Friday, February 24, 2017

"Know yourself". Ionut

Labukas, dear readers...
Here is my best colleague Ionut's story about his EVS.

Nosce te ipsum....”

My name is Ionut Balahur and I am from Romania. I applied for a EVS project after long searches, changing minds and fierce battles with the fear for the unknown. Thus, I decided to get out from the comfort zone, to let my past behind and to apply for a project designed to work with youngsters in one open youth center named „Vartai“.

Before volunteering in this project, I didn‘t know anything about youth work, and in my mind sounded like nonsense: „youth work, yeeahhh… mush!“. At that moment, in my head  was that  youngsters will do whatever they want, even if  they make mistakes, in the end, they will realize what's wrong. They‘ll try to repair or just learn something from mistakes and they will start all over again, but for sure they will not accept any advice from me.  In reality, working with the youth is very complex work, the past of each individual youngster differs from one to another; if some person had a fulfilling childhood, another one could have faced social problems, anxiety, low self-esteem, abuse, etc.
I associate my leaving from home with the road I need to cover for discovering myself. And I was not wrong with this association, because to get to know yourself  is the first request of our intellect; it is the  foundation of knowledge and wisdom. Those who don‘t know their weakness, cannot be stronger, the ones that don‘t know their real needs, will not try to satisfy them. The ones that don't know what it means good and bad, shortages of any kind cannot think about their care and healing. Succeeding into self-knowledge and self-control, we can easily succeed to distinguish truth from lies, fiction from reality, possible from impossible.
With these thoughts, I arrived to “Vartai”….. I was impatient to see and to feel the energy of this place. First, wasn't welcomed by a friendly yard, rusty weeds grown up randomly, a few garbage bags scattered around….
It looked like a ghetto scenario, but I didn't get scared; I realized is the first impression and it’s pointless to judge.  So, I just kept on going trustful, down the stairs to a labyrinth. The steel door looked like it wanted to say something to me, but I’m not sure what…. Stairs kept going down into a nice basement, with arcades made of bricks and stones. My first thought was a question, so I just wondered “why they named this place “Vartai” (The Gates)? They should have better called this place “Rusys” (The Cellar)”. I understood fast my thought, and I realized that was a prejudgment. I had the feeling that I can’t leave away this nasty habit, to judge after the first impression.
Inside is warm, the shabby couches are comfortable. On the walls, are hanged pictures from different events with youngsters, volunteers and workers of the youth center. All these painted posters, hilarious mottos, the birthday’s panels of the loyal youngsters that come regularly to “Vartai”,  signs with house rules and other things, shows an intensive activity, every day when  the club is open.

On the shelves are cramped many board games, plenty of cariocas,  acrylic paints, papers, magazines, whatever you want, for those moments when inspiration strikes you on  and you want to create something. One international volunteer, had the amazing idea of arranging a mini library, where the books stay together with clay figurines, made by those youngsters interested in art workshops.
A special place is held by the tennis table, for those who like this game. Everyone stays in line and waits dutiful his turn, to play against the winner.  For me, this game is awesome and since I spend time in “Vartai”, I improved a lot my playing skills. Through this game I managed to get more close to some  youngsters. When I play ping-pong, I connect very fast with the opponent, a connection without words, just using body language. The opponent's character is revealed as it is.  


“Vartai” is a friendly space, opened for any suggestion, for any activity. Therefore, many activities were organized here: ping-pong, playing cards, darts, table soccer tournaments and art workshops, free discussions or thematic discussions, movie evenings and many other activities.
A fascinating place is also the music hall. The hall is equipped with acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, drums, djembe, flute. If you are a music enthusiast, all these instruments are waiting for you to create music.
The club is frequented by a rock band. It is their place to rehearse. The music is noisy because is related to death metal/trash spectrum, but it gives a special color to this place. I may say is relief music, music that discharges your anger. In my opinion it’s a therapy.
Because I posses basic skills in guitar playing, I decided to teach young people that are enthusiastic in this field. Thus, every Thursday evening I have two or three clients J
You can find free tea always at the youth center and every Friday is cooking day. So, if anyone comes on this day with cooking mood, he is very welcomed to do it. Don’t worry if you do not know any recipe from your mind, here you can find a cookbook written by young people that pass by.


