Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lets Do It Volunteer - ANNI TETSMANN - 7 months EVS in Arcistrauss, Sicily (Italy) - Article in English

My name is Anni and I was lucky enough to be EVS volunteer in Sicily for seven months. My hosting organization was amazing ArciStrauss. To be honest, my EVS ended more than one month ago, but somehow it has been very difficult to leave this experience behind. Seems like writing this post is the official end. But then again, there are no ends, only new beginnings. Well, here it comes, some monthly stories from my EVS what I wrote while I was in Sicily.

My first month as a volunteer in Sicily has passed very fast. Mainly this month I spent time to understand my main activities here and get to know the local life in Mussomeli. At the beginning I was little bit worried that I might have too much free time but now I understand that I have many different activities here and I am very happy about that. Now I am working in library organising books, teaching english for children in elementary and high schools and also writing articles for the blog what we created together with other volunteers. Also we are creating campaigns on different topics, first theme is trash because we discovered that the streets in Mussomeli are full of trash. Our main idea is to build Christmas tree out of trash and the grand opening will be on next Friday. So busy days ahead. For me the free time and working time is well balanced and I feel the support from Arcistrauss for everything.

Even though I don’t speak italian I already have a group of local friends and that actually helps me a lot. Because they don’t speak English. That means we are finding different creative ways to communicate with each other. One of the main activities what brought us together is table football – they are very good at it and they are teaching me as well. Also from time to time we play football on Saturdays if it’s not raining. These local friends have helped me to understand local life very well and I am grateful. Every week we have italian lessons and I am trying to speak in italian, because I think this is the best way to learn a new language. I make a lot of mistakes but I can see how locals appreciate my efforts.

Life together with other volunteers from Spain, France and Romania is interesting and sometimes challenging. But we get along well and we are developing our friendships. Conflict management and group processes are useful knowledges here. But we are growing to become close friends and that is nice.

My second month as volunteer past so fast that it is unbelievable. Together with other volunteers we visited Palermo and my first impression from Palermo wasn’t that good. We were very lucky, we hitchhiked there and a nice couple drove us to Palermo and helped us to find a cheap hostel. Mainly we spent time shopping and since I am not a big fan of shopping I was very happy when we went to seaside in Mondello. It was very beautiful and calming experience. Arriving back to Mussomeli was very nice, I really felt like I came back home. So I guess somehow Mussomeli has already become a home for me.

During the first half of December we continued our normal acitivities – I went to schools to participate english lessons, helped little bit in library and worked on our trash campaign. We created a nice Christmas tree from plastic bottles. The outcome is very nice and hopefully helps us all to remember how easy recycling actually is.

Since December 19th I had holidays. On December 19th I went to Palermo to meet my dear friend Ef from Greece. We spent two amazing days together discovering Palermo. During these two days my opinion about Palermo totally changed, we discovered lots of beautiful parks and places. After he left I stayed in Palermo for one day and I met two amazing people via Couchsurfing. They introduced some places in Palermo as well and offered me the opportunity to spend a night at their homes. I am very grateful. On December 22 I flew to Rome where I met Ylaria, a girl who I first met in May 2016 in Romania. I spent a night in Rome, saw the Colosseum and enjoyed some good local food. Next day I arrived to Bulgaria, where I met most of my Bulgarian friends. I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve there and I consider myself very lucky because all the people I met there were very nice and friendly, they opened their homes and hearts for me, introduced the local spirits and made me feel very safe. On my way back to Sicily I had another chance to discover Rome, this time I spent and amazing day together with Alessandro, italian who I met in December 2014 in Romania. We haven’t seen eachother since the project but when we met again it seemed like we had known eachother forever.

When I arrived back to Sicily I felt like I arrived back home. Even though I stayed in Palermo for one night I still felt very safe and happy. I love travelling but from time to time it is nice to spend some time in a familiar enviroment which is becoming my home.

We had lots of snow in Mussomeli. So actually I really felt like at home because for me it is very natural that during the winter it is snowing. Even though it was little bit difficult to spend some time outdoors I was grateful because it was so beautiful. And some quality time with tea and good movies is always useful. This was the first opportunity this year to appreciate the moment and make a choice how I see things. I was choosing positive way.

As usually it seemed like time is flying too fast. Evem though first two weeks we had lots of snow and because of that most of my activities were cancelled, somehow I still had lots of things to do. Mainly I concentrated on analysing my experience so far – what I could do better, how to improve my participation in activities and what kind of new things I could do.

