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Macedonia in the eyes of a volunteer

Not everyone can make up your minds to leave behind mundane and full of routine everyday life, exchange the pleasures of student life into a lot more exciting challenge, still undiscovered for many – volunteering abroad.


However, experience gained by such a 180 turn in life is priceless. Success stories of other people are inspiring, while other‘s misfortunes – upsetting. Volunteer Tomas Marcinkevičius has agreed to share his experience gained while living and working in Macedonia.


Tomas, who still calls himself an immature personality, spoke openly of what has inspired him to undertake such an alternative way of life. Before I could even ask what he thinks about the activities of the youth (and others), and people living in endless routine, as though reading between the lines, he said: “I truly believe that idleness is the true way of living, while regular work is for those who aren’t creative enough to come up with what to do in their free time.” According to him, an opportunity (and a challenge) to travel to another country presented itself completely unexpectedly: “Thanks to my laziness, I didn’t graduate from university, even though the finish line was very close. So, since I no longer had to write a dissertation, I decided to keep company to my course mate, who was preparing coverage on “Volunteering as an alternative way of travelling”. We hitchhiked through Europe and got as far as Italy. I met a lot of volunteers and thought to myself: “Huh, maybe I should give it a try as well?” Mainly, I just wanted to change my way of living, which had by then become too boring (loathed job – home – no normal personal life – the same thing over and over again)”. That is how the travels and chasing after new adventures began for this young man.


It so happened that later, through “Social action” organization, which he discovered through his friends and contacts, Tomas became a volunteer in Macedonia. Here he was in the care of “Volonterski Centar Skopje” organization. It seemed that Tomas’ determination to travel far away from home did not surprise anybody. He mentions only one thing – nobody understood why, where and what for is he going there: “Parents did not grumble too much, they had to accept it. Friends congratulated me on making a good decision, as well as teased me about my choice (“Is there a war still going on there?”). There were either no bad reactions, or I was so determined that I didn’t even notice them.” Recounting his activities while there, he makes no secret of the fact that serious work was somewhat missing. “Our main mission was to publish Skopje youth journal “Voices” in Macedonian, Albanian and English languages, encouraging communication between different people of different nationalities in the city, and manage a volunteer website. Journal circulation was 300 (in a city with a population of 700 K), and even though we were treated nicely, there was no “real deal”. Nevertheless, since I had the most experience in journalism, I was appointed as a sort of editor of the journal and the website. I tried to get something done, improve the quality of the work, but the result was, as Macedonians say “taka-taka” (“fifty-fifty”).”


In spite of the major advantages and gained experience, Tomas reveals another, perhaps a darker side of work in Macedonia: “One way or another, all youth exchange programmes encourage a level of thoughtlessness (it is not a coincidence that “Erasmus” is sometimes dubbed “Orgasmus” as a joke), when people lack responsibility for the country, circumstances they are in; there are one time friends and affairs, chasing after novelty and so on. Besides, especially in Macedonia, you can sometimes become overwhelmed by questions about it all; for instance, you see two-facedness, showing-off, empty tales and seminars about  “European citizenship” all around; meanwhile everyone (including you) is really only interested in claiming the money, having a drink, sleeping with someone new and all together just living carelessly. In other words, vanity of vanities and all is vanity. All of that can sometimes be really difficult to avoid, so you are forced to accept these dangers and dive into them. Nevertheless, this is a great time to test yourself in different situations and different settings, bridge the distance between “us” and “them”, have fun, get away from it all, rethink your future and life in general (especially if you find yourself at the crossroads), do all sorts of things for the first time, be useful (although in Macedonia it is quite difficult to be actually useful)”. Tomas was pleased to discover a lot of new exciting things, and simply test himself in different situations.


Asked about what one should not to miss out on and see in Macedonia, Tomas recommends to see the Vevčani carnival, go to the mountains, visit the smaller towns, Lake Ohrid, mountain monasteries, and, of course, Bitola and Skopje. Without holding back he adds a few more handy tips: “Don’t take anything too seriously, but don’t give in to the shortcomings of the new atmosphere either. Look at everything from a critical point of view, but consider things with love. Fight for your ideas; do not give in to the widespread inactivity of others. Travel a lot – Macedonia is a great starting point to see the former Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, and Turkey. Learn the language and local customs as best as you can, do not let yourself be tricked, sample home-made drinks and home-cooked food as much as possible.


Getting back to Tomas’ recommended places to see, we kindled our curiosity and found out why these places are so interesting. It turns out Lake Ohrid is one of the world’s oldest lakes. Lake’s astounding beauty can be witnessed at website. The lake is certainly incredibly charming. It is worth mentioning that Skopje is famous for Mother Teresa, who was born in this city in 1910, and spent 18 years of her life here.


Briefly recapping his experience, Tomas mentions he is happy to have changed quite a bit: “I learn to open up to different people, became more sociable, daring, confident, made up my mind to be less afraid in life, started to chase after travelling, change of scenery and “chaos theories” even more than before, took up some of the southern “live in the now” attitude (which is somewhat difficult to live with in Lithuania, especially the first few months after coming back).”


It is becoming more and more interesting to check out Tomas’ blog ( Perhaps one day we will find even more insights there, such as about life in Africa, near Madagascar, where he will be teaching natives to read. We should really be glad there are people who, by undertaking things they are afraid of, destroy the established view that the youth has become rigid and inflexible, and influence others to take initiative and think through their own being.


Lina Jankauskaitė, young journalist of Eurodesk Lithuania and EU programme “Youth in Action”

Published: Mon, 20/01/2014 - 13:27

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