Youth "got whipped" again?
When "Youth in action" was lunched in 2007, just few young people knew what that was about.
What would 885 million euros from European Commision do for youth? Activities back then (in Croatia) were mostly youth exchanges focused on numerous benefits from culture shocks. It's fun, intensive and educational. Would that be possible next year too? It is questionable, according to the announcement from the Agency for mobility and EU programmes in Croatia, which claims that European volunteer service (EVS) is going to be merged with European solidarity corps (ESC). Therefore, projects in area of volunteering would be implemented differently, and EVS as we know it, would be gone.
Gordana Paton, project manager of the association IKS (Petrinja), recently participated at "EVS future search conference" in Tallinn (Estonia). She shares her idea about the merger:: "We can assume that focus is shifting on quantity in terms of number of youth who EU wants to show as volunteers or participants of some mobility activities for youth. My impression is that the aim is to increase the number of short - time activities, as well as the number of participants. Regardless of the changes. Davide Capecchi, Research and Youth Policy Officer at the EU-CoE Youth Partnership claims: "There are forces going in the direction of cutting EVS but not for the Western Balkans. In general though yes, EVS as we know it will disappear as it looks now. hopefully it'll go better in the next drafting." It seems youth would still be able to travel in most European countries, talk about certain topics and accept differences of other youth, with whom they are connected only by confusion inthe beginning. Volunteering in foreign countries demands even more courage; you learn to control your budget and contribute to the well-being of others in different ways.
Svjetlana Marijon, president of association Zamisli, EURODESK promotor and accredited EVS organisation, expresses her concern: "We have just caught up with EVS, because Croatia is in full EU support capacity for youth for a very short period, since 2013. We have witnessed the reduction of funds in the youth budget when "Youth in Action" transformed into Erasmus+. EVS is very important because it has created a great platform and support which provides some kind of security for youth. I want to be among those who will defend the importance of EVS wherever it is. EVS allows young people to experience things which for sure won't be possible without it."
There aren't two volunteers with the same EVS experience, but their stories from all over the world (even including EVS), always tell us the same - expect the unexpected. Volunteering is like this; what you give, comes back to you, but in completely different ways. Mateja Kušić 's experience confirms that. The new coordinator of activities in the Zagreb Youth Club says: "During the 12 months in Lithuania, Vilnius became my second home, giving me a lot of confidence in knowing that I can handle any situation where ever I go, and everything will be OK. During the EVS placement I was volunteering at the Centre for Kids and Youth, which helped me to get a similar job in Croatia. Nevertheless, the project itself was only half of the experience - moving my own boundaries in a foreign country was much more for personal development.
Moving boundaries will continue after merging EVS with European solidarity corps. Profesor Howard Williamson, Professor of European Youth Policy at the Faculty of Business and Society, University of South Walles, explains: "EVS has changed as it has evolved. It was not initially connected to EU youth programmes. But it has been now for 18 years. As you say, it is very likely for it to merge with ESC, indeed be taken over by it. That is the only way ESC numbers aspirations will stack up. But volunteering will remain prominent on the EU youth agenda."
Let us recall, the mission of European Solidarity Corps is to bring together young people to build a more inclusive society, supporting vulnerable people and responding to societal challenges. Broad spectrum of actions is most troubling because it irresistibly reminds us of the changes in programme schemas, which shorten the space for quality content. The most mentioned alibi is alway money, which is "problematic" in this case, because it cannot measure effects of volunteering. Exactly the opposite, those effects are measured by the personal development of an individual, which could easily be lost in the European solidarity forces. At that point we will again begin to wonder ourselves why money is always a problem and where this world is going.
Questioning your own action in terms of "whether it is worth it" is part of everyday life for any of us. For example, when at work you begin to think how it is terrible that nobody sees your effort. It might happened to be truth, but skills you will gain and the character you will build if you persevere, can never be paid enough. If you cannot see that, you will think you have left "short sleeves" and someone has abused your willingness to shed a piece of your heart for the good of society. As in the movie "Pay It Forward" (2000), when 12-year-old Trevor dies, trying to stop the violence and thus affect the world around him. This example may be overwhelming, but society is too often a system that disables those who want it well.
It's uncertain whether such fate is real for volunteers in all of Europe. Some of their energy they will for sure spend on the new challenges of bureaucracy, leading them to the conclusion their room for social contribution has been even more reduced. Let's hope at that moment the "habit of the heart", as volunteering is often described, will be strong enough not letting volunteers give up. Otherwise, youth would "get whipped" again, as we look at their work as free, failing to see how precious youth work is.
Author: Ivona Šeparović
The text was originally published on the web site of the Youth Info Center Zagreb: www.icm-zg.info