How it all began

Today i will show you how to become a volunteer and go to Italy for a year.

Through the language, I fell in love with Italy and, having learned of the existence of the European Voluntary Service (EVS).

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Immediately decided to apply for participation in a project in this country. 

The maximum age limit for participation is 30 years, no specific requirements for applicants.

There is enough enthusiasm and desire to change the usual life. 

I was ready to leave office work for a while,for the last four years it was an advertising business.

Italy has attracted me, and I set about exploring the possibilities.

The range of volunteering is wide. Some of my friends in Italy work in cultural organizations.

They hold concerts and festivals, promote them, shoot video clips, invent their own projects. 

Others conduct trainings for European youth through numerous Erasmus + programs. 

Still others work in migrant camps. 

Fourth – with children of school or preschool age in schools and gaming centers. Fifth help people with disabilities. 

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There are also very specific projects. For example, a friend of mine.

A French comic book artist, found work in the library of comics in the city of Cremona and conducts a thematic art workshop there. Here it is – a dream job!

I have always loved nature and immediately decided that if you leave the office walls for a long time, it is better to go to the forest or mountains! 

Therefore, he focused on the theme of ecology and the environment. 

The search revealed that in Italy there is a large environmental association Legambiente with thousands of branches in cities and towns. 

On the Internet, it was easy to find feedback from the guys who participated in short-term volunteer programs (workcamps) organized by Legambiente, and almost all of them were positive. 

In the end, I sent out about a dozen letters, mostly to various branches of Legambiente.

I was lucky. From Legambiente Prato they wrote that a volunteer, already approved for the project, for  some  reason stopped communicating, and a hot vacancy opened.

 Having passed a competitive selection, which consisted of a standard skype-interview and an additional written questionnaire.

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Three months after the motivation letter I ended up in Italy.

Usually, a volunteer admitted to the project has about half a year in stock and can easily and without delay make up documents and prepare for departure.

About the life of a volunteer

When I first opened my laptop in Tuscany, it turned out that Yandex does not know the name of the city and defines my location as Florence. 

But this is how I imagined my next year: Mediterranean life somewhere in the vicinity of an ideal city.

Which is almost officially considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. 

Fortunately, life and work in Prato as a volunteer has become for me something much more.

Our volunteer team in Legambiente Prato consists of 5 people: besides me, this is a guy from Hungary, a girl from Portugal and two Spanish girls. 

All are very different: by age, lifestyle and cultural stereotypes. 

With Daniel, my Hungarian neighbor, we became real friends.

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 In any volunteer “family”, a period of mutual adaptation necessarily passes.

 For those who lived in a student dormitory, this is familiar and not scary.

 And whoever did not live, can acquire this extremely important experience abroad.

 Living together with children from different countries – and the average European.

As I understood here, does not exist at all – became for me one of the main sources of internal growth.

I could not only take a broader look at the world, but also get to know myself better. 

And he definitely began to smile more often!

Five of us live in a perfectly equipped apartment in the very center of the city. 

We have three rooms, a spacious kitchen and a hall, a washing machine, and the Internet. 

In the tap – delicious drinking water, in less than five minutes – all the main delights of Italian life: pizzerias, bars, gelaterias. 

However, many Italians, and especially students, prefer to eat at kebabs, which are usually written Best Istanbul. 

Next to it is the Legambiente Prato office and a modern library.

From where you can bring not only books, but also films. 

The only household complexity for me was that it is unusually cold in Italian apartments in winter.

There is very expensive energy here, and the temperature does not rise above 20 degrees.

As in any normal Italian cuisine, our main character is Moka.

Never wash moka with dishwashing detergents: then you have to pour cooked coffee into the sink twice!

Together we buy olive oil, pasta and some small things; otherwise, everyone eats like anyone wants. 

In the local supermarket we have an account, and within a month everyone can buy up to 145 euros. 

In addition, every month we get 115 euros for out-of-pocket expenses.

And if work requires moving around a city or province, we are also paid for travel.

In Tuscany, where there are too many cities with world-wide fame (Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Lucca), Prato does not greatly attract tourists, and I like it. 

But there is a real Chinatown: many Chinese live in the city, who came to work in the local textile mills. 

In winter, life in the city stops: locals gather in  two or three popular places. 

In the summer, there are festivals and music everywhere, concerts in parks, new open-air establishments.

Volunteers have a unique opportunity to meet colleagues from other cities, to visit them.

 During the first half of the year of work on the project, each EVS-volunteer takes part in two trainings.

The purpose of which is to prepare for volunteer service.

