To celebrate Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June), Helene (European Solidarity Corps volunteer at WCIA/UNA Exchange for the year 2019/2020) selected seven inspiring volunteer stories.
“Since I was a kid I was always in trouble. I always felt labelled, because when I was younger I had a serious car accident and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. As I got older I was told I had ADHD and I was put on medication for many years. When I finished school and went to college I didn’t want to take the medication any more but I was somehow lost because I was on these drugs for so long – controlling my concentration and lot of other things – and I went downhill. I was getting into fights and a lot of troubling stuff with the law.
I needed to get away
I am not a nasty person and it wasn’t anything malicious. I felt like a really confused young boy and had no idea what was going on in my head. And then I turned sixteen and was getting into worse stuff – trouble with the law, drugs, hanging out with the wrong people. I was doing all sorts of crazy things and my mum was tearing her hair out with worry about me. Basically I needed some guidance and to get away from this life here.
I was prejudiced towards certain nationalities and was listening to older people who I treated as my idols – if they said they didn’t like someone, I didn’t like them either.
I think this was the reason my youth workers arranged to send me to a project in Italy – to try keep me out of jail. They tried to find somewhere I could go so I could get away and learn something, away from the environment I had at home. I went to north Italy for two weeks to do environmental work in the mountains – we were using all sorts of different tools I have never seen before. It was a real eye-opener and life-changing, because for a 16 year old boy like me, it was the first time being away from home on my own.
Living in the middle of the forest
I continued to travel and spent two months in Poland and later I did eight months EVS in Lithuania. The project in Lithuania just sounded like the best for me. I love working in the environment, working in nature and working with people and children as well. My work was the management of a National Park and I was basically like a Forest Ranger, working in the information centre in the park and working for the rangers. My job was maintenance of the park and giving tours to English speaking tourists or arranging boat trips for kids. I shared a house with a Spanish girl; at first she didn’t like me much, because I look quite rough and she didn’t know what to think about me. I felt really dumb about this, because in the first weeks I thought that I was with somebody who doesn’t want to be with me. But later we started to talk and we got on so well we became like brother and sister. Because I am quite a practical guy and like working with tools I was helping her with work which was hard, and she was helping me with language. She was learning Lithuanian and she helped me to learn it, helped me to open a bank account and so on.
When I was over there I went through a time when I really wanted to come home, mainly because of the language barrier. But even so, I had really nice people looking after me and they kept me going. The nature around was absolutely stunning. I am from the city and I was living in the middle of the forest. It was magical – you look around and it is just trees for miles and miles. You can’t hear the cars and you feel you are in different world. It gives you time to think. I like to draw and I was drawing a lot more than I would here because there was no distractions like TV. It was really good to have a break.
Life after Lithuania
When I came back I was much more myself. I feel more spiritual in myself. I know me, I know what I like and how I would like to be treated. So I treat people that way.
I generally felt that I was part of something special, which I never felt before.
Sometimes it was scary but that is what you need. You can’t live in a bubble, you can’t live in the same environment all your life, because you will not be open-minded, you will not learn how to be nice, how to treat people.
I learned about respect, I learned about loyalty. I learned about a lot of things which I thought never really existed when I was a kid.
After Lithuania, in one year I have done many big things, which I would never have done, when I was younger. I got a new place to live, a car and I have my child on the way. For many years I was working with cars and I thought that this could be my profession. In Lithuania I was doing work with the environment and decided that is something I want to do. I didn’t want to spend my time in messy garages any more so I started to do landscaping. I am doing the work which is more or less the same type of work as in Lithuania. And I really enjoy it.
I used to be a nasty person because of the [issues] I was going through when I was younger and I know that past will never go away but I realised that I need to move forward and look to the future.
I think EVS was the best cure for mental health – better than any drug, any therapist or doctor.
I think the best thing I remember from projects is the feeling of happiness. I wasn’t really happy when I was younger and I thought happiness is doing things like trying drugs. I realised you can have happiness just by doing something, travelling and “living on the road.”
Generally if I haven’t had gone, I would probably be dead or in jail. Seriously.