European Voluntary Service; a bubble
Almost half of her European Voluntary Service, EVS, was still to come, but she was already anxious about the mere thought of leaving. Me, however, I just arrived a week before. My bags were still half unpacked and I did not know what was awaiting me. Though I understood that you kind of turn off what happens outside. The first time I heard about European Voluntary Service, EVS, was during my internship at Nätverket SIP in Växjö. My mentor explained that all EU citizens, between 17 and 30 years, can go and work as a volunteer inside, and in some cases also outside Europe. I was 15, but kept that thought in the back of my head. Years later I saw that an Italian organization was looking for a Swedish volunteer to a youth centre. While I was waiting for answer I became a mentor for an Hungarian volunteer in Växjö. At last I had a Skype meeting. One month later I arrived with my 50-kilo luggage at the airport in Venice.
I got a key in a red bracelet. A security, but also a motivation. I did not want to be a tourist. I was there to start over. Bassano was going to be my Home for the next ten months. I shared an apartment with other volunteers, a mix of different languages was spoken around me. My head was about to explode of all first impressions. I had Italian lessons and memories from the High School classes were slowly coming back. But still I could barely say a complete sentence. I started to work with two groups of young adults and teenagers with disabilities. We spent our time together celebrating birthdays, making Swedish sandwich cake, bowling and going to the cinema. They told me where I could find the best ice cream and pizza in town. But most of all, between the lines, they told me about life. In the living room we had an old and small TV. During the first months the MTV was on 24/7 playing the same songs on repeat. Especially one song I could not get out of my head for a while: “Esseri umani” by Marco Mengoni. I could not understand what he was singing, but I liked the sound. I remember my roommate telling me that I would like it even more as soon as I began to understand the lyrics.
June came. But I have already started sweating in t-shirt in April, when everyone was wearing caps and winter jackets. Now the heat was almost unbearable. But I had found a place that I found very hard to leave. I remember me sitting in the asparagus field, drying the sweat from my forehead, and tearing up weed beside Giulia. The place is called Conca d’Oro – “The Golden Valley”. It is an organic, social farm, where people with disabilities can work, together with educators. Michele is one of them. He has been working in here since 2007.
“We started with small formations about making a garden with vegetables. None of us has ever done something like this before. We, the educators, also have learned while doing it. Everything started from there.”
Since then, it just continued to grow. A small garden has evolved into many fields. They also have a restaurant and bakery. The farm exists thanks to the discipline, happiness, stubbornness and love from everyone who works there. They offer something unusual. Effortlessly. They live their lives there. They have their friends and interests there. All the things that matter to them are there. They have become a family. A family that is still growing. I was getting an unbelievable energy boost just by being there. Michele was getting stability. “They make me understand what’s important, and appreciate the simplicity. The important thing is to do something real. Everybody feels good when making something that is needed. Here their work results in something concrete. A tomato. Something to touch.”
August. It was the small things that made me feel at home in Bassano. I went to the street market in the centre to buy oranges from Francesco. I talked to the man outside the newsstand. I baked cinnamon rolls and I got baking moulds from Luca who owns the gelateria around the corner. My Italian friends brought me on road trips and family dinners. They made different types of risotto and taught me how to make gnocchi. I worked at a youth centre and lost at the table football. I went to catholic summer camp and visited churches. I also worked in a day camp for youngsters with disabilities, we played basket and sang in Italian.
Autumn arrived. Volunteers returned home and new ones arrived. I spoke Italian even at home in the apartment and we were learning together. The work at Conca d’Oro continued. It always continues. Monday morning. The sun was rising over the mountains while we were searching for the car key. Without any result. Solution: press the spades and leek in Federico’s car together with guitar and speakers. Alessandro and Simone were digging up fennel, I cut the roots off, Giulia was counting and put them;150. I started to work in the kitchen. We made pasta, risotto balls and grappa cakes. One day Paolo, the chef, gave me rabbits on the cutting board. I could not think of anything else than the pet I had as a kid. It also arrived a delivery with trouts; that I had to take care of because “that’s a thing that everybody from the North knows”… I learned how to clean both fish and rabbit. But most of all I started and getting even more interested in pedagogy. I saw the discipline that the chef Paolo and Marco had, but always mixed with jokes, laugh and a lot of music. When I am in places like Conca d’Oro it is easy not to miss Sweden.
I went to train meetings with other EVS volunteers. I am not sure if it is because we meet far away from home, or because we recognize each other’s experiences. Probably we would not even speak to each other back home, but we learn to get to know each other. And we meet again. We met in Rome and threw coins into the Trevi Fountain. We queued for two hours just to have a pizza in Naples. We burned mud cake in the oven. We celebrated the day of codfish. We learned how to make pumpkin risotto. We spoke Spanish, Norwegian, Swedish, German, Romanian, French, Portuguese, Greek, English and Armenian. We said goodbye. We missed each other. And then we met again. In Portugal. In Armenia. In Denmark. And in Italy again.
Amra was right. EVS is like a bubble. But suddenly it breaks. And then it gives you an open way out in the world. Now I finally know what Marco Mengoni meant with that song I heard eleven times a day during my first weeks in Bassano: “I believe in humanity, in those who have the courage to be human”.