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UNA EXCHANGE Volunteer journeys

Trisha took part in our Erasmus+ funded EVS project and went to one of our work camps in Estonia, in summer 2018.

Her project was tackling environment issues and took place in Kassari, Estonia. She worked for the community there, by collecting apples in a farm with other volunteers and making apple juice. She also worked on protected areas of the island, to preserve the nature.

" I don’t think I am the same person, I have grown up to be a better person. This experience changed my perspective on things. Things are different here, there and everywhere. We need to learn to accept it. "

Caitlan also went to the work camp in Estonia, together with Trisha.

“I learned how organic foods and drinks are made, how they don’t use chemicals, how they don’t add sugar. I brought some apple juice home.”

During her project, besides the work at the farm and with the community, she had the chance to make trips to different landmarks in Estonia. With other volunteers, they went to a theme park, to the beach and had fun horse riding...

Tobias from Wales, went to one of our work camps in Vienna, called 'Aktschn im Park' (Action in Park).

The work focused on taking care of the green areas such as the park Augarten. He also did renovation and painting work.

"Young people in Wales don't have that kind of opportunity very often. Volunteering abroad builds you up and gives you good experience."

Tobias often does voluntary work. He was a volunteer at the British Heart Foundation and participated in some local volunteer missions.

Bethan went to France for three weeks as part of our Erasmus+ funded project 'Solidarity Across Europe'.

She worked in the village of Castelnaud La Chapelle, a cute little place near a castle.

The work there focused on rebuilding the historic stone streets: physical and very interesting work, as Bethan stated.

"I have anxiety, so for me it was generally hard to talk to people, but after this experience I can say that it helped me going out of my shell".

Macauley went to France last October with Bethan. During his short-term EVS (European Voluntary Service), he discovered another country, something completely new for him. He returned from his project more motivated than ever to continue doing new things and keep on volunteering.

Like Trisha, Caitlan and Bethan did, Macauley previsouly volunteer with UNA Exchange at Grayhill farm in Monmouthshire and took part in a Residential at Amelia Trust Farm in Barry and a training week-end in North Wales, as part of his preparation to get ready to go abroad.

In the debrief from their work camp abroad, they said that thanks to this experience they were now feeling more able to understand other people's culture and behaviour and ready to take more initiative in their everyday lives.

"UNA Exchange is an amazing place where i feel comfortable and safe. [...] I believe people need this kind of organisation to help them."

Sara from Italy, volunteered in Cardiff, for 11 months. She was part of our team at UNA Exchange, where she worked on several projects, promoting international volunteering in Wales and abroad. She enjoyed her stay so much that she chose to live here after her EVS!

"I've discovered that I am way more adventurous than what I thought and it's a very good feeling. I've learned that I love working with young people and that the outcomes are always very rewarding."

Viktoria from Ukraine, came to Cardiff to volunteer for UNA Exchange in 2016, for the Erasmus+ funded project called 'Change Lives, Open Minds'.

"As an experience of working with a non-profit organisation, it has been an invaluable experience. I also had the chance to experience the Welsh & English culture and I met a lot of new people".

Kes from Pembrokeshire, volunteered in Italy for a year as part of his EVS. He teached English to children in the beautiful city of Bologna.

He liked this experience so much that he decided to become a camp-leader for one of UNA Exchange's workcamp, at Caerhys Organic Farm in Pembrokeshire, in Wales. (http://www.coca-csa.org/)

"My first project was really good fun, very important and it kind of structured my life. Everything I have done since that point has been meant because of what I was doing in Italy."

Daniel went to Moldova to do an EVS, for 8 months. He was working with the organisation 'ADVIT, ALGA' on animal welfare.

"Volunteering is good for young people. It helps you to work out what you want to do in your life. It gives you a lot of freedom to achieve that."

"I found a career out there. Working with animals was my favourite thing and the community of volunteers was really good."

Yasmin went to Chisinau in Moldova for 7 months, for the project "New European Dialogues".