The character of the youngsters that come in this place, may vary due to a different past. Here may happen all sorts of dramas, together with becoming the kingdom of laughter; although they are united as a group, young people have their favorites and naturally created particular groups. Some do not like others, and some  are loners, others need attention, others want to be leaders. All these behaviors are part of group dynamics. However, these behaviors diversify and give color to this venue, where all are equal. It reigns atmosphere that makes you feel safe, even if sometimes this safe atmosphere may be disrupted by some events. These events are taken over by the “Vartai” workers and transformed into non-formal learning tools.
With all characters gathered in "Vartai", it would be difficult to maintain calm atmosphere. Some frustration could come up to surface when everything looks calm, so you could be surprised. Dramas could happen during cards games or a friendly discussion. Therefore, the youngsters are accustomed by the social workers with regular individual meetings. If once, you feel anxious or nervous, you can confidently ask to speak with the worker in charge.  Huge benefits for brain and soul;  you may become aware and you  may start to feel better. On the other hand you may get an impartial advise or you may discover something about you.
“Vartai” stairs going down to the basement, are the stairs going to your inner. The way until there could be arduous, involve a lot of work with selves, but with a little bit of support you could get to know yourself.
What’s next….?
The tools are now in your possession!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Surviving in Lithuania like a small penguin. Martina Mezzasalma

As I promised I am back with new story. Here is Martina, one of the curly volunteers (and we are not so many here) of this year. Enjoy her "EVS story", it is cool and funny like the headline.

On the 3rd of October 2016 I started my European Volunteer Service in Kaunas, Lithuania. Before departure I was full of different expectations, fears and anxiety. I was asked: “Are you sure you want to do it ?”
And now I am asking myself why I did not think about it before. Nowadays a lot of people ask me where Lithuania is and if it really exists.
Yes, Lithuania exists and this country is rich with its traditions, landscapes and wonderful people. I have stayed here almost 4 months and now I am in the middle of my project and I do not regret at all about my decision of doing EVS. And for that I would like to thank  Youmore Morcelli Giovani, and first of all Justina Krauledaitė.

I am a volunteer in one elementary school “Kauno Vyturio gimnazija”. I teach English for kids from 7 to 10 years and 3 times per week and I organize Italian lessons for younger and older students. During all afternoons, I help children with their homework or we just play different games.
From the first day I was absolutely surprised by children: how much love they have and how cheerful they are. Since I do not speak Lithuanian, they are very happy to meet me in the hall and they always greet me “Ciao Martina!” (Yes, in Italian!), they hug me, and they always have some small presents for me. Most of them can speak and understand English to build communication even they are just in elementary school. When I am trying to speak Lithuanian, they always laugh about that. 

Twice per week I learn Lithuanian. This language is difficult 
 and complicated but now I am able to understand something. The children’s smiles when I speak Lithuanian are priceless.

Lithuania is a country with its own traditions, wonderful lakes and lovely forests. The winter has come and now everything is under the snow. The Sun rises at 8.00 and goes down at 16.00 and it becomes really cold. Terribly cold. During the day, the temperature is not higher than 2 C, but often we have around -7/ -8 C. Lithuanians don’t feel cold, might be they just do not show it. When they ask me: “Are you cold?” I answer “Who? Me? Nooo”. I just wear a winter jacket from the middle of October and I do not leave the house without a scarf, a hat, a pair of gloves and two levels of clothes.
That’s nothing. In the first week of January there were -25 C in the night and -18 C in the day.

Actually, I am looking like a small penguin.
Yes, exactly, like a small one. People easily understand that I am not Lithuanian from the first look at me. Here everybody is tall, blonde and blue-eyes. Once one child asked me which class I am in. But when they discover that I am Italian and I was born in Sicily, they say “Now everything is clear”.My answer is always a smile and a laugh.

