new surroundings, new culture – having someone who shares the same fears and expectations, someone to support you and whom you can support, is always of great help.

With Orsolya, or Sol as we call her, we discovered that we had very similar experience and interests, so most of the time it was easy to work together. As envisaged in my EVS project we worked with youth from Quinchia and the surrounding rural areas, who have very limited access to after-school activities. We gave English classes and workshops on topics such as effective communication, team work, conflict resolution, public speaking, project management, etc. We also organized several cultural events in cooperation with the local House of Culture (Casa de la Cultura) in Quinchia. Another main activity was visiting kids and women in Naranjal, one of the nearby villages, and organizing activities with them. We also participated in the conmemoration event for March 8, International Women’s Day, and we organized a celebration of May 9, Europe Day – this was an interactive event with more than 50 participants!

English classes in Quinchia

One of the English groups in Quinchia

At the end of the first six months my supervisor and I had a meeting to discuss the project, the achievements and the problems, and we decided that it may be good for me and for Nukanti if I could go to a different place in Colombia and see if I could implement similar activities there with a different target group. Thanks to my previous experience in NGO work and work with youth and children I was pretty independent in my project activities, and I also felt that I needed a change of the environment. This is why I was offered to work with Nukanti in Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, which struggles with high rates of delinquency due to low education levels, high unemployment rates and marginalization of large, mainly black, populations.

youth workshop in Santa Elena

The youngsters from Santa Elena, a small village an hour away from Quinchia by jeep, really impressed us with their intelligence and willingness to learn – two qualities that are not very common for the local teenagers

So at the beginning of August I had to say goodbye to my friends in Quinchia and start a whole new adventure in Cali. Over there I would be more independent in my work and would work in close cooperation with Niousha Roshani, the Executive Director of Nukanti International. The first weeks in Cali I was together with Niousha, who presented me to different existing and potential new partners, with which I could work in the next few months. This time spent with my new supervisor was extremely useful in order for me to get to know Nukanti International better and gain useful knowledge about the specifics of the work with marginalized youth in urban areas in Colombia.

martenichki in Naranjal

A workshop to make martenitzas with a local indigenous community 🙂

Already in the first few weeks I made important contacts with two NGOs with which I would be working until the end of my project. One of them was Fundacion Paz y Bien with their project Casas Francisco Esperanza, a network of youth centers that operate in the Aguablanca district, one of the most dangerous and marginalized zones of Cali. These centers aim to provide meaningful free-time activities to youth at risk and most importantly support in dealing with the difficult situations they face on a daily basis and guidance in planning their future. My role would be to give English classes to the young people as well as organize other activities such as movie projections, discussions, art and sport activities. I must say that this task was sometimes challenging because of the specifics of the target group – these youth usually have difficulties to focus on one activity for a longer period of time, some of them have learning and behavioural problems, all of them struggle with aggression, violence and family problems on a daily basis. However, at the end of the project I really felt that I connected to the young people and could see a lot of potential in them. Unfortunately, Casa 6, which was the center where I was working, was closed at the beginning of 2014 due to insufficient funding.

One of the English groups in Cali - youth from House 6 in the Aguablanca zone, with primarily black population and very high rates of extreme poverty, unemployment and delinquency

One of the English groups in Cali – youth from House 6 in the Aguablanca zone, with primarily black population and very high rates of extreme poverty, unemployment and delinquency

The other important partner that I found in Cali was ACCR La Red (Asociacion Centro Cultural La Red), which functions as a community and youth center in Siloe, another problematic area of Cali. Over there I was also giving English classes and in cooperation with a local feminist organization, La Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, we organized weekly workshops on gender issues and women’s empowerment. This experience was also very interesting, although it is extremely difficult to talk about gender equality and women’s rights in Colombia in general, and even more difficult in the marginalized urban areas. This is due to the fact that Colombian society is highly patriarchal, and even women tend to objectify themselves and thus give way to the existing machismo. However, I believe that every experience is a valuable lesson to be learned and I now feel that I will be better prepared to organize gender-oriented activities with youth in these areas.


The family of one of the girls from Casa 6. It is the grandmother that takes care of her and her sisters

On September 21, World Peace Day, Nukanti and ACCR La Red took part in the international campaign Peace One Day with a full-day event that included a football game, a workshop to make pinwheels for peace, a zumba class and a concert with presentation of different youth groups from Siloe and Cali’s biggest hip-hop band, Zona Marginal.

Parallel I was working under the supervision of Nukanti?s Executive Director on various administrative tasks for Nukanti International, including preparing and submitting project proposals for Colombia, coordinating team meetings, contacting new partners, etc. At the end of my EVS project I was also responsible for launching Nukanti’s internal mentorship program for children in a vulnerable situation and for recruiting new volunteers to complement the team once I would be gone.

And before I could fully realize it a whole year had gone by, soon it was my birthday again and I had made a second home in Colombia without even wanting it… It was a year full of experiences, sometimes good and sometimes not as good, but always interesting and carrying another lesson to be learned. By the end I was already feeling homesick and wanted to go back home at least for a while, but I knew that I had created a connection for life with this tropical country and that I would always want to go back... at least to visit my friends 🙂 I had learned that you can never know a country profoundly without sharing the life of its people and opening your heart to their daily joys and pains. And that once you do it, you can never break this invisible thread between you and this place.


EU_flag_yia_EN-01This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

 Posted by Mira at 22:16 EVS news Comments Off on EVS in Colombia – Never too old to make a dream come true!