LEAVE actually stands for ‘lifelong engagement after volunteer experience’. An amazing seminar aimed at young people who have done some voluntary service abroad for 3 months or more. It was an opportunity to reflect on your experiences and see how you could apply what you had learnt overseas to your local communities at home.
When I first heard about the seminar, I was really excited and wanted to be signed up straight away. After spending the most incredible 16 months as a Salesian volunteer in Swaziland nearly 3 years ago (still feels like yesterday!), I felt it would be a perfect opportunity for me look back, reflect and evaluate my experiences.
It was amazing to be able to meet so many volunteers from different countries (Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Malta, Spain, Slovenia, Romania, UK…) to share in peoples experiences as well as your own with people who understand. I love my family and friends, but there is only so much interest that can be kept when every other sentence starts with ‘When I was in Swaziland…’ before their eyes glaze over and the subject is swiftly changed.
The main aim of the seminar was to find ways to use our voluntary service overseas and apply it to projects at home in our local communities. I think this is a great idea, but I personally I do find it difficult. Being at university in St Andrews and my family living in Bolton, I have two local communities – In Bolton for half the year and in St Andrews for the other half of the year. There were a few of us who find this ‘split’ of community difficult: which community is your ‘local’ community? It was great to be able to share this with others. We had a session which was about brainstorming project based on the needs of your local community, which we’d identified in a previous session. It was great to have the ‘exchange market’ type view of it, where we could gain influence and ideas from how different cultures view obstacles. For example in the UK, we can often be held up by red tape and bureaucracy and because of this not even bother starting at all. I came away from the seminar re-energised and excited about things that I could do and are possible if you have people with you who have the same energy, passion and care about the project. A term that was used by some of the founders of ‘Salle Fur Alle’ (Google* it – whether you can speak German or not, it’s an amazingly inspirational project set up in Vienna by returning volunteers) was a ‘critical mass’ of volunteers. The realisation and understanding that you can’t do everything yourself – it won’t be best for the people the project is aiming to help, and more than it just won’t be as fun!! I also came away with more questions and more to think about – in a good way!
I truly enjoyed the experience: the people, the (at times) heated discussions, the sharing, and the joy. It’s difficult to convey the experience into words…but I hope I’ve managed to in some way!
*or any other search engine of your choice…