Both of the formations organized by the National Agency of Italy (this is the big bureaucratic hub that deals with all kinds of mobility and learning programs European Union is running at the moment) are somehow far from serving the aims that they are supposed to serve. Just to make it a bit more clear: when you do your EVS (Which is an European Voluntary Service, please do not ask me to go any further in this post), you are not only spending time working doing this and that for your hosting organization, but you are also TAKEN CARE OF by National Agency and other kinds of people (like mentor for example), in order to make sure your voluntary service is exactly what it was supposed to be. One of the tools to prevent any abuse and misunderstanding are the trainings organized on the obligatory basis for the volunteers – so you go to one place from the whole country twice during your stay, you meet other people who do the same stuff (and you realize how different that stuff in the end is), and you have a chance to improve some skills and enrich your knowledge on the topic of EVS in general. This is the ideal situation, as usual.

I remember the On Arrival Formation (this one is to tell you what EVS is, what are your rights, possibilities, duties, obligations, whatsoever, just to make you more aware and well, make your life easier during the project) in Sermugnano (Umbria), where became a team of a bunch of people that had completely different experiences – some of us arrived few weeks before the meeting, but many of us have already lived in Italy for five months or so. Hard to call it a on-arrival training, and actually the content of the meeting would be much more important for our experience if we met in the beginning: there is a lot of technical information that can overlap the lack of before arrival training (this is a thing that is CONSTANTLY forgotten by the sending organizations, but remember, you SHOULD HAVE IT), give us some more knowledge on our tasks, responsibilities and so on. Finally, if the mid-term evaluation happened in the middle (some of us were leaving Italy few days after Torre del Greco!), we would be able to still change something, still try to improve our experience, still apply and demand some changes. In this chaos, first meeting is way too late to serve as an important input for the volunteers (most of them at least), second one has no meaning at all in this form.

So the formation in Torre del Greco was more a 3-day-long possibility to think once again what is EVS in general and what it is to us. As the questions asked were sometimes very personal and actually hard to answer, we were quite confused about the manner we should reply in. What is EVS for us? We all have different, sometimes indescribable, conclusions about it. We have different tasks, projects, expectations, sometimes very bad experiences, it is so hard to explain them during two-days-long training course, when we can complain a bit, when we are very subjective, when we do not have time to put things in the context, when there is no discussion after mentioning a problem, we only have time to jump through a few examples and get further on with the program. How can you chose three words in a group, by discussing them, to explain what is EVS for you? What is the aim of such a question? Of course, we have to evaluate and reflect the project to make it something more valuable and more efficient for us, to bring some important conclusions to the National Agency, but when you bring together around 30 people with different backgrounds and experiences for 3 days to let them talk in a very rigid and sometimes simply inefficient way about their EVS, what do you expect? We create chaotic collage of thoughts, quite far from something that could be called a real, valuable feedback.

All the discussions led us at least to one common point: the understanding of EVS varies enormously among sending organizations, hosting organizations and volunteers itself. Also, as the tasks given are so completely different, importance of the experience is incomparable. When at the end we were given this crazy youth pass exercise, it confused us even more.

I would organize these events in a different way. I know exactly how. As the first formation was a complete waste of precious time (at the same time my talks with facilitators showed they have fantastic experience and knowledge on many really important cases, and sharing and discussing that would be much more of an input that all the useless games), and the second one did not help us much, I would give that space for the volunteers. I would propose these formations based on voluntarily workshops and discussion clubs, or whatever else, as the people brought together have an enormous knowledge and capacity to make a difference, and offer something completely amazing to each other. And the facilitators do not have to lose their jobs – they are still substantial, as moderators and helping hands, and as people with knowledge and experience. National Agencies, what would you say? 

Natalia Skoczylas, EVS CEIPES