If my colleagues and I never took a risk before, then leaving Guyana to participate in a voluntary programme in Romania is certainly a big one. We all personally love volunteering and so hearing of the opportunity to learn about a new culture, meet new people and continue to make a difference in people’s lives did not feel like a risk and from our experience this far, it wasn’t.
When one hears the words European Voluntary Service (EVS) the first thing that comes to mind is that it is most specifically associated with European countries. Even though we are from Guyana, it may seem like a complex process of which to be a part; we were fortunate to be granted the opportunity as participants in an impacting programme.
It all began through relations of the hosting organisation, Empower Innovate Value Act (EIVA Association), and Sending Organisation, Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG). After a series of collaborations and meetings for the project, clear stipulations were outlined on the involvement of Guyana. The recruitment of volunteers then commenced which was done through advertisements on the radio, newspaper and social media. The competition for the three places to volunteer with the programme in Arad, Romania was extremely intense and rewarding. Fortu-nately for us, Atesha Christie, Dena James, and Marsha Singh, we were successful.
After being selected we participated in a number of enlightening sessions on human rights, intercultural relations and other self-awareness exercises. While these exercises stimulated much learning for us, I do not think that it could have ever prepared us for the experience we were about to meet.
Living in a country where visas need to be acquired for most travel, the visa process was long and sometimes felt unending. This we believe was a mere mental introduction to the changes which we were about the encounter, which all seemed very logical during the orientation. The first big change that we noticed was the weather, moving from 32 to -10 degrees C was extremely overwhelming. The next was adjusting to the time zone, and even though we were informed of the big difference of 6 hours ahead of Guyana, it was a noticeable adjustment. Added to that, the language barrier was an even greater challenge. The EIVA coordinators were and are very welcoming, offering support to ensure our comfort and integration into the community. In our first week we spent most of the time becoming acquainted with routes and navigation around Arad, where we are located for seven months. Having our peers for support has been very critical for our learning and reflection.
Arad, Romania is a hub which hosts many international volunteers and surprisingly volunteers from the South American continent are rare. Many people were astonished and inquisitive about Guyana, and fortunately or unfortunately associate it with French Guiana. Through intercultural exchanges many persons became aware of our country. It was a proud experience to be able to inform and familiarize our peers and others about our diverse heritage. This aroused the interest of many individuals, most of whom requested information on how to travel to Guyana whether for pleasure or voluntary activities. As we walked on the streets of Arad we drew a lot of attention which obviously was due to our difference in appearance and language.
Romania seems to be a very culturally divided country. Through varying interactions and observations we have noticed the division between the gypsies and those who are deemed regular citizens. The distinction is seen mostly in their appearance and attitudes. Despite this perceived division, Romanian citizens in totality seem to be very helpful and always willing to render assistance. Shopping has never been this tedious; we spend approximately four hours just to purchase groceries, having to battle between the labels on the products and Google translator on our phones. Nevertheless, this change and adaptation is truly a beneficial one.
For an extremely large country with a population of approximately 20 million people, and more specifically the city of Arad with an average 160,000 people, accessibility is remarkable with everything being within close proximity.
Our project “Human Rights starts with breakfast; empowering youth through Human Rights education” was created to bring awareness to the importance of human rights and intercultural education for working with young people. It will last for seven months and involves us along with three other volunteers from Peru. Through this project we are working with children from grades six to twelve, and some of our activities include designing newsletters, preparing a Human Rights manual, learning the Romanian language, making presentations on human rights and the culture of Guyana, as well as having the opportunity to be creative and developing our own activities.
The reception of the children when we taught in the schools was very uplifting. We were met with smiles and great enthusiasm. Through this project a network is created, not only between Guyana and Romania but also other European countries. Being pioneers we are charged with the task of paving the way for future projects such as this.
We believe that it is important for organisations such as Youth Challenge Guyana to receive support to continue to expose more Guyanese youths to programmes like these to enrich the minds of our youth and strengthen their life experiences.
We started by noting how much of a risk this is to leave your home for seven months and live in a different place. But we have learnt so far that big risks also carry great rewards, and we have not regretted the decision to participate in this very meaningful and life-changing experience. We are very grateful to the organisations that organized this and the finance from the Euro-pean Union that made this possible.
Marsha M Singh