Eva Tato Collazo from Pontevedra in Spain, was one of thousands of volunteers who had started an overseas placement when Covid19 hit.
Eva, 24, volunteered for nine months as an Events and Marketing Assistant at the National Trust nature reserve in Stackpole, Pembroke.
From finding the right project to sharing advice for others, this is Eva’s experience, in her own words, of volunteering during a national lockdown:
Finding the right project
“I heard about the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) programme during time at University, but it wasn’t until I finished that I found the time to participate in a programme.
“When searching for a programme, the first thing that surprised me was the amount of different opportunities available. I had initially thought that the all the programmes would be more or less the same in all the different countries but this wasn’t the case. My hope was to get the opportunity to know a new country and culture, and try new things while I thought about what I wanted to do in the future and improve my language skills in English. It didn’t take me much time to find a project I was interested in and apply for it.
“When searching for an ESC programme, you can use filters to help you match your interests. In my case I knew that I wanted to do something related with my University studies, because I thought I could help more if I had a previous knowledge. Also, I had in mind some countries where I would like to live, but in the local association, they give us some useful advice for the searching part like “choose the project not the country”. For this reason, I tried not to use the filters too much so I could see more options.
‘The first thing that surprised me was the amount of different opportunities available‘
“I came across an Events & Marketing Assistant role for the National Trust in Stackpole, South Wales. I read all the information about the project and decided to apply for it. The project was related to some of my studies and I did not know anything about Wales, so I thought it would be a great place to discover. These were the main reasons that made me apply.
“I had to prepare an application form and a motivation letter and this took me a few days, as I tried to give as much information about myself as possible and think about why I wanted to work on this specific project. My advice for anyone thinking of applying to any ESC project is to try to explain why you want to do the project, why you are the best person for it and to try to personalise the motivation letter to the project that you want to do. This will help the host organisation know you more and see if you can fit into the project. I sent the application away and then agreed to a Skype interview, which was a good opportunity to meet the person managing the project and ask some questions. And thankfully I was successful and they offered me the role!”
My time at Stackpole
“I had two months to prepare for my trip and with the help of the Welsh coordinating organisation Welsh Centre for International Affairs, I checked information such as what the weather would be like in Stackpole, what I needed to bring, and I started brushing up on my English.
“My project started in February 2020 and my role was to help the marketing and the events managers in the office of the National Trust Stackpole. During the first month, I helped design posters, organise the St David’s day event and prepare different presentations. I also had the opportunity to visit some places near Stackpole to assist in some meetings.
“When Covid-19 hit the UK in March, everything changed. My role changed due to the cancellation of events, but in a way it gave me a totally different experience, that I really enjoyed. I can’t compare how my project was supposed to be and the way that it was, but in the end I had a fantastic experience. I always tried to be proactive, adaptable and helpful during this time because it was a difficult time for my organisation. So I took part in office work and working with the ranger team to help with the maintenance of the centre and some environmental tasks. This helped me to gain new knowledge in many diverse areas and I learned more about the organisation and the history of Stackpole.
‘When Covid-19 hit the UK , my role changed due to the cancellation of events, but in a way it brought me a totally different experience that I really enjoyed‘
“The best part of this experience was the people I was working with. They treated me as one of their team, they helped me improve my skills and took me to explore new places. The place was wonderful, the park was big enough to explore and do some sport in my free time. The only aspect of the project that I had to adapt to was that sometimes the place could be a bit lonely because it is quite far from the nearest town so it was difficult to meet new people. However, I had the opportunity to chat with other ESC volunteers in Wales at the same time and this helped me to know how they were dealing with the pandemic too. I also had the chance to meet some of them and we were able to take a short trip together.
‘The best part of this experience was the people I was working with. They treated me as one of their team‘
Why should you choose to volunteer with ESC?
“I could give a hundred reasons for why someone should do an ESC. I had previous experiences as a volunteer and living in another country but nothing like my ESC experience.
“In this project, I had the chance to really get involved with the local community and to really learn more about the culture and history of Wales. I worked with local people on a daily basis and enjoyed watching cooking programmes, which was a great way to learn how to cook typical British dishes.
‘I had previous experiences as a volunteer but nothing like my ESC experience’
My future plans
“During my time at Stackpole, I received support from WCIA and my Spanish sending organisations which was essential to help me deal with the unknown and the continuous changes.
“This experience allowed me to think about what I wanted and to develop many new skills that I hope to bring to new work opportunities.
“This project definitely helped me be more confident, improve my communication skills and teamwork, but also be adaptable, resilient and optimistic. Of course I don’t know what will happen in the future but I know now I would like to live abroad again.”
“In an ESC placement you don’t only have a relationship with the host organisation, you also have two other organisations who help you during the process. This really helped me feel more comfortable during the entire experience.
“The coordinating organisation, WCIA, organised different activities and training throughout the project to help you meet other volunteers around you, think about the experience and give you advice for it. I think it is a very important part of the programme.”
“For every volunteer their experience will be different, but here is some advice that may help:
- Choose the project, not the country, that way you will find you are more motivated do something that you actually enjoy
- Manage your expectations because you can’t control how everything will be
- Check the weather and some information about the place where you are going to stay
- Try to be adaptable and see the changes as an opportunity
- Get involved in local activities
- If you need help or you don’t feel okay about something, you can always talk to your coordinating organisation
- You don’t always have to do different things every week, you can find your own favourite places to go more than once
Enjoy the experience!”