“I have learnt so much about the socio-political situation in Moldova, but also in Romania, Ukraine and Belarus, where I have had the opportunity to travel. I felt quite ignorant before coming about this part of the world, and even perhaps unconsciously prejudiced against the ‘Russian-sphere’ due to the messaging we receive daily in the West. I now feel that I have a much better understanding of East-West geopolitics, and how they play out in daily life.”

In August 2018, we welcomed volunteers from Austria, Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Czech Republic to take part in a work camp in Cardiff run in partnership by UNA Exchange and Pride Cymru.

“It promoted love, tolerance and changing the world for the better, if we all unite”

Joe from Swansea, went to a project in Estonia when he was 18 years old, just after high school. He did not really know what to do after school and he wanted to see the world. When he discovered the EVS programme, he thought that it was a great idea to go explore a place he didn't know. The one he found in Estonia was about about social cohesion and education.

"When I came back from my EVS, I was little bit more mature. I think it changed me in lots of ways but the whole package was kind of essentially to become more an adult."

After this year abroad, he realised that this experience changed the way he approached studies such as University. He knew that he wanted to work with minorities.

"There was a linear trajectory between what I started as an EVS volunteer and what I am doing now. I finished my undergraduate from sociology, writing a thesis focused on social housing, which was informed from some of my experiences of looking at these soviet tower blocks. I did a postgraduate degree, as well, studying pretty much what I did on my EVS. I also studied Eastern European area and wrote my thesis on ethnic Russian in Baltic and structural discrimination. After working for four months in an integration centre in Berlin, I got a job in SEWREC (East Wales Regional Equality Council), based on my previous experiences with minorities."

Louise went to a one-year project in the Netherlands, to work with 'Stichting AAP' (AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection which gives exotic mammals a better future), after graduating with a degree in Biology.

"I learnt a lot during my stay and I really enjoyed working with such a wide variety of interesting species. I have way too many good memories! I loved working with primates as they all have very individual personalities and it was incredibly interesting to learn more about their behaviour."

"The most important thing I learnt was how to cope with changes and have the confidence to adapt to what is happening around you. It is difficult to put yourself into a brand new situation, so perseverance is key."

Tom went to a long-term project in Romania, 'Culture Zoom: Youth Focus'. He had to explore the Romanian culture and share what he saw online by posting photos and videos on blogs and websites. He also worked as a teacher in two high schools and an orphanage. He taught art and design to the young people using non-formal education methods.

"I think that doing an EVS is the best way to see another country and culture. I have never liked short holidays or city-breaks, because it takes time to really notice the details of how other people live, an EVS gives you that opportunity."

Angela from Spain, did a long-term project in Cardiff. She worked in three different places: Pedal Power, Sustrans and Cycle Training Wales.

"Basically, I had spent all my life studying to get a future good job. After I graduated in university, I thought: "So what am I gonna do now?". The economic situation in my country made it difficult to find that job everyone told you, you would get after hard years of studies. I was looking for many different ways to go abroad and I found EVS."

At the end of her project, Angela said that after her EVS, she was not scared of anything anymore. She learned that life is moving all the time and that you only have to move with it.

"I have learned lot of skills with bicycles and at the end of my EVS, one of my organisation offered me job and I decided to stay in Cardiff, working and studying English. Because I learned so much during my time here, I even started to think about running my own business when I'll come back to Spain."

Rachael did a long-term EVS in Carmarthenshire. After her studies, she was planning on doing a gap year, volunteering abroad. She wanted to come to Wales and she found the perfect projet: leading the Camarthenshire Autumn Project, working along side with the Carmarthenshire County Council. The volunteers and her did a lot of outdoor work and they were also engaged with the local community by participating in various activities including sports days and after school activities.

"I’ve learned to be humble, open to new experiences and willingness to try new things. I started to have much more appreciation towards nature and the little things in life."

"I personally think that everyone should volunteer at least once in their lifetime to experience what life has to give, and not expecting anything monetary or materialistic in return. For me, being a volunteer means living minimally and giving wholeheartedly."

Harry wanted to go to a project in Japan. With UNA Exchange, he found a work camp in Japan during the summer. He was volunteering on two culture festivals. The first project was called 'Tokushima festival'. That was where locals came to sing and dance, ate together and watched the show. His group of volunteers were part of this festival and had their own stall and tried to promote global warming issues, as well as helping around.

