“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”

What does it mean “to be an ESC volunteer?” How many people do you help? How many lives do you touch? How many good things happen with your collaboration? And what happens to you? How many things do you learn? How much do you learn about yourself? How much of your life is changed by an experience like that?

ESC volunteering exists with all its benefits and responsibilities. To enjoy great moments and to learn. To see new places and to be of service.

And this was the idea for our project „YOUth for Solidarity in Europe”: Polish youngsters going to different countries in Europe, supporting the work of an NGO while learning, and having the chance of meeting new places, new people, and new cultures.

Between December 2019 and August 2022, under this project, 22 young people took part in short-term and long-term activities in countries like Croatia, Bulgaria, Italy, and Portugal.

From workshops with children and teenagers, and supporting the work in a summer camp in Labin, with Alfa Albona, to leading workshops for people with disabilities, supporting the Balkan Kids Foundation in Varna, or writing blogs and organizing workshops with the local community together with RATO, in Amora, as well as holding activities in the community library, in Altamura with LINK APS, there was in a little bit of everything in the volunteers’ experiences.

There was also intercultural exchange and open-mindedness, traveling, in some cases for the first time, personal development, the discovery of new competencies, and improvement of skills. There were new friendships, raised awareness on many subjects, and, hopefully, fewer stereotypes and prejudices in the end.

“YOUth for Solidarity in Europe” had its struggles, though. It started before the pandemic and crossed it all. It finished when the situation in Europe was already in a sad war scenario.

Youngsters and organizations were also affected by all of that. Some people would say that it’s not about what happens to you but about what you do with the things that happen to you. It’s pretty arguable if this is always true, but maybe, in this case, it is.

On many occasions, activities within the project had to be adapted to the situation at hand. Thus, we can say that both volunteers and organizations worked extensively on their flexibility and capacity for adjustment.

And this was a big part of what this volunteering was about. Flexibility, adaptation, patience, and creativity.

Together with Alfa Albona, Dominika, Magdalena, Marta, Paulina, and Sasha developed their knowledge in preparing workshops for youngsters in the local community of Labin. In different periods between 2019 and 2022, the girls had the chance as well to experience life in a different environment: a summer camp.

Sleeping in tents, preparing meals for the participants, washing dishes, collecting trash, recycling, and painting and reusing materials, were some of the things the volunteers experienced, especially during summer.

In the idyllic Tunarica camp, surrounded by nature, they increased also their awareness of environmental protection and took an active part in it.

1400 km away from there, in the city of Varna, Katarzyna was helping Balkan Kids Foundation with workshops and handcrafts for people with disabilities. For 57 days, from the beginning of May till the end of June 2021, our volunteer went on trips with the NGO, supporting and monitoring the groups, and getting the chance of seeing different places in Bulgaria. But the most important of all: the contact with people of different ages, the empathy for people’s timing and needs, and the creativity to work on different scenarios and make a difference.

And a difference can be made in many ways!

If we travel a little further way to the west, more specifically to the heal of Italy, we will find LINK APS, the host organization (at different times) of Aleksandra, Ida, Maia, Marlena, Martyna, Patrycja, and Paulina. There, in Altamura, the difference was made through books, podcasts, community work, and a community library, “Agoroteca”.

Through workshops, book readings, and podcast episodes, the volunteers interacted with the local youth, promoting cultural exchange and the discussion of many topics.

Everywhere we have a book we have hope, right?

Hope, that beautiful word. Hope is one of the fuels of the European Solidarity Corps. Hope is also the core of “YOUth for solidarity in EUrope”. Hope in the youth. Hope that we can all become better humans by connecting, learning with each other, by listening to each other.

Hope also took Alicja, Ewa, Jeremy, Kajetan, Katarzyna, Kyrylo, Maria, and Weronika to Portugal, in different periods, for short-term and long-term projects.

With RATO ADCC our volunteers prepared and delivered workshops for the local community, and supported digital literacy activities.

But it was not only that. Their experiences were also shared in different ways. There were intercultural events and there were blog entries that illustrate the path of the volunteers, their growth, difficult moments, and achievements.

It may seem like little things, but is it?

Let us go once again to the words of Maria Skłodowska-Curie:

“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”

Aleksandra, Alicja, Dominika, Ewa, Ida, Jeremi, Katarzyna, Kajetan, Katarzyna, Kyrylo, Magdalena Maria, Marlena, Marta, Paulina, Maria, Martyna, Patrycja, Paulina, Sasha, and Weronika. Europejskie Forum Młodzieży, Alfa Albona, Balkan Kids Foundation, RATO ADCC, and Link APS. And countless children, teenagers, and adults in 5 countries. More than words and ideas, „YOUth for Solidarity in Europe” had faces and names. It was about Solidarity, and it was about people.

32 months.

In the end, the hope that this project was a starting point for many people. A new door of opportunities for others. A cemented cooperation and the belief that some things around us may be at least a little bit better after this experience.