An EVS experience outside Europe-Interview with Michal Klopocki
European Voluntary Service (EVS) gives young people between 18-30 years old a unique opportunity to spend 3-12 months in another country and learn another language and culture by providing their voluntary service in an organization in the host country. The organization covers living expenses such as food, accommodation, language courses and pocket money. Michal, one of the previous editors of our Newsmail spent 10 months in Mexico and is talking about his experience with us. Moreover, Michal created a blog in which he is sharing his experience http://mexicoenuvole.wordpress.com.
Hi Michal and welcome back to Europe. EVS in Mexico sounds something quite intangible and at the same time feasible. Could you please give us a brief idea regarding the procedures you had followed in order to participate in an EVS project outside Europe (i.e. find a host organization and visa processes)?
I was looking for an EVS project outside Europe for a long time. I have already had an experience with NGOs around Europe so I wanted to explore opportunities outside our continent. Some of my friends have already done EVS in Latin America so I realized that is something possible and I came in contact with the organization in Mexico through the Polish organization “Youth Initiatives Centre HORIZONS” “HORIZONTY”. Regarding visa, if you stay in Mexico up to six months you do not need a visa. After the first six months, I went for a trip to Guatemala and then I went back to Mexico.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the project you have participated in. Which was the main topic, your daily tasks and finally which were the involved organizations (sending and host)?
The project is called Seed for Growth 2 (S4G 2). It involved the Italian organization “Associazione di Promozione Sociale Joint”, the Polish organization “Youth Initiatives Centre HORIZONS”, the Brazilian organization “Associação de Cooperação Técnicaparao Desenvolvimento Humano”, another Italian organization “PantaRei” and the Mexican organization “Fundación Alianzas Rosalico A.C”.
Four of the volunteers have been hosted in Italy and two volunteers in Mexico. I provided my voluntary service in two different projects. In the first project I was working for the organization “Save the children” and I was organizing activities for children and I also participated in another recycling project in Puebla. During my EVS project, I had the chance to work with children, in a small village called San Mateo Ozolco and become aware of the dangers they are facing when they are trying to pass from Mexico to the USA. Generally, I was running different workshops based on non-formal education methodologies promoting the values of environment, identity building, rights and responsibilities, creativity etc.
Moreover, I had the opportunity to inform them about the existing opportunities, intercultural learning, how to develop their own identity and organize their projects through art and other creative activities. The organization in Puebla deals with the topics of social exclusion and recycling. We were collecting used staffs, then we were recycling them and finally we were selling them in order to increase our resources and be able to finance the activities of the organization which were focused mainly on education. I was also coordinating the activities of the organization. Furthermore, I was responsible with the Facebook page and blog.
Regarding language, did you know Spanish before going to Mexico? If not, how was the communication with the locals in the beginning?
Well, with the language I did not have any serious problem. Before going there I had Spanish classes in Poland and after 3-4 months living in Mexico I was feeling more confident speaking in Spanish. Ok, I had language classes also in Mexico but since I was working with children learning Spanish was quite essential, I had no other alternative. Moreover, the interaction with the local community helped me learn the language. In Mexico they do not speak English very well so it is important to know the language.
At the beginning how did you get over language and cultural barriers?
I used to live with a girl from Italy who spoke Spanish better than me, at the beginning I was a bit depended on her but later on I learnt the language. My colleagues helped me a lot since they were hospitable. It was like a natural process every day I was learning something more. I was not shy to speak because if you have a basic knowledge of one language and you are afraid to speak then you will not develop your language skills. Of course, at the beginning speaking with the teachers at school was not easy; however, I found a way to cope with it.
Regarding culture, Mexico has its own unique and profound culture with different customs and habits. On the other hand, Mexican culture has many similarities with the European culture because of the language, they speak Spanish, and religion, the majority are Catholics. Mexico was a strong intercultural experience for me but Mexican people who are very open and hospitable helped me deal with it. Living in Mexico is very different than being there as a tourist.
Let’s go back to the topic of your EVS. What is Global Education and how may contribute to democracy building, active participation, human rights awareness and conflict prevention?
“Briefly, we are living in a global world so our actions have an impact on the everyday life in other countries around the world. Global Education helps us realize the influence of our action regarding the situation in other parts of the world. For example, if you consume products of large global corporate then you influence the reality in developing countries. Moreover, Global Education raises awareness about the limited resources, equality and human rights. In Europe we are well aware of the universal character of human rights but this does not mean that they are not violated. So basically global education is about showing people how it is to live in other parts of the world, what are the problems there, how people live, fest, love etc. that is first. And then to show the connections between our actions and how can we contribute or injure other communities.
How may the new media contribute to spread the main principals of global education?
“Definitely, they are very useful tools. I created a blog in English about foundation’s activities, so my friends in Europe got an idea about the project. A lot of people have access to internet so they have access to a wide range of information. In Facebook I was posting photos from the activities. All in all, internet is a fast and practical way to get informed about different topics. I do not state that mainstream media are not good enough; I would just like to say that internet is another source of information. In addition, in the age of information ignorance is a choice”.
How are you planning to implement what you have learnt?
“I have some plans regarding how to utilize effectively the experience I acquired. I am thinking to motivate even more other people to participate in an EVS project. Also, I am planning to work on the field of Global Education and contribute to awareness rising concerning the reality in other countries by cooperating with several NGOs”.
Thank you very much for the interview. The Newsmail team wishes you all the best.