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The last minute EVS that changed my life

Sarah Martin is only 19 and European Voluntary Service (EVS) is the first thing she has done away from home. She decided to be a volunteer to figure out her next step in life. Looking back, choosing to work with disabled has been the best decision she could have made.

What made you decide to become an EVS volunteer?

Last year, I graduated from secondary school and I was not sure what I wanted from life. By that time, I hadn’t managed to decide what to study, I still had a lot of questions in my mind and wanted to see life from a different perspective. That was the time when I came across the EVS opportunity and it sounded interesting, so I started applying for projects. However, anybody who has ever gone through the first stages of becoming an EVS volunteer knows that it is not as easy as it sounds: the EVS database contains thousands of positions so you can easily get lost among them and it is difficult to find out which projects are currently running, too. Furthermore, the application process seemed endless, so after a few rejections, I gave it up and decided to focus on university applications. However, one day I was notified that a last minute open place became available to work at the Hold My Hand Foundation (in Hungarian: Fogd a Kezem Alapítvány) in Pécs. These places are offered on a short notice if a volunteer has already been chosen, but they change their mind in the last minute. In this case, the original sending organisation has to substitute them with a person from the same country. When I found out about the opportunity, I looked at the description and I thought why not give it a try.

What did you know about Hungary before you came here?

The first thing that came to my mind when I thought about coming to Hungary was how Sissi loved this country. I come from Germany, so I heard lots of stories about the Austro-Hungarian princess’ fascination with the language and the people of this country. When I still had doubts, I searched for some German people who had lived in Hungary before to ask for their opinion and through them, I ended up making friends with a Hungarian lady who now lives in Germany and we decided to do a language exchange to prepare me for my time here: in exchange for her teaching me some basic Hungarian, I helped her with her German. From her, I learnt quite a few things about the country before my arrival.

How has the country lived up to your expectations?

I like it a lot here. The first thing that struck me was the beauty of Pécs: I love the style of the buildings, even though I was surprised when I found out that I would be living in a block of flats, because I come from a village where everybody has houses and I never lived in an apartment before. The people are also great, everybody always offers their help and the men are really polite, for example, they let the women get on the bus first. Also, it is a lot more normal here to show affection and to give kisses to friends. The only thing I miss is the punctuality of Germany, here sometimes it takes ages to arrange things.

What kind of tasks does your project involve?

I work with mentally disabled people, some of whom have physical disabilities as well. Our Care Centre consists of several parts, but I am mainly active in the Day Care and the Living Centre. The Living Centre is where 12 of them have their accommodation during the week and we are there to help them in their free time in the afternoon, play some games or do activities with them. On the other hand, the Day Care Centre functions as their workplace where they can work according to their capacities and will. Some of them just cut up pieces of paper while others put pearls on a necklace or a bracelet. We also colour bags or stamp them. Another activity for the disabled is making candles or making the book cover for smaller or bigger notebooks. We sometimes get orders from companies, for example to make little planes. In these cases, I help both the workers and the disabled to carry out the work.

Isn’t it a very demanding job to work with mentally disabled people?

In the beginning, I was a bit afraid of this task and I imagined that it would be a very tough job, but soon I found out how kind and loving they can be and now I feel that we are more like friends than carer and patient. Also, at the Centre, everybody has been really helpful and the experience of getting to know how disabled people live, think and feel has opened a completely new dimension in my life and helped me see things from a different angle. Also, we are four EVS volunteers altogether who live and work at the same place, so we can share any problems and we always try to help one another out. I would say that biggest difficulty I have encountered so far was not being able to speak the language; there are some situations when you just have absolutely no idea what is going on. Also, another downside was to realise that a lot of people show no tolerance towards the disabled at all – this makes me sad and disappointed.

What has been the best part of being an EVS volunteer?

I enjoy the independence it has given me, because it gives me the opportunity to grow. I am learning every day, especially from my mistakes. The challenges have made me stronger and living in a different culture has enriched my life in a way I would have never expected. I feel all the positive effects of opening up to a new way of live, one that I would have never had the chance to learn about in my everyday life back home. I would say that EVS is the best thing I could have done after graduation, an adventure that will always stay with me as a person and an experience that will influence my path in life in the future for sure.

Judit Molnár

Published: Mon, 24/02/2014 - 20:10

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