First two months helped me to become stronger. Living alone abroad without family. First weeks were not so easy; I went through the phase “cultural shock”. In the beginning everything was amazing, fascinating, a lot of people to know, a lot of places to discover. But later I realized that I was not in vacation. And I would stay here for 6 months. And I realized from that moment I must do everything by myself: controlling money, checking my free time, staying at work and prepare for lessons. That was the first time when I lived alone. There was no one who cooked breakfast, cleaned the house and washed my clothes. From that moment I had to do it. But I was not alone.


 Here in Kaunas there are 25 volunteers from all Europe, and that is a great pleasure to meet other young people who experience the same things as you do. We are always ready to help each other. So what are you waiting for? This experience will be with you all your life and you will never regret it!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Again from the beginning

 hi people...

I am Amaly, the new EVS volunteer of A.C. Patria. Now it is my turn to continue Luca's job and be responsible for  "Time to change".  I am going to write here about my EVS and just the days which happen in Kaunas.

But wait... I am not the only volunteer here who can share experience, there are so many cool guys who have interesting stories and I do hope they will share them here with you too.

Well, here I am... (I am sending you my big smile)

When you wake up on your own, make breakfast only for you, check the bus timetable and when you are always late and you are running for taking it, then you start your work with pleasure and add some notes in your agenda, then after work you go to supermarket and take the food which are on sale and for the evening you meet your friends in a pub and have fun, so congratulations dear... you are an EVS volunteer.

It is already 2 months that I live in Kaunas like that and I really like my new life style. Yeah... to be an EVS volunteer is so cool, first of all you live far from your country and family and you start to learn how to survive alone. And the coolest thing is that actually you are not alone you are surrounded with new colleagues, with many EVS volunteers and also with strangers from a new nation for you. Of course there are also some challenges with which you faced in the beginning or still everyday, but for now I would like to be short and keep these stories for the future posts. (come on, it is my introductory post)

P.S. I would like also share some information about me so as you to know me a little bit better. I am from Armenia, I am 21 and I am journalist by profession. I graduated from the university last year finishing my Bachelor degree. I also worked for an Armenian newspaper, I had some internships in different radio and TV companies, and finally before coming here I worked for news in a TV company for 7 months.

I like my profession very much and I like to write, find stories, make reports, take photos so in a word  I like to create. I will create here too, promise.

So for now bye bye, see you soon with new stories by my friends and me.  

Friday, June 10, 2016

EVS experience: Sonja Harken

Labas my dear readers, this week I will show you the story of Sonja. An amazing volunteer who finished her project last week. CIAO SONJA!!!

Hello, laba diena, guten Tag!
I’m Sonja from Germany.

WHY Lithuania??? This is probably the question that I have been asked most during the 8 months that I have spent in this country. The answer would be: coincidence. After I finished my Bachelor’s degree back in Germany, I had no idea what to study for my Master and I felt like it was time to spread my wings and go to another country for some time. I didn’t want to just travel but do some kind of work somewhere and I was hoping that this would maybe bring me an idea about what to do next concerning my studies. So I started looking for voluntary services all over the world. I wanted to get out as soon as possible, which wasn’t so easy because for many services you need to apply several months before. I had contact with 2 German organizations which send volunteers abroad. One offered me a place in India that would start after 6 months, the other one had a left-over placement in Lithuania that would start after 6 weeks. So I chose Lithuania. The only connection that I had to this country at that point was that one of my former classmates from school is originally from Kaunas. But that was it, I didn’t even know the name of the capital. “It will be interesting”, I thought, “eastern European country, post-soviet, a lot smaller than Germany.” Until then I had never made it east of the German border.
And hell yeah, it was interesting. Already at the airport I realized what post-soviet can mean. I asked a middle-aged woman at the bus stop which bus I need to go to the city center. Her answer: she walked away from me without saying a word. Somehow I managed by myself to get where I wanted and finally I arrived in my new home, a soviet apartment in the lovely district named Šilainiai. Everybody who knows Šilainiai knows that the use of the world lovely in connection with that district implies a high level of sarcasm. If you want to see super beautiful and new post-soviet buildings, go there! In winter I had a period where I really almost hated that district, iced streets and sidewalks (I still consider it a miracle that I didn’t fall and broke a leg during that time) and the houses and the sky had the same color (grey). But then there was one day where the sky was blue and the sun was shining; and guess what: Šilainiai seemed somehow beautiful. Not really beautiful but it had charm. From this day on I kind of liked my living district. And when summer came and the meadows in the area were covered with yellow flowers, I even loved it there.