Last week of January I was participating my on-arrival training. It was difficult in so many ways. First – it was only in italian. And even though I understood almost everything I still don’t have enough vocabulary or courage to actually speaks in italian. Secondly – I got sick, so I missed half of the activities. And now I discovere myself in a low-point. First time during my EVS I feel really homesick and I truly miss my friends and family. But I know that this is totally normal part of this experience so I don’t let it to bother me too much. Because life always goes on and I have new challenges and opportunities, so I am actually very curious to see how I will manage with everything. 


February started as a difficult month, I was struggling with some homesickness. I was totally aware of the fact that probably at one point I will realize how much I miss my friends and family. But I didn’t give up, I understood that this is just one part of this amazing experience and in a way I am little bit grateful because I think I appreciate all amazing people in my life little bit more. And it is nice that thanks to social media and internet we can easily keep in touch. So I didn’t ignore the fact that I was homesick, it was just part of me.

What actually really helped me was the fact that I started some new activities and now my schedule is busier that during the previous months. But I am happy about that because now I really feel useful. I participate in many english lessons in different schools, I keep working on different topics for the blog and I also have a very nice opportunity to work on an international project application. This is little bit challenging, but I really enjoy this opportunity because that gives me a chance to develop myself in the field I already feel like very good at. And everything I learn here will be useful in the future. Both in worklife and personal life.

February is an important month for me – firstly, my youngers brother and sister celebrated their 25th birthday and a day after was Estonia’s independence day. In the end of January one Estonian wrote to me, he is also an EVS volunteer in Sicily. So we decided that the perfect time to meet is on Estonia’s independence day. And I was very happy to discover that actually in Sicily here are more estonians. Officially me in Mussomeli, one guy in Catania and one girl in Palermo. We celebrated our independence day in a proper way – some traditsional Estonian snacks (black bread, Estonian candies, potatoe salad and smoked sausage), listening to estonian music and watching how our president is greeting important people who have contributed to the development of Estonia as a republic and as a nation. So last days of February were very nice – I discovered Sicily a little bit (Catania and Siracusa), got to know how tricky public transportation system in Sicily is and got confirmation to the idea that sicilians are very nice and warm people. 

So.. this month has been very strange. I discovered the value of time. I don’t feel the need to rush all the time anymore. Health comes first. Yes, I found out that my exhaustion actually has a reason – iron level in my blood is very low. And something strange is going on with my eyes. It might be some kind of allergy.. I am not totally sure, but who knows, maybe it is allergy.

I have stayed at home because of my health problems. So that has given me time to analyse everything. Seems like time to analyse my life here is very important because this is how I understand what has changed and what I have learned.

The most challenging activities for me here have been english conversation club for children and working together with other volunteers to create international youth exchange project. Sometimes I was thinking that the main problem is the motivation level and other time I thought the problem is language barrier. So.. putting these two thing together – nothing is happening or the level of work that gets done is very low. Even though it has been difficult, somehow the motivation keeps coming back because understanding that these two activities may be the most difficult ones, they are also the biggest learning opportunities. So even it is very easy to give up, that hasn’t happened so far because I am here to discover something and that process keeps going on.

What has been wonderful during March is the weather. When my friends form Estonia sent me photos of how much snow they have, I sent them photos of sunshine. We have an amazing terrace here and the best moments for self-analysing and motivating myself happened while laying on the terrace and enjoying the sunshine. It is so nice that we have the opportunity to eat breakfest or lunch on the terrace. For me it seems that sun makes everything better. I have always thought that (well, in Estonia we don’t have so much sunshine) and it works for me – during sunny days I feel more energetic and I am happier. And of course the sun has played a big role in our tomato growing process, the plants are so nice and beautiful.

....and after March I stopped writing. The main reason for that was the fact that I got used to my life in Sicily. Everything became familiar and I felt good there. I continued with my activities, I had an opportunity to make suggestions what I want to do (thank you, ArciStrauss team!) and I actually felt appreciated as well. These seven months were full of challenges, surprises, sadness, overcoming my fears, deep conversations, long evenings, amazingly good food, communication problems, self-analyzing and growing as a person. I am so grateful that I had this opportunity to do my EVS in such an amazing place. And I am grateful to people who made my EVS so amazing – Jose, Roberta, Anthony, Dario, Nuccia, Anna, Hana, Lola, Radu, Hakan and Sebiastien. We had a good run together, see you again in some other places in the world!

