Youthworker Jon Bevis from Info-Nation in Swansea helped us send more than 30 challenged young people to volunteer abroad though the Step by Step program. Read why he thinks that volunteering abroad can change young people massively.
As the Young Men’s Information Worker at Info-Nation in Swansea, Jon first began supporting and referring young people to the Step by Step programme in 2011. A vital partner in our work, by 2015 more than 30 young people from Info-Nation had benefited from the opportunities to volunteer abroad.
“Initially I got in touch with UNA Exchange when I was working with one young man who had a pretty challenging life – one day he asked me, “I really want to try something different.” I thought that maybe international volunteering might be right for him, so I contacted UNA Exchange to find out what was available. It turned out that this particular lad was not quite ready, but UNA kept in touch and from then on we have been sending an average of six young people a year on overseas projects.
Most of the people I helped to send on Step by Step projects had come from pretty challenging backgrounds. They may have dealt with physical and learning disabilities, homelessness, unemployment or domestic violence. They typically struggle with their emotional health and some have had a history of self-injury or suicidal thoughts. Most of them wouldn’t be able to volunteer overseas without our support, because it is quite expensive and more than half of them don’t have any support from their families.
I think that for these young people taking part in a project abroad give them a little bit of hope. Because there are very few positives out there for some young people. Many projects supporting young people are reactive to problems: drugs projects deal with drugs issues, homeless projects deal with homeless issues, employment projects deal with young people that are unemployed and in the end just the same young people do the same projects all the time and they just go round and round. They don’t really have much of a say in things. Suddenly with volunteering abroad they find something they can engage with and can enjoy. I think sometimes they are caught in a very small world, so when they get to see something else, it changes them massively.
It is much more than just referring a young person for a project
I have to admit that I used to think that international volunteering is something that middle class kids get to do and it costs a lot of money. Initially I expected that a co-operation with the Step by Step programme would be just referring the young person for a project. I quickly learned than it is much more! We try to guide the person through the whole process and give them the chance to reach the opportunities they have even though it is often quite challenging.
I remember when we had to deal with young man who lost his passport and had lot of problems during the project. He ended up lost in Latvia and for us it was nightmare to getting him back. But he carried on and stayed involved with UNA Exchange and the following year he was on another project again. They didn’t say “This young person is too challenging, we not going to work with him.” And even now is still in touch with other volunteers and it became part of his life.
“What makes this experience so important for these young people is because they really don‘t have these opportunities and they don’t even dream of them.”
I have normally been working with the young person for quite a while before we get them involved in Step by Step. We help them to be ready for the experience. We worked with the young people to set up the I-Vol peer mentoring group here in Swansea. I-Vol arranges local group volunteering days within the local community to give them a taste of what’s involved. The preparation for travel is quite complex and it include dealing with travel issues, discussing expectations and worries and also preparation of their own life-situation. I can talk to their family, employer, or support workers from other agencies so they are able to give the person a little bit of support on that. Through the whole project I am available on the phone, ready to support volunteers to overcome their challenges. We arrange skype sessions and can have a chat over Facebook if needed so they are never really out of touch. Most of them stay involved and continue to volunteer after coming back. About half of our young people have gone on to do a second or third overseas project.
Step by Step projects became a focal point for young people
With the young people I work with their Step by Step project becomes a focal point for them. That in itself is so important. They don’t have much in their lives normally and they have significant challenges. But when they come back they are so driven – their eyes have been opened to the world, because they had something more than just Swansea. They are now looking to challenge themselves and they have a real get up and go about them. It is amazing when you succeed, the changes and you often see a sadness when they come back from abroad because they wanted to stay. What makes this experience so important for these young people is because they really don‘t have these opportunities and they don’t even dream of them, they are not even aware that they exist. But somebody has to help these people to access it and that what Step by Step does.
For me, international volunteering is an invaluable tool. I have a diverse set of tools to support young people, but this is something I can give them to help themselves. For me it is an emotional health tool and probably one of the most invaluable ones I have had over the last few years. Now our relationship with the Step by Step programme is very much about partnership, because we contribute to it, and UNA Exchange contributes to the work I do with young people, and we learn from each other. It is perfect project, because it delivers the outcomes the funders want, it delivers the things that young people want so I just hope that the projects will continue and get funding for future years. I will keep sending young people for as long as I can. “
- Would you like to know more about our Step by Step programme? Find out more about supported volunteering here
- Are you a local organisation and would like to support your young people with fewer opportunities to volunteer abroad or in Wales? Become our partner!