On the second one, he helped running the traditional 'Japanese dancing festival'. The dance self-spread across the whole city. There were six stages around the city and dances group rotating around all night.

"During my projects in Japan, I met lot of really great and interesting people. I loved the project so much because people were very kind and the experiences were amazing."

Esme went to Slovenia for a 10-months project. She was working in a school, creating activities with young people and children. With her organisation, Pekarna Magdalenske mreže, she also took part in different projects such as 'Becoming part of Europe' tackling refugees situations and many others. (http://www.pekarna.org/web/index.php?page=evs )

Her final project was ‘Here We Are’ – A mini festival in response to the lack of a LGBTQ+ scene, in Maribor. Her and the other EVS volunteers put on a three days cycle of events aimed to showcase, educate on and give visibility to LGBTQ+ histories, culture and lives. Hopefully, the festival will happen again next year.

"With this final project, I learnt about confidently expressing my own sexuality and gender and feel more confident in being actively involved in the LGBTQ+ scene which is something that I am very grateful for."

"This experience gave me a broader understanding of equality and diversity issues, not just in the UK, but across whole of the Europe and especially in Slovenia, the Balkans and Austria. I feel more politically active and aware as a result."

During her time in Slovenia, Esme explored the country, places around & made really special lifelong friends, both from Maribor and Slovenia and with other EVS volunteers across Europe.

Alex from Swansea, likes to find and explore new places. He then decided to go abroad for a two-months-long project, in a little village called Vaunieres, in France.

Alex worked at an hostel where a lot of different groups were coming from different places. He was cooking but also working with people with disabilities.

"I feel there is a lack of opportunities for young people and there is quite a strong drug scene in Swansea, where I used to be involved in. That’s why I like travelling: I don’t like to stick in one place for ages where I can get into these kind of things."

What Alex most enjoyed was meeting new people, because in Vaunieres, there were people from all different countries & also different places from France. He loved to be around them because he simply didn’t see any difference between them and him.

"I think if I didn’t do these projects, I would be just in my house bored, doing nothing."

After the project, Alex decided to be a youth worker and help other people. He said: "I made so many different projects with so many different young people and I enjoyed it so much, I decided to start studying community and youth work in the University."

Calum is from Penarth, near Cardiff. He has been involved with UNA Exchange since the age of 16, joining and leading volunteering projects in Italy, Poland, Lithuania and Wales.

Calum felt that he needed some guidance and to get away from his life in Penarth, for a time. He first went to a project in Italy, for two weeks to do environmental work in the mountains.

His first project gave him this addiction to travelling on his own, because of all the freedom he felt there. Then, he continued to travel and spent two months in Poland and later he chose to go for eight-months-long EVS in Lithuania.

"I generally felt that I was part of something special, which I never felt before. Sometimes it was scary but that is what you need. You can’t live in a bubble all your life."

"I do constantly think of Lithuania. It is a long time ago (2014) and I wish I could go back, it was an amazing and life-changing experience that made me feel so much older, in a good way. When I came back, I was much more myself."

"I still do voluntary work. At least twice a month I help homeless people with food and clothing. I also work with children who have ADHD."

Claire went to a work camp in Spain. She wanted to do a project with children as she wanted experience in this type of work. The mission was a summer camp for children between the age of 4 to 15, in order to help them develop their English language skills. Most of the time, she was playing with the kids, doing graphics with them, discovering and talking about different cultures.

"The thing I enjoyed most about this project was how accepting the children at the camp were of the language barriers and how they came up with solutions to overcome it on their own."

"I think that volunteering is helping the society a lot and giving people opportunities that they might not had otherwise."

"I was surprised how quickly it went and how easily I got along with everyone and we all became friends."

Jess went to a three-weeks project in France. She chose to volunteer for this mission because she always wanted to go abroad and she also liked the feeling of giving something back to the community.

"I just wanted to change more than anything. I was doing the same thing seven days a week so it was refreshing to do something else for three weeks in France."