Prevent problems or solve problems that have already occurred, teach teamwork, and so on. 

Volunteers from all over Italy come to these non-formal education courses.

And after everyone exchanges contacts and drinks more than one glass of winethe logging begins in a logical way. 

On weekends, we often welcome our volunteer friends and love to visit  some new city or region.

About the work of a volunteer

All the guys from my project started work at different times during the fall of 2014. 

I arrived at the end of November, and for me it all started with a program called Energicamente. 

This is a play on words: on the one hand, an adverb that means “energetically”, on the other – mente, that is, “mind.” It turns out something like a smart approach to energy.

 It is popularized by the local energy company Estra, together with our Legambiente and publishing house. 

Within the framework of the project, representatives of Legambiente, as the main experts in environmental issues, have been attending schools in different provinces of Tuscany for several years.

Where they conduct lessons about responsible energy consumption. 

We came to each class three times: twice with lectures, full, of course, fun game intersperses, for the third time – with the “energy audit”. 

If the children found an empty room, where they forgot to turn off the lights.

Or noticed that the air conditioner works with the windows open.

They did not hesitate to give their school bad grades. 

I heard that from year to year grades in a single school got better!

We, the volunteers, acted as assistants to the lecturers.

And as we became familiar with the issues raised, we could already take on greater responsibility. 

We talked with children about global warming, the greenhouse effect, fossil fuels, alternative energy sources. 

We had a standard presentation for each lesson (as a rule, classes in Tuscany are equipped with projectors) and excellent handouts. 

In addition, I recorded several lessons on the recorder and then honestly studied them.

It was during Energicamente that the first real immersion into the Italian-speaking environment happened to me: I was glad to realize at every lesson that I understood everything better, and then I myself was able to conduct games and an “energy audit”. 

Children almost always reacted to us, foreigners, in the most enthusiastic way: “Wow, Spaniard!”, “Wow, Russian!”. 

Sometimes they took autographs. And, of course, the first question that was asked to me in almost every new class: “Which football team do you support for, Che-Es-Sa-Ka or Zenit (with emphasis on“ e ”)?”

In the spring, the bulk of our business moved to Centro delle scienze naturali (CSN) – Prato Center for Natural Sciences. 

This is a wonderful structure – half a museum, half a zoo, located on the picturesque outskirts of the city. 

On excursions and classes in the CSN come numerous school groups, often even from Florence. 

Legambiente Prato has its cycle of laboratories here: “Secrets of water”, “Animal tracks” and others with fun scientific experiments and informative games so well organized that one day we even went on tour to Siena to share our experiences with Legambiente Siena.

Another point of the spring volunteer program is the creative workshop at the children’s theater Fabbrichino (at the first meeting the main director showed me the program of their tours in Moscow).

 Last year a small cozy garden was laid out in front of the theater and a new performance was dedicated to this event. 

After the performance, the kids get into the garden directly from the auditorium.

Where we help them create their own “portable garden” consisting of a shoebox (meadow), wooden skewers (trunk), colored paper (grass and flowers) and decorative pebbles (flowerbed).

The summer months (which are coming to an end) are the most intense and, for my taste, the most interesting period of work. 

A few years ago, Legambiente Prato received the use of a mountain shelter located in the beautiful reserve Acquerino Cantagallo. 

The structure is an old village house, converted in accordance with the tourist needs. 

For example, where there is a fireplace and a bar now, there used to be a stall.

There are quite a few such shelters in the Apennines. 

Most of them are open only in summer, you can book an overnight stay and lunch on our phone almost throughout the year. 

And from June to September, children’s camps for children 10-12 or 13-14 years old with environmental orientation are held here. 

The shift lasts a week and ends with a festive dinner to which parents are invited. 

Volunteers work alternately in the kitchen in the team of the cook, then with the children in the team of teachers. 

In this wonderful camp, the children get acquainted with the inhabitants of a nearby stream, build huts, go to visit a tree that is 900 years old.

And to another, whose crown can cover the stadium, prepare a delicious pizza.

Make a tour of the night forest to meet the deer. 

For the first time in many years, I also saw a shooting star here and made a wish.

In addition to what was described during this year, there was a lot of things: hippotherapy, organization of international workcamps.

A trip to the beautiful city of Ferrara to a scientific conference, and much more. 

We have autumn and new activities ahead. 

The volunteer program provides not only the possibility of immersion in a foreign culture (to a depth inaccessible to the tourist), but also the joy of selfless labor. 

This experience turns out to be more valuable than a cultural walk through the capital of rebirth and the most delicious ice cream in the world every day.