This Project was financed by European Commission's Erasmus + Programme

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

IncluEurope - Young Refugees Structured Democratic Participation in Europe - INTERVIEW WITH SAQIB, FAIZAN, JAMEELA AND MERILIN

Name of the project: IncluEurope - Young Refugees Structured Democratic Participation in Europe
Date: 17th until 25th June 2017
Country/City: Sweden, Stockholm

What was the main topic of the event?

Saqib Naveed - The main topic of the project that we how can collaborate with young refugees in the democratic process of the country where they are settled. The essence of the project was to build a network which will eventually help the refugees to come together and work for the society and refugees.

Faizan Khan - To empower young refugees and the organizations run by them and/or working with them to encourage democratic participation, civic engagement and social inclusion in the host communities. Create and maintain a network of youth refugee’s organizations that can work together at European level, and support each other on their local programs and projects.

Jameela Prits - SDP. Structured Democratic participation

Merilin Joesaar - How to increase the participation of young refugees

What was the biggest learning moments on the event for you?

Saqib Naveed - Probably the biggest learning moment was the inclusion games, seminars and workshop that we did during the project. Last two days of the training were quite interesting and full of learning as we have to make our own projects with the other participant from other countries. We learned the tool of participation from the trainers and then we implemented the learning’s on our project and presented in front of participants. Feedback on the presentations were quite effective as well to think broader about the topic.

Faizan Khan - While watching documentary movie on detainees living in detention center. I realized that going through life’s challenges require strength — a lot of strength both mental and physical because they go hand in hand. You need to stay strong. You need support from family and friends. Most importantly, you need to change your outlook on life. You need to understand that you can’t change the way things are but you can change the way you look at things. Having gone through a struggle, you realize that sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. You can choose to blame yourself for what’s gone wrong, or you can forgive yourself and move on. Dwelling on such thoughts can only create self-harm and delay healing. To be able to heal, you need to accept the circumstances, forgive yourself and your mistakes, and move on.

Jameela Prits - When we had sharing realities from each country about the life of refugees as I am working with refugees in Estonia as interpreter.

Merilin Joesaar - Actually one of the coolest moments was when two of the participants found out that they we're old classmates around 20 years ago in their homeland Syria. And after all this time they met in this project, one came from France and other Sweden. It seriously shows how small the world is

Do you have any plans to continue active in the field? If yes, what?

Saqib Naveed - Yes, because I always wanted to participate in the volunteers work or projects which are related with the refugees. I myself is a student of Intercultural communication and inclusion of refugees in the society is one of the hot topic of my course. I believe that it will help me out in selecting the appropriate topic for my thesis and this training would help me to get more data from the participation and the network that I have built during the project.

Faizan Khan - Yes, I am willing to continue and play my role in this field. I suggested them to use IT platform so that they can achieve their goals in desired time. I will try to introduce them existing IT platform so they can communicate easily, sharing information and maintaining database.

Jameela Prits - Yes, I would like to continue learning more about refugees and their lives in each country.

Merilin Joesaar - I'm not sure yet. I'll probably try to organize some events regarding this topic.

Would you recommend it to your friends? I yes, why? If not, why not?

Saqib Naveed - Yes, I would love to suggest it to my friends as the learning outcomes were excellent from this project and hopefully my friends who are interested in these sorts of project will participate in future as well.

Faizan Khan - Yes I will recommend and convince them to participate because of that they will be able to know about different cultures and living style of people. They can improve their conversation and leadership skills by learning. I think it’s important to know Human Rights, Democracy, Youth Participation, Structured Participation and Inclusion.

Jameela Prits - Yes, it was interesting course that improved so many ideas and open an wide eye on the whole world not only in Estonia.

Merilin Joesaar - Definitely! Everyone should get at least a little try in these kind of projects and check out how awesome they actually are. Talking is one thing, but actually going and experiencing them is another!

More comments or anything else you would like to share? You can add here in your own language, if you want!

Faizan Khan - I really enjoyed my time over there, spending time with people from different countries knowing about their language, food, music, life style. Almost every day after training we use to go out and discover different parts of city. Definitely I will visit Stockholm again.

This Project was financed by European Commission's Erasmus + Programme