Our EVS (ESC) volunteer Thomas S. participated in a 12 months programme through the “EN.SU.RE. Inclusion - Enhanced Support for Refugee Inclusion” project, funded by the European Commission.

Dear Potential Volunteer,

I am just finishing my EVS, soon to be called ESC and want to offer some reflections to help you take this step and perhaps to help you make more of your time as a volunteer.

What did I do in my time in Athens? I worked with great people, whom I am grateful for – we explored together how non-formal education can create inclusive spaces, we created these spaces to the best of our abilities and I am proud of the result. We reflected on topics like oppression, racism, inclusion, gender equality and ecological sustainability that I feel all of us need to engage in.

We explored how important it is to be critical of our own practices, because they may replicate the oppressive structures we are trying to dismantle – especially when it comes to education. I taught, I was taught, I facilitated and I learned. I cooked with people, we ate, laughed, sang and played together. I was a part of building temporary communities, that gave me joy and happiness – that I am grateful for.

This year has made a significant impact on how I will live the rest of my life. I think the main reason for this big impact on my life is that I gave myself the time to take a step out of a system that is obsessed with competition and extreme individualism and towards making a contribution to the world around me. To spend some time learning for the sake of a better self and a better world, not for a certificate or a job qualification. Most of all, it’s a certain mind-set that has helped me make the most of this experience and will continue to assist me in the years to come.

That is the mind-set that I need to keep learning, that there is a huge variety of experiences we can learn from and that are often the ones that we perceive as bad, the conflicts, the tension, that they are the ones we can learn from the most. It is the mind-set that I should never stand outside of my own critique, that when tackling any form of discrimination and oppression, I need to be critical of my own actions and reflect on the impact I have on those around me (and those further away from me.) It is the mind-set that there are certain things that are more important than my ego, than the things I think I need, because I am used to them, that I can focus on the things I really need – friendship, love and compassion. After this year strongly believe that what we need more of in this world is community.
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These may seem like strong words that we cannot quite grasp, I know; because many of these words only become meaningful when we really explore them, experience them and live them. I feel more comfortable now to use them, knowing that I need to continue learning about the, exploring them, living them. I have also learned about the importance of speaking honestly from the heart and this is what I am trying to do here – although it is quite difficult because I am not sure, who I am addressing. Whoever you are, you should probably consider taking this time out for yourself – whatever form it takes.

Consider that with the right approach, in this time, you will learn more and perhaps more important things than you have ever learned, about yourself and about the world; that learning is not just about facts and straight answers, but about asking big questions like ‘what is a good life? how should I live?’ and exploring the answer by answer by living your life deliberately, being open to different things and listening to yourself; that sometimes the best way to learn is to act and then reflect. Also, know, that this experience will not necessarily be easy, that learning is hard and that this experience may be hard too; that you will probably make mistakes and others will too, and you will be frustrated and even then, you can learn. Be humble, set your intentions and be committed, be aware, critical, and honest, compassionate and or do whatever works for you, these are just words that I think it would have been good for me to read before I started.

Thomas S.

["The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein."]

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