Emelyne, European Voluntary Service (EVS), Italy

I carried out my EVS in Sicily for 8 months with Caritas de Agrigento, which is an Italian charitable organisation.

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I left to join up with this organisation alongside two other French people from the Lille area and we were given lodgings within the charity with other volunteers who were working on the same missions as us: one was from Belgium, another from Germany and the third from Spain. So we began living as a 6-person intercultural community and the first difficulty we encountered was that of communication between ourselves as we tried to learn Italian. However, very quickly we discovered new expressions, recipes and lifestyles, and the whole added up to more than the sum of its parts, like a miniature Europe in one home.

For my part, I decided to go in for the adventure of an EVS despite being 28 years old as I had wanted for several years to experience life as a volunteer abroad and I had not thus far found time to do so. Indeed, first I studied for 3 years to become a social worker, then I was offered a job in my specialist field (immigration) which I could not refuse and finally an encounter during a trip to Central America which led me to live there for nearly a year. It turned out to be this year when I finally had the time to make the necessary arrangement to make my EVS experience a positive one.

I wanted to carry out a mission which was related to social work, particularly one which would involve work with migrants or children. When L’Adice (a French organisation providing opportunities for people to have a variety of experiences in foreign countries) proposed a project in Sicily I could hardly have dreamt of a better offer, because of the setting of course – the sea, the sun and the food –  but mostly because Sicily is one of the main places where migrants arrive in Europe and I was very interested to see how the situation was managed there. I was assigned, alongside a fellow volunteer, to an activity called “casa della pace”, or “house of peace” in English, whose aim was to encourage non-violence, to promote interculturality, exchanges etc. We were the first volunteers to be recruited to this project which is new but which did not really come into being during our EVS. We carried out some research and activities, but in Sicily it can take a long time to set a project up and in the end it was somewhat frustrating.

Fortunately, I was able to participate in other activities which the organisation is also involved in, working with children at the games and toy library and also working at a helpdesk for foreigners at the organisation’s listening centre, which was a very valuable experience for me. It provided me with an opportunity to understand legislation regarding migration and asylum in Italy, to see at first hand the problems which arose on site, to speak to migrants who had arrived straight from Lampedusa and to get to know the hotspot system

The intercultural meeting times for young people (spazio interculturale incontro giovani), which were organised twice per month, also allowed me to talk with people from many different backgrounds, to discuss a variety of subjects and to find out more about different cultures and ideas.

Carrying out my EVS in Sicily also allowed me to learn Italian and to explore a culture which was more different to my own than I had expected. I still struggle to fully understand Sicilians. I was able to meet people who were proud of their island and its culture which springs from the mixture produced by a series of invasions (by the Normans, Arabs, the Spanish etc.) and who were delighted to help foreigners explore it.

The main thing that I will take from this experience is all of the people I met and spoke with; it was rewarding and enlightening and broadened my horizons. Also my life alongside my housemates, all of the little moments and habits of daily life which you may sometimes become jaded with but which you end up missing, such as the shopping street which we went down so many times or the bars which ended up becoming stale for us, so well did we know the music which they continually played.

I feel that every experience gained in a foreign country and every time you meet a different culture is an opportunity to find out more about yourself through the eyes of others, realising what makes people differ but also what unites us. Every place that we spent time in became a bit like our home, a familiar place which has become a part of us. Maybe when we came back we didn’t quite feel the same as before or even entirely at home and maybe the temptation to head off again for new destinations can become stronger than reminder of a daily life which appears monotonous by comparison. Knowing how to come back home is perhaps the most difficult thing of all.

 

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