‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ is a question I remember being asked all the time whilst growing up. When I went to visit a school in Slovakia whilst on the Grundtvig project this was something that got asked a lot and received varied answers. One girl wanted to be a cowgirl, another older girl wanted to be a nurse and another wanted to be an astronaut. The list is endless and often heart-warming.
A little bit like the reasons we heard for people volunteering their time to an organisation. Some people wanted to do something different, others wanted to make new friends, others had been asked to volunteer as part of work experience or other commitments. All of the people had one thing in common: to one degree or another they believed in the importance of their work.
Perhaps the key to getting more people to volunteer their time lies here. This very afternoon I was in Footsteps Café and I caught sight of the words on the back of our menu ‘we help people to make a difference.’
Ultimately that is the one thing that everybody wants; the kids I met wanted to make a difference in the same way as their own role models (real and fictional), and the adults we all heard about had been inspired to make a difference through hearing about their chosen organisation. Those words on the back of the menu of Footsteps Café are ultimately what our best practice guide is about: helping to improve the experiences of volunteers and helping them to make a difference. So why not drop in sometime and meet some of the people who are making a difference in our own community? And of course, try some cake
The first thing I personally found surprising about Slovakia, just seconds after getting off the plane, was the sunshine that nigh on blinded us (hardly surprising when you think about the British weather we were coming from). We had arrived in Slovakia, after leaving London a couple of hours earlier. A couple more hours train journey later and we had arrived in Cadca, the town near the polish border where we would be staying.
We were going to visit an organisation called KERIC, one of our partners in the second of a series of meetings about the Grundtvig Project – a project to improve volunteering which will culminate in 2014. The title of this project is ‘Learning through Volunteering’.
The most important thing I learnt about volunteering was at the University of Zilina, a larger town close to where we were staying. A group of us went to visit their ecological teambuilding project and took part in some example exercises – with some pretty interesting results! Whilst the overall idea might seem pretty common, and not unlike something I once went on locally, some of the observations that the team make about people and how to group them together in effective teams are something that I think could be applied anywhere – even in the running of a café.
Slovakia: Volunteering and Soup
In Slovakia it is traditional to start every meal with a bowl of soup. I think this helped us meet loads of the people in our group. It got us up and out of our seats, going to visit other tables to fill our bowls (and our stomachs). The soup was perfect after days spent doing workshops, or walking in the Slovakian countryside.
Our group went to visit a centre called KERIC which is based in the northern Kysuce region of Slovakia. KERIC is an NGO which aims to connect its region of Slovakia with Europe and the world, mainly through sending people off on a scheme called EVS and hosting EVS volunteers from other countries. They also host language and computer courses as well as winter and summer camps. Our main aim was to meet with people from KERIC, and two other partners, Ifak and Tilia, to discuss the ongoing Grundtvig project we are working on – aiming to make a guide for organisations that employ volunteers. This guide will be available in 2014 when the project ends.
When we weren’t discussing our respective projects, our hosts at KERIC organised for us to visit different NGOs in the area; which included everything from an ecological centre which hosts youth teambuilding activities, to local schools and labour offices and even a fair-trade café! This gave us a glimpse into the life of a vibrant community of people that wants to learn more about Europe and take its place in the global community.
The trip that made the biggest impression on me personally was the trip that I took with an EVS volunteer to a local primary school. Primary school in Slovakia starts at 7 years old, with the eldest students leaving at 15 for the local high school.
I felt included from the word go. The teacher who collaborates with EVS volunteers made me feel at home and included in the lesson, by standing me up in front of the class and letting them ask me questions about England. I think we covered everything that day from “do you like pizza?” to “where do you live?”! In the staff room I was included in traditional birthday celebrations and made to feel at home immediately.
In a country where volunteers and their role are still developing and are sometimes unheard of, I think that the our trip and the impact it had will stay with many people for a long time – from our own Global Footsteps volunteers, the team at KERIC who made it such an enriching experience for everyone, the people we met at local NGOs and even the two mayors that we met during our stay will have memories of the group of volunteers that came to stay, which is amazing and – in my opinion – something to be promoted.
Why not come along to our open evening on 17th May at 5-9 pm to find out more about our trip and try some Slovak food!
KERIC is a European youth centre based in the lovely Čadca region of Slovakia. This organisation is one of our partners in the ‘Learning through volunteering’ project. We held a very successful first meeting in Göttingen in October 2012, and the second meeting will be hosted by KERIC at their centre in Slovakia, from 14 to 18 April 2013.
We are looking for volunteers to join us for this meeting. Your expenses will be paid by the project. If you are interested, please download the full details and send us a statement of interest by Monday 14 January.
Our eco-refurbished building at 16 Portland St opened for business at the beginning of September, but the formal launch took place on Thursday 4 October.
Martin Horwood, MP for Cheltenham, opened the building and encouraged people to enjoy the welcoming atmosphere 0f our cafe and the delicious drinks and cakes on offer. Click here to see the video.
Over 60 people attended the celebration, and sampled vegetarian snacks as well as our usual hot drinks and home-made cakes. They were able to participate in tours of the building, including the rooftop solar and air source energy installations.
Global Footsteps has been successful in our application for funding under the Grundtvig Lifelong Learning programme. Our project, entitled ‘Learning through Volunteering’, will start in August and run for two years. We’re waiting to hear whether our proposed European partners – Tilia in Toruń, Poland, KERIC in Čadca, Slovakia, and EPIZ in Göttingen, Germany – have also been successful. Fingers crossed!
We’re very excited about this project, which will give our volunteers opportunities to travel and learn about each other’s cultures, and will help our organisations to make volunteering a more inclusive and rewarding activity, for the volunteers themselves and the community at large.