THE BEGINNING OF A NEW PROJECT IN MY LIFE
About 40 days ago I came from Greece to Belgium. It is my first time in this part of Europe. That fact was already exciting by itself, but my story was just beginning and every day it becomes more and more exciting! I am here not as a tourist but as a volunteer. I am doing European Voluntary Service (EVS), which is part of the Erasmus+ Program. I am currently working at Onafhankelijk Leven (OL) – a Centre for Independent Living in the city of Gent, and will hopefully do this for the a period of six months. My working field in this EVS project is Independent Living (IL) for disabled people. But let’s take it from the start.
After my flight from Athens to Brussels, which went exceptionally smoothly, Peter Lambreghts, my mentor in this EVS project (and my boss – as I like to call him!) came with his car and picked me and Antonis (a good friend for years and my Personal Assistant, PA, here at that time) from Brussels airport to Onafhankelijk Leven’s office in Gent, which is my home for the next months. Everyone welcomed me warmly, willing to help me in any possible way. Then I had my first tour in my new working place/home and also in the area of the Grand Béguinage of Sint-Amandsberg, where the office is located. We are talking about a very beautiful place (protected by UNESCO) with great historical value. The opportunity to work and live in a place like this is a lifetime experience! The city of Gent, which is in a walking distance, is also a wonderful place and definitely worth a visit by anyone.
The challenging first days
I’m here almost 40 days, so as expected until now it was mostly an adjustment period for me. I had to learn how things are working in Belgium (for example with the public transport, the stores and the habits of people in general) and how things are working in the OL’s office too. Of course – and probably most important for me – was how to deal with the Belgian weather. You know, the day I left Athens the temperature was around 40 degrees. That’s the weather I’m used to and that I love. Because of my disability that kind of weather is also easier to deal with, you don’t have to wear many clothes, gloves, etc. and of course it doesn’t rain there that often. But here, in Belgium, the situation is completely different. The day I came I found temperatures hardly reaching 18 degrees. And this was one nice day for this part of Europe! Of course I knew all this and that didn’t prevent me from coming here and doing the EVS project. It was one of the challenges I wanted to face. The whole EVS is a challenge for me. I had never left home for more than two weeks before. But until now the whole thing is going very well, so I’m very optimistic that I’ll finish it successfully. At the end of the day that’s why I’m here.
My EVS project
As mentioned before, I’m not here as a tourist, but as an Erasmus+ volunteer. Of course, when I have the chance, I plan to visit as many places as I can (as I did for example already with Antwerp). After all, this is also part of the EVS experience. But my main goal is to learn about Independent Living and also to be as useful as I can for Onafhankelijk Leven. At the end of September there was a big IL event in Brussels called “Freedom Drive” and the first month of my EVS work was mostly concentrated in helping with the preparations of this event. Apart of this, my work is mainly in the communicational and secretarial fields, which are related to my journalism studies.
Five days in Dilbeek
As part of my EVS, I went for five days to Dilbeek (a municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant) for on-arrival training for the EVS-ers in Flanders. It was a really great experience. We were 42 EVS-ers from different countries and three trainers. In those days we learned everything we should know about the EVS project, we learned about Belgium and its lifestyle, we had fun, shared experiences and made new friends. All this was very fruitful for me and made me even more motivated for my future here.
No doubt this was the top event of this period (until now). Two years ago I was in Strasbourg as a participant with the Greek delegation and it was an unforgettable experience. I learned important things about Independent Living, I met new people and heard their stories and I came in touch with ENIL. It was really great. However, this year it was different. It was my second Freedom Drive, but this time I wasn’t just a participant. I was part of the organizing team, I attended the board and staff meetings and I had the opportunity to see from inside how it is to organize a pan-european event like this. And wherever I could help, I was there and did it. This event is very important for every disabled person, it was a learning experience for me and I’m proud that I was part of it.
I will write regular updates to keep you all informed on my EVS adventure, so stay in touch!
Photo: Kamil Goungor