The work camp she chose was about agriculture and renovation. Jess was making concrete, drilling holes and using equipment she have never used before so it was quite a new experience for her.

"This project gave me a lot of confidence and independence because when I was out there I budgeted my own money. I learned a lot about teamwork and i also improved my communication skills."

"I actually didn't want to come back - I would gladly live over there and do that work!"

Bryn went to one of our work camps in Ukraine. He wanted to travel but didn't want to be just on holiday and prefered the idea of doing something productive. Bryn found our organisation, UNA Exchange and was interested by our short-term projects. He chose to volunteer to be an English teacher in a Summer School. The project was located in western Ukraine, in a small town called Bryukhovychi.

During his mission, volunteers were divided into classes; there would be two native English speaker per class and they taught the students for three weeks with an exam at the end.

"Volunteering on this project has definitely made me consider teaching as an opportunity to travel, because before volunteering I thought it was only possible to travel if you had a lot of money."

"I realized that teaching is helping other people to grow, and education is the most precious gift you can give anyone; it empowers people."

"I feel like I gained a better understanding of the world. Ukraine was not anything like I thought it would be. I had my own preconceptions about it and it just turned out really different. I think it taught me not to make assumptions until you go somewhere and get to know the people better."

"Volunteering gives you the opportunity to get to know a country, its people, its culture and help the people at the same time. I would tell anyone who thinks about trying volunteering abroad: Go for it!"

Keyon went to Portugal to take part in a training course for a week. The project was based around youth work, which is Keyon's passion, and social action, in the city of Setúbal. It was a chance for him to meet people from around the world.

He created activities for young people and also led social action projects thanks to the hosting organisation, Ananda Kalyani.

For one of the social action project, Keyon and his volunteers created a video about people's dreams and wishes. They wanted to have many different people views and many different answers to use this content for a future campaign. They decided to go as a team in the streets and ask people directly.

"I enjoyed the diversity between all the participants, we had different ages, jobs, colour, religion and it was a real random selection of people, which meant when we came together for feedback sessions we all had different opinions and looks on things, which was nice as we could get a broader range of thought on something."

"My experience was my own and I had an incredible time meeting amazing people that I am still in touch with. I can only encourage you to grab onto the opportunity with both hands and run with it, you never know where it will take you and who you will meet."

"I find it great how much you can do with UNA Exchange, not just abroad. Since I have been back from Portugal, I have done volunteering with UNA in Wales around engagement."

Jack went to a weekend project in the Afan Forest in Britain. He spent two days reconstructing a river bank with other people and at the end of the project the leader of the work camp suggested to Jack to be part of the Leader’s Training programme, at UNA Exchange.

"It was a project that was very labour intensive but would open up a whole new area of the forest to regular walkers, and it was easy to see a visible result at the end of it - we really felt as though we had left a legacy and got a lot done, and the group were better connected and closer as a result."

He ended up training to lead projects, and returned to Afan several times, with different groups of volunteers. He also volunteered in Reykjavik in Iceland and saw the Northern Lights and led a project in Czech Republic on a biodynamic farm.

"I think that volunteering definitely changed me for the better - I strive to always be volunteering now, and promote volunteering amongst others. I think it is an essential part of being a responsible, global citizen, and i very much believe in it as an ethos and as part of the bigger picture of society at large."

Antonio started volunteering with UNA Exchange in 2008, as a leader of mid-term project in Wales, organized by Carmarthenshire county council leisure part department. It was environmental project which took place in different parks and groups Antonio leaded were working with rangers, cleaning parks or making fences. Every mid-term project included between 5 and 7 workcamps. Every project was different and every volunteer who was coming to the project was different.

"I was amazed by the power of volunteers and the hard work they are able to do. I think that people don't realize the power they have."

"You can see the results and see from where they started and where they are now. I like to imagine where they will be in few years."

"During my leading experience I learned a very important thing, which is really useful to work with this kids: If you assume the best from someone, you'll then probably get their best."

Volunteering changed Antonio's personal way of living and he finally found himself more balanced, patient and able to understand people better.

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