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Europe faces an abundance of challenges which erode the values upon which the EU was founded. Inequality and social exclusion are some of the issues European communities and societies are facing on a daily basis. Faced with increasingly rigid labor markets and growing risks of economic and social exclusion, young people on the continent find themselves in particularly vulnerable situations. In this context, civil society organizations are the trailblazers that have committed to addressing those challenges and finding ways to strengthen social cohesion and inclusiveness in Europe. One such CSO-driven initiative is the European Voluntary Service for all (EVS4ALL), a two-year project aiming to demonstrate the need to make mobility programmes such as the European Voluntary Service (EVS), focusing on bridging economic, human and social capital in Europe, more accessible for young Europeans, regardless of their educational level or social status.
Photo courtesy of Rosa Vroom
Old woman walks next to a closed road. Behind the scene a truck is collecting lifejackets left on the shore.
It's Christmas in Lesvos, а Greek island 9 kilometers off the Turkish coast. It's too cold to stay outside. The sea is quiet. Not many boats are expected, but volunteers keep their walkie-talkies on. The tent of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is active, the lighthouse illuminates the coast and at the dirt road surrounding Eftalou beaches there are two American volunteers stopping the cars: 'Volunteers of Lesvos, Welcome to Christmas Eve Services!'
Since Lesvos is part of the route of asylum seekers in Europe, thousands of volunteers have also been arriving at the Greek shores. Spanish firefighters, Israeli lifeguards, Norwegian doctors and nurses, etc., some of them under the umbrella of an NGO, others on their own. Organising themselves just by arrival order, their aid has been providing materials needed for the rescue along the beaches of the North and South of the island. Among these materials, aluminium foil and piles of firewood to beat the cold of the migrants that have just arrived.
The group who met in Berlin to launch the EVS4ALL project
At the end of April 2015 the Allianz Cultural Foundation welcomed a variety of different groups from across Europe to their Berlin headquarters to launch the EVS4ALL project. As one of the media partners of the event, E&M’s Chris Ruff was there to witness two days of knowledge sharing, diligent planning and infectious optimism for the future of Europe.
"We are Europe!" was the rallying cry of the late, great German sociologist Ulrich Beck as he, with his close friend and fellow European titan, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, sat down to write a manifesto for the future of Europe.
What they envisaged was a Europe built "from the bottom-up". A Europe far removed from the technocratic elites who so often dominate the news. A Europe "for taxi drivers and theologians, for workers and the workless, for managers and musicians, for teachers and trainees, for sculptors and sous-chefs, for supreme court judges and senior citizens, for men and women".
In order to disentangle ourselves from the clutches of the euro-crisis, we must re-build our civil society and rediscover those traits which bind us together, instead of those which tear us apart.
But how, I hear you ask, is this wonderful Europe of people supposed to happen? And haven’t we been moving precisely in the other direction in the years since the great crash of 2008?
Like many young Europeans, I have dreams and hopes for Europe - I want it to be a place of cultural and political awareness; a place where people from all walks of life and backgrounds can come together and feel like they belong; a place where our ambition and determination know no boundaries.
But also like many young Europeans, who are much more fortunate than our previous generations, I found myself completely lost and uncertain of what my path would be after graduating from university. How can I, a heavily-in-debt university graduate, keep up the voyage of European learning while avoiding being evicted or - maybe worse - moving back in with my parents (although mine are thousands of miles away on another continent)?
Then an opportunity opened up – last year I was accepted onto the European Voluntary Service (EVS) scheme to work on E&M.
"Voluntary, did you say?" you might ask. Oh yes, my friends, but not only are living expenses compensated and language training provided, the work involved is way more mind-blowing than the many unpaid internships or coffee-making "traineeships" we have all applied for. I have had the chance to tailor my experience to be as European and as meaningful as I want.
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