Ok, so back to the beginning. Soon after my arrival my flat mates warned me that Lithuanians are cold and need a lot of time to warm up and that only the young people speak English. So I wasn’t surprised when people would ignore me when I asked if they speak English and I didn’t take it personal that it took some employees in my working place 3 months to actually smile back at me when I greet them. My work was in an orphanage. My task was to spend time with the kids and teenagers and to do activities together, help with homework and do some German lessons. It was not always easy, there were periods of boredom and the structure of this place is quite soviet. But it was super interesting to experience this institution that is completely different from any institution I know in Germany. I learned a lot in this place. I don’t want to write so much about my work because for me it was not the most important aspect of my EVS.

Actually, as I’m writing this I have already finished my EVS. Yesterday I left Lithuania. It was a sad and a happy leaving. Happy because of course I’m looking forward to going back to my country to see my friends and family. Sad because a f***ng awesome time has come to an end. I have met many really nice people, I got to live in a different culture, I could travel a lot and I had the honor to be part of an amazing community of volunteers from all over Europe. Also, I found a recipe to make Lithuanians smile: use the very few Lithuanian words you know. When they see that you are a foreigner but you can say ačiu, it can make them really happy (not all of them but it works well with many cashiers). I will miss this country, I will miss cepelinai (I just googled this word because I still have no idea how to spell it). But most of all I will miss the wonderful people I have met. So now it’s over, those 8 months were better than I could have ever expected, I learned a lot of new things and a lot about myself and I even know which Master I want to do.

One last thing: if you haven’t done EVS yet and you’re between 18 and 30 years old, DO IT!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Evs Experience: Luca Iannazzo

Hello people, this week is the turn of Luca, my Sicilian evs colleague.
When I received the email with attached this text I was surprisingly choked! Why? Read this: 

“What is EVS?”

I was asked to write something about my personal experience of my project EVS. Now, I would like to write my emotions that I have felt and I'm continuing to feel, but the problem is that I am unable to explain or convey emotions, especially writing. So I will try to write my story as a simple little story to tell to someone, from the beginning until now, I am hoping that the reader can understand as much as possible on me, about my emotions and my way to think.

I want to start with two simple but important premises: the first one is the fact that I am that classic guy who has chosen EVS, not so much for volunteering in itself, but mainly to make a change to  own live and change own routine. I know that phrase is a little bad to say against volunteering, (because it is like if you use volunteering for other purposes) but each of us knows it is the truth, or better to say a good portion of people, and I personally I dare say the most but not all, they have chosen the European volunteering for my same reason, and the proof I found talking with all the other volunteers I met here in Lithuania.
The second premise far as my ability in speaking the English language: before to leave for this adventure, I was not able to say “I have a particular level of English” because, even though I had studied/revise English grammar, in my life it never happened to talk in English with someone, even at school. That fact determined my first fear to leave by myself to another country, and especially for a long time with little knowledge of the language.
Everything began during my flight from Italy to Lithuania where my mind changed drastically: from the usual routine where my brain was almost off, to the beginning of my new and exciting adventure where I started to make myself a lot of questions about how to survive, because my ears  began to hear only the English language. It was the exact moment which someone touched my switch to turn on my brain and say "maybe I have to do something". Questions like, "how can I ask to these two people that I have to pass because I need to go to the toilet and my seat on the plane is that one near the window?". It really happened and I employed about ten seconds to think and translate the sentence in my mind and three seconds to ask it. I wanted to do this example to make understand that for me the first days and the first weeks were like that: some seconds pass before to say and transmit something in English. Not to mention what I could understand from the sentences that other people were saying to me. It was very embarrassing to ask several times “can you repeat, please?” and especially do strange faces to make others understand that if they continued to repeat the same sentence with the same words, I would have continued to not understand anything. These were my first difficulty that I found in my EVS. But my start was not only full of difficulties, but also aid. As soon as I arrived at the airport in Vilnius, I took a bus and a train to Kaunas, and there I met an Italian person with a good knowledge of English, and she also helped me to ask information. That was the first of a series of “events and fortuitous encounters”; they did not make me weigh as much my incapacity in the English language.

