European Voluntary Service (EVS)
Lots of students want to spend their year abroad volunteering, but are put off by the costs – how on earth can you live abroad for a year with no money? I felt the same way, until I found out the European Voluntary Service. I’ve just graduated with a degree in French and Russian, and I’m currently doing a year-long voluntary project in Samara, Russia, working for an international youth exchange charity called Lastochki. Other volunteers I know here are working in kindergartens, hospitals and with disabled people. We’re learning lots, having great fun, speaking Russian all day every day at our projects, and none of us has paid a penny!
So - what is the EVS?
EVS is a fully funded volunteering scheme, open to anyone between the ages of 18-30. It is organised and funded by the European Commission, one of the bodies that make up the European Union. It used to be part of a wider programme called “Youth in Action”, but that programme is being replaced in January 2014 by something called “Erasmus+”. In theory, however, the EVS will not change very much.
With EVS, you can go abroad for anywhere between two and twelve months. The European Commission will pay for your:
Accommodation (your host organisation might rent you a flat shared with other volunteers, you might live in dorms, or – as in my case – you might be living with a host family) Visa, if you need one Insurance Language support (usually in the form of language lessons) At least 90% of the cost of your flight to the country at the beginning of your project and back home at the end (if you want to go home for a break in the middle of the year, you’ll have to pay for that yourself)
In addition to this, they’ll give you monthly pocket money (usually €100-150 a month, depending on living costs in the country you’re working in) plus money for food and transport (also usually about €100-150 a month).
All EVS volunteers also have 2 days holiday a month, in addition to weekends and bank holidays, which they can take as and when they want. I’m planning on saving mine up and travelling through Siberia in July!
What can I do?
The short answer is…anything! There is a huge database of available projects: for instance, you could volunteer for a school, a hospital, an old-age home, a human rights charity, an environmental project, an anti-discrimination project, a European-awareness project… the list goes on. As long as you’re working for a voluntary organisation, the possibilities are endless!
Where can I go?
The rules say that you have to either come from a country in the EU or go to a country in the EU (or both!). So if you’re from the UK, as that’s in the EU, the world is your oyster! I’m doing my project in Russia, and on my pre-departure training, I met people going to Greece, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Norway and Peru.
What support will I have?
EVS is a really well-oiled machine, with lots of different support mechanisms available.
You’ll have a “pre-departure” training session before you leave, to get you used to the idea of going abroad and to learn more about the values of EVS. Then, when you arrive, you’ll have “on-arrival” training, to prepare you for life in your new country and to help you get to know the other volunteers. You’ll have a supervisor at your project, to help you with all aspects of work; you’ll also be allocated a “mentor” who is responsible for your wellbeing in your host country outside of work. Your mentor might, for instance, show you around your new city, help you with the language, and introduce you to his/her friends. If your project is more than 6 months long, you’ll also have a “mid-term training” halfway through, to analyse how things are going so far and plan what you want to achieve in the second half of your project. Finally, once you get home, you’ll have a “final evaluation” session, to sum up everything you’ve achieved over the year and work out how you can stay involved in the future.
How do I get involved?
There are several steps you need to do to get involved in an EVS project.
1. Find a sending organisation.
This is the organisation which will help you with everything before you leave home. You can look up all the sending organisations near you - just put your nearest town in the “Town” box and under “Type of Accreditation,” put “Sending organisation”. Then, you can choose one and contact them, saying you want to get involved in EVS. They will walk you through the rest.
2. Find a host organisation.
This can work in one of two ways. Either your sending organisation will give you a list of projects with which they have existing links, and you can choose which one you want to apply for. Or you can search the EVS database (the same website as above) for host organisations and apply to them directly. This option gives you a wider choice of projects, but you also risk not hearing back from a lot of organisations, as you’re effectively sending out speculative applications which might get overlooked.
3. Apply for funding.
Once you’ve jumped through all the hoops and been accepted onto a project, it’s time to apply for funding from the European Commission! You don’t need to do much for this. In my case, I filled out a form together with my sending coordinator, and she took care of all the bureaucracy. I just had to wait!
4. Pre-departure training.
Shortly before you go, you’ll attend a day-long pre-departure training. This is a chance to meet other volunteers leaving the UK at the same time as you, learn more about the values of EVS and ask any questions you still have.
5. GO GO GO!