EVS4ALL: an infectious optimism for the future of Europe

8 May 2015

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“We are Europe!” was the rallying cry of the late, great German sociologist Ulrich Beck as he, with his close friend and fellow European titan, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, sat down to write a manifesto for the future of Europe. What they envisaged was a Europe built “from the bottom-up”. A Europe far removed from the technocratic elites who so often dominate the news. A Europe “for taxi drivers and theologians, for workers and the workless, for managers and musicians, for teachers and trainees, for sculptors and sous-chefs, for supreme court judges and senior citizens, for men and women”.In order to disentangle ourselves from the clutches of the euro-crisis, we must re-build our civil society and rediscover those traits which bind us together, instead of those which tear us apart.

But how, I hear you ask, is this wonderful Europe of people supposed to happen? And haven’t we been moving precisely in the other direction in the years since the great crash of 2008?

 

EVS4ALL (European Voluntary Service for All)

EVS4ALL is co-financed by the Allianz Cultural Foundation, the European Commission and the German Erasmus + programme. Despite its somewhat unwieldy name, it actually boils down to this simple idea: when people are given the opportunity to move across Europe, they become more European. It asks us to look at some of the greatest success stories of the European project – namely the Erasmus programme and the equally valuable yet surprisingly little-known EVS, or European Voluntary Service. It invites us to look at the amazing things they have achieved for those involved as well as the European idea, and wants to expand the reach of these programmes to a broader audience.

The central message behind the project is that everybody, no matter what their social background is, should have the opportunity to travel and volunteer somewhere else in the continent in order to gain skills, professional experience, as well as friends and a broader cultural outlook.

Too often the benefits of borderless travel have, somewhat ironically, been limited by physical barriers of another kind. This could be a lack of money, education, discrimination of some sort or maybe even a disability. EVS4ALL aims to change that by offering life-changing voluntary experiences in other European countries to those who wouldn’t normally be able to take part.

 

EVS
Photo: Courtesy of the Allianz Cultural Foundation
Another moment of the meeting in Berlin  

 

The people involved

Behind the grand ideas lies a group of hard-working and inspirational Europeans working with those at the margins of society. Representatives arrived at the launch event from organisations based in Spain, Poland, the UK, Germany, France and Romania. All had years of experience of working with underprivileged young people, and all were keen to link these national social issues with a European solution.

However, it soon became clear that this wasn’t going to be easy to achieve. People in different countries face a multitude of different challenges. In Romania, Roma people face discrimination in education and in the workplace. In Poland, ‘invisible’ migrants face huge barriers because the state simply does not believe it is a destination for migration because the skin colour of those arriving lets them blend in with traditional Poles. The huge youth unemployment problem in Spain also remains a pressing problem.

Even in the ‘richer’ countries of the EU, like the UK, Germany and France, it was evident that young people still faced huge and varied challenges in today’s Europe. Despite higher average levels of GDP, pockets of extreme poverty still exist, and the question of integrating people from different cultures remains high on the agenda. On the second day, the question of what we even mean by ‘underprivileged’ prompted a lively debate.

Going forward, mentors need to be trained, contacts made and many other logistical barriers overcome. Further meetings will have to articulate exactly how the programme publicises itself to these hard-to-reach groups, as well as detailing the exact support they will receive. No one round the table underestimated the challenges ahead.

 

E&M

As regular readers will know, the lofty ambitions behind this project are of course part of E&M’s ethos. Frankly, we could not help but be part of such a project. As well as reporting on the various stages of this project, E&M will also use this opportunity to delve into some of the issues that the organisations involved are tackling. Most of them have vital, transnational relevance, and the stories need to be told.

As for EVS4ALL, the next stop is Cluj, Romania, in July for a festival of youth volunteering. E&M looks forward to working with all these great partners again soon.

 

At the end of April 2015 the Allianz Cultural Foundation welcomed a variety of different groups from across Europe to their Berlin headquarters to launch the EVS4ALL project. As one of the media partners of the event, E&M’s Chris Ruff was there to witness two days of knowledge sharing, diligent planning and infectious optimism for the future of Europe.