A few days after my arrival, it began my course of Lithuanian language; but how do you understand  who explains all the rules of the Lithuanian language if he/she speaks English? Naturally to remedy this problem I started again to study English, day by day, with perseverance and determination, also because it was not just the course, but I found my difficulties every day, at home or at work, since I had to talk to the children. That situation lasted for about two months, because when this period of time passed, I became fairly adept to speaking and understanding to explain that, I would like to make an example putting in comparison my on-arrival and mid-term training. They were both very nice, funny and full of emotions, but the way I addressed them was totally different, or maybe opposite. At the on-arrival I had to ask several times to Italian people to translate for me and it was very embarrassing to try to speak to a group of about twenty people, knowing for sure to be wrong more than once. But my mid-term training, with a difference of just three months, it was different because I could understand the discourses, although I was not totally focused. And in that precise instant I realized all my improvements and I was surprised, almost not believe it.
Therefore, if by that time I was able to socialize, what else could I start doing? Naturally travel.

I started to travel a lot, more than once per month both in Lithuania and in other country. In most of the time, I was not traveling alone, but with the company of other volunteers. Now, talking about other volunteers I have met, I can say that it is the most difficult part to express in my story. It is very complicated because I met different people with different characteristics, and certainly I can not talk about them one by one; so to generalize, I decided to combine all of them in a group, in which even I put colleagues and the children I work with them, and call it "family". With this family I shared many different experiences: by long and complicated at short and intense; by monotonous, repetitive but enjoyable at different and even strange; by bad moments of solitude at fun moments of parties; by moments of "sweet doing nothing" at moments of being super active you can do everything in a short time; by moments of "I already know" at moments of total novelty, discovery and admiration. But above all these experiences were always accompanied with new emotions that my body and my mind can not remember when it was the last time they have felt something similar.
Now let me explain, always with something really happened, why I decided to call this group "family". To little more than half of my project, I came back to Italy, in my real family for a week, greeting relatives and old friends and returning to do what I did before beginning my volunteering. It took a few days to totally change my mood and it was a moment I felt a strange feeling, as to be in the wrong place. And honestly, that moment when I returned to Lithuania, coming to the house and finding my housemates along with other volunteers and friends that I have known and that they have received me with a warm greeting, in that precise instant I felt at home. I would like to spend other thousands of words for this strange family created by itself and without realizing it, and also for other special events happened in my volunteering time, but I don't certainly want to write a poem, so I will try to get to the final point as quickly as possible. Since my arrival in Lithuania until now I am writing, they have passed seven months full of strange and different experiences: sometimes I felt like a mature man, able to overcome own difficulties and able to grow as a person; and other times I felt completely enjoyed as a child inside his total happiness during his best moment, without thinking to something else about his life, but only to his magnificent instant.
But above all, it is coming the end for me too, and I already begin to see the first pieces that they are crumbling, namely the first friends who are returning to own homes in their country, after this beautiful adventure lived together. Because I lack only the last month of this exciting and unique adventure, and of course like everyone else, I would have a little more time available to prolong my project and hope that it will happen something new and exciting as it already happened. But certainly I can not change the time and the facts because they will not be the same if the pieces of the puzzle change, namely if the people missing or change with who I have been in contact all this time and I think, the things that will remain inside me from this experience will be many as “desire to change” that it is nothing impossible; "little moments" special and unique that I perhaps will find again to tell to some new or old friends; but especially "memories" when I will try to close my eyes and imagine myself to go back to that place, in that house, in that room to remind myself how happy I was.

That was my way to tell my story, and I'm sorry if you found some grammatical mistake, but my English is still not perfect. I hope it was equally clear to you.