Make a change

“Make a change”. This was my answer to the question of what the international voluntary service means to me. That day I was interviewed by CCIVS secretariat team. Now after 8 months spent at the CCIVS office it came to my mind when I tried to write some reflection of my experience. Actually, I found interesting to ask the same question now. What does the international voluntary service bring to us? What did this experience bring to me?

Let´s go back in time. At the beginning of this year, I was thinking about the other opportunity to experience volunteering somewhere abroad. I was encouraged by my previous short-term European voluntary service (known as “EVS”) experience in Bulgaria and my work for Transparency International, the anti-corruption organisation, where various people started to offer their skills and time for free to help us. This was beyond our expectations. I was astonished by this and I felt a need to do the same. This time I received the email from European Solidarity Corps (previously “EVS”) about the job opportunity in Paris for CCIVS. When I checked the job offer and the website of CCIVS I hardly could believe that I got the chance to be part of the organisation which coordinates different volunteering-based projects all over the world. I had a strong desire to see what it´s behind the volunteering on the multinational level, how the partnerships between almost two hundreds of different members work.

Nikola Gurgolova was CCIVS administration assistant from May to December 2019.

I applied for a job, passed through the Skype interview and finally, the last interview took place directly in Paris. I really appreciated the clearness of the circumstances of the job. Half of the last interview was performed as job shadowing, which made me aware of my potential job activities. I could observe the daily work of the team and asked them questions about it. The team tried to make me sure about the following facts. It will be mainly about office work, which I was used to. To get an apartment can be “a little bit” challenging, which I first did not take as big concerns (now I can imagine some slight “poor-you” smiling of Parisians reading this).

CCIVS team welcomed me very well, I had the opportunity to work with super cool colleagues from different countries, practice my English and discuss the different habits and traditions (such as “horrifying” findings in the eyes of my Italian colleague that in Slovakia it´s not the rule to cook a dinner or for me funny Christmas tradition of Spanish kids to feed the piece of wood J). Thanks to the European Solidarity Corps and our director Vicky the relocation process was much easier. The ESC financially supported my move. Moreover, I received the language support. Vicky gave me a hand with the first weeks when she offered me to stay at her place during searching for my own apartment. And finally, if someone told me a few years ago that once I would live in lovely Paris, I would think that it was a joke.

My official position was as an administrative assistant. Our team of Secretariat office is responsible for all logistic behind every project event, training, meeting or campaign. Of course, many activities are not feasible without the cooperation of our partners. However, we are the body who is directly responsible for the budget of received grants. We allocate the financial support in accordance with project goals and we are accountable for it to donors. I was responsible for communication with the participants of the project activities and I would deal with their reimbursement request for their main travel costs. Then I was in charge of annual membership fees. In a simple way, my main working tools were emails, inscription excels, tickets, receipts, invoices, and the new internal system. In the very first meeting, I was fully engaged to the mysterious world of the shortcuts of project such as RP, KA2, STEP or CJ (my first thought was that it was the name of person since I had association with the name of the character “J.T.” from the famous American sitcom of my childhood, called Step by Step). It sounds boring or as nothing to do with my mentioned excitement about working with multinational volunteering?

Maybe at first glance, you would say yes. Actually, after some time you get to understand what behind these excels, timesheets, etc. is. It is that moment when the participant of the event sends you the travel documents and by the same email, they thank you for organizing the training where they gained useful skills, exchanged the experience in the field with others, etc. One of my last tasks was to process the support for Climate Justice Campaign and Raising Peace Campaign. In other words, I collected the invoices, reports, photos and check their eligibility in order to reimburse some related expenses. Just some kind of paperwork again. However, when you look at photos and read the narrative reports of activities you get a new perspective of your paperwork. I remember the photos from Sri Lanka, where one of our members organized a volunteering workcamp for cleaning the local area completely polluted by all kinds of rubbish. Maybe you heard that the plastic island in the ocean is now six times bigger than all France. There were other workcamps which supported the marginalized communities or disabled people.

Sustainable Food Production and Coastal Cleanup took place from April 6 to April 15 in Kandy and Jaffna, Sri Lanka. The project was run by SCI Sri Lanka and was part of the Climate Justice campaign.

Now I can confirm and answer the question again that it was not just only paperwork. The international voluntary service is the change.  Personally, the experience in CCIVS influenced my decision to professionally continue in the field of volunteering. In my new work, I will have the opportunity to build a partnership in order to deploy the volunteers to places, where the need for change is identified.

Nikola Gurgoľová

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