2017 marks 10 years since the National LGBT* rights organization LGL began accepting EVS volunteers. What does LGL’s involvement in this international volunteer program mean for young people? What experiences can volunteers share while carrying out unpaid work valuable to the local community in the social, cultural, youth and public information spheres? How does this program contribute to the formation of social responsibility, solidarity, cultural awareness, tolerance and respect for human rights? What does it mean for a young person to volunteer in a LGBT* rights organization in Lithuania, a country not known at the international level for respecting LGBT* human rights? We presented these questions and others to current and former EVS volunteers, who agreed to share their personal experience with the opportunities volunteering with LGL has provided them.
LGL’s EVS volunteer Giordano: Volunteering awakened my social responsibility
“Before I came to Lithuania, I didn’t have any specific expectations. I knew that this would be a unique experience, as Lithuania is unlike any country I’ve visited before. So I had a positive outlook and looked forward to starting the project. When I started volunteering at LGL, I had only a vague idea of how I wanted to contribute to the organization’s activities. But with time, I found my strengths. Every week of my term as a volunteer brought me new experiences and discoveries. Every day at LGL, we faced new challenges, so there’s no way I could describe volunteering in this organization as monotonous,” said Giordano from Italy.
“Volunteering with LGL, I gained NGO work experience, learned how to organize community events, and improved my technical and social skills. Most importantly, I learned how to work under great social and institutional opposition. Only after volunteering at LGL I understood that even under adverse conditions, you can still achieve a motivated team and empowered community,” shared the volunteer, who spent ten months as a volunteer at LGL.
“Lithuania’s LGBT* human rights situation is very different from Italy’s, though we face similar difficulties in both countries. Volunteering at LGL, I’ve run into those problems every day. This has greatly impacted my view on LGBT* human rights and awakened my sense of social responsibility. My service at LGL made me realize that every one of us is responsible for building a more tolerant society. So when I go back to Italy, I plan to actively contribute to the fight for LGBT* human rights in my home country,” Giordano said.
“I think that the European Voluntary Service provides amazing opportunities for young people. By volunteering, a person gains the opportunity to travel and get to know unfamiliar countries, meet new people, and most importantly, discover one’s self and improve one’s personal and professional skills. I would recommend joining the European Voluntary Service to every young person. The most important thing is to choose the project that interests you the most and not to be afraid of unavoidable changes. It’s worth it to change your surroundings and step outside your comfort zone, because unexpected experiences and discoveries are waiting for you there,” said Giordano upon finishing his term as a volunteer at LGL.
Former EVS volunteer Veronika: Volunteering strengthened my belief in myself
“When I decided to volunteer at LGL, I knew that going abroad was something that I really needed to move forward in my life, and I was lucky enough that there was a call that matched what I wanted to be involved in. A couple of weeks before my departure to Lithuania, I got scared and I considered cancelling and staying at home. Fortunately, I overcame my anxiety and it was one of the best decisions of my life,” said former EVS volunteer Veronika from Slovakia.
“Volunteering at LGL was a priceless experience. I’m thankful that there was a balance between my needs and the organization’s. I was actively involved in the organization’s projects, while at the same time, I had the opportunity to work on my personal projects and pursue my own interests. NGO work is very diverse, so I was able to try many things, such as managing the online shop, website, and social media, writing articles, organizing events and workshops for the community, communicating with international partners and contributing to project writing! It wouldn’t have been such a great experience without LGL’s staff, who were very kind and always willing to answer my questions and provide me with support. LGL’s volunteers are especially lucky to have assistance from a volunteer coordinator, with whom I had a special connection. I also made friends with quite a few other EVS volunteers,” said Veronika, who volunteered at LGL from 2016 to 2017.
“The EVS program is focused on improving young people’s qualifications. Volunteering at LGL taught me many new things and improved my existing skills. My achievements are written in my Youthpass – the document that Erasmus+ program participants receive, showing skills acquired. Now I have a much better idea of what I want in life. Before I volunteered at LGL, I felt so lost, but now I’ve found my purpose. Not only that, but volunteering at LGL taught me to be happy in life and be proud of my progress. Receiving such strong support from those around me taught me to believe in myself and look on the bright side of life,” Veronika said.
“From the very beginning, people warned me that Lithuanians don’t smile and aren’t always kind at first, but I didn’t see that this was the case. Of course, there were differences between Lithuanian and Slovak traditions, but it wasn’t a big cultural shock for me. And I really enjoyed it – I attended Midsummer celebrations and I could eat ‘zeppelin’ dumplings and potato pancakes every day! One thing I did notice and find interesting was the Lithuanian obsession with flowers – you can buy them anywhere,” Veronika recalls from her time volunteering at LGL.
“EVS is a great program that supports young people who want to find themselves and improve their skills. It’s a great tool to spread multicultural awareness around the world and make people more open and tolerant towards different cultures. If I could give advice to people interested in EVS, I would tell them to take time to consider which country and project interests them, and to consider their motivation. Regardless of your motivation, it’s good to think about it and not just make a spontaneous decision. Believe me, it will be the best time of your life!” she concluded.
Former EVS volunteer Anna: Volunteering helped me find my career path
“I had started my career in the private sector, working as a translator and technical writer, which led me to Lithuania to work for the Baltic branch of a Finnish IT company. So I was already familiar with Lithuania and the difficulties faced by the LGBT* community there. When I saw that Lithuania’s only LGBT* rights organization was advertising a position for a volunteer focusing on communications, I was inspired to apply. It was a difficult decision to jump off my career path and become a full-time volunteer, taking on those financial consequences, but the experience turned out to be life-changing,” remembers Anna, who volunteered at LGL from 2011-2012.
“Over 10 months in a small LGBT* rights NGO, I learned so much about LGBT* rights, European institutions, the UN, advocacy, litigation, community organizing, writing funding applications, and organizing events of all sizes. I really felt I had found my place in the non-profit world of activism and campaigning, and it’s a path I’ve stayed on ever since,” said Anna, who now works in Belgium.
“In 2013, I returned to Vilnius to be part of the team that organized Baltic Pride, then moved to London, where I joined the international LGBT* rights charity Kaleidoscope Trust as Fundraising and Events Officer, and later a cancer charity, where I focused on community, trusts and foundations, and legacy fundraising. This experience allowed me to join the team at ILGA-Europe, the umbrella organization for the European LGBT* rights movement, as Fundraising Manager last May,” the former EVS volunteer said of her career path.
“The EVS program offers young people wonderful opportunities to learn, experience and grow. It also supports European integration, something I strongly believe in. The experience made me recognize the importance of volunteering as something that can give you knowledge and skills while benefiting the community in the country where you’re volunteering,” Anna concluded.
This article is produced and published under the framework of the NEDF Institutional Development Project No. (2017) NOBR-135, supported by the Ministry of Social Security and Labor of the Republic of Lithuania.