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.
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.
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.