My One-of-a-Kind Solidarity Corps Year

My One-of-a-Kind Solidarity Corps Year

For a month now, I have been trying to put into words the best, strangest and most transformative year of my life so far.

When I first learned about the Independent Living movement and ENIL during a study session in 2019, I thought ESC opportunities and those experiences were so far away from me. Because of this, I will always be grateful to Marco, the now former office manager, for talking to me, explaining things and opening the door for me to consider applying to be ENIL’s new volunteer. At the end of 2019, after I already knew I was chosen, I got the opportunity to go to the EDPD in Brussels and spend some time with the people who I will be working with. I got to learn and expand my views on IL and disability rights. I could even say that being in that conference room was the first time I had a vision of who I could be. I had some great conversations with Jamie, Zara, Kamil, Marco and Frank during those days, as well as many others, including activists from all over Europe. I was excited to come back in March and start my ESC experience. Then came the mess of paperwork to get my visa and work permit in order, and right as that was complete, came the pandemic we are still living in. I stayed home. Adjusting to the idea of volunteering from home was a hard hit, and I wondered how I will connect to my new colleagues being so far away and not getting to see them in person. Looking back, I can only smile, knowing how, even far away, I was welcomed with open arms.

During one of the first meetings with me, Ines and Frank took the roles of my mentors and supervisors, but in reality, they were so much more. They treated me as their equal from the start, trusted me to make my own decisions and gave me every opportunity for a new experience that they could. So, as the months passed, I got to work with Nadia and the WIN, research and write a submission for the commission on disability and sports, and help write a couple more. I participated in many webinars, and even got the opportunity to teach one on inclusive online education with Zara. Last but not least, I got to develop and finish the, now almost infamous, Independent living survey!

Every single one of my tasks, every webinar, presentation or any other opportunity to speak about a topic, challenged me. It pushed me to think, to learn more, have discussions and ask the right questions. I didn’t realise how all of that has changed me. Not until now. Recently I was accepted as a board member of the Sports Association of Persons with Disabilities of Belgrade, to help with international collaboration and future projects. Shortly after that, just a few days ago, I had to write a statement about disability rights in Serbia. Once I was done, I looked at the paper, almost in disbelief, because a year ago, none of that would have been possible.

When I first came to ENIL, I had no idea what I could do, how I could help, or ever make a change. Every single person had a part in helping me find that. Thank you to Laura A. for always believing in me and making me laugh. Thank you to Laura P. for all the marathon long phone calls full of support, and for giving me and Frank the best Christmas/ Farewell Zoom party I could imagine. Thank you to Kamil and Natasa for always helping with a smile, and forever to Ines and Frank, for believing in me, for teaching me and putting up with my endless questions during long meetings. This experience has shifted my life out of orbit, in the best of ways, both personally and professionally.

Even though it is time to say goodbye to my place as an ESC volunteer at ENIL, and even though some of the people who helped me get there and get me through have also left, I am grateful to each and every one, those that I mentioned and many more. I will always be there to help, and I will stay part of the IL movement and ENIL for as long as I can. Thank you ENIL for helping me find my voice.

Here’s to new beginnings and remembering where we came from.

Nina Portolan

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