· What’s your name?
My name is Manuel Piñeiro González.
· Where were you for your EVS?
I was volunteering in Sisak, in the Sisacka-Moslavina county, Croatia, to the south of the capital city Zagreb. My host organization was Agencija Lokalné Democratija (LDA-Sisak), which is part of the ALDA net, promoted by the Council of Europe.
· Which age were you?
I was there between the age of 25 and 26.
· Did you know the native language?
No, I didn’t know Croatian at all. The communication language was English most of the time, which I improved a lot there. I learned a basic level of Croatian during my stay -and after that- as well: I fell for the Slavic languages. I can understand it, though I’m not a fluent speaker.
· Why did you decide to volunteer?
I decided to do the European Voluntary Service for several reasons: first of all, because I could guess it would be a really enriching and rewarding experience both personally and professionally; secondly, because in that time, my career was on edge, since the labor market was being unstable and unsure for journalists, I mean, precarious, and lastly, because I was being far from home, I relieved a bit my families economy.
· Had you have previous experiences like this?
Yes, sure. I had volunteered in a short term EVS in Plungè, Lithuania, with Cyrulis association, during the month of July of 2009. There, we built a house, using permaculture techniques in order to provide a social center for a local association. I’ve said “we built” because we went three Morrazo’s volunteers, where we met and got to know other volunteers from Lithuania, United Kingdom, Italy, Jordan, Palestine, France or Germany.
Apart from that, two years before, in 2007, I had done a European youth exchange in Athens, where I started to learn about the EU’s youth programs and I had the chance to meet youngsters from Turkey, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Germany. A year later, I was in Erasmus a year of my Journalist’s degree in Italy, in the Università degli Studi di Bologna.
· Which project were you involved in?
I worked day by day in the LDA-Sisak’s office, running errands, helping to complete documentation, learning how to work with European projects. One of the aims of the
organization was promoting international and local voluntary service amongst the Sisak’s youth, making presentations in high school and vocational training schools. We also lent a hand in the leisure time in the Elders and Dependents home, playing with the residents there: we got a Don’t get mad’s degree and Checkers’ master! Additionally, we thought up and designed promotional material for LDA-Sisak, and took part in workshops, debates and European integration projects. I also taught introduction lessons of Spanish and Portuguese in a local youth organization Novi Svijet. Frosina Stojanovska -my Macedonian workmate and also EVS’er- and I made up a little Sisak’s guide, as our own project.
· Why did you choose it?
I looked forward to have my own experience abroad and Croatia at the time, from my point of view, was an unknown country: I had no clue what was waiting for me there. The last news that I’d heard was about the former Jugoslavia’s war, in the 90’s, when I was a child. From then, Spanish media system had turned off the information about it and any related country.
· What did you do?
I got in contact with Amigos da terra, I explained them that I was ready to be an EVS participant without any doubt. Fifteen days later, they told me about the LDA Sisak’s last call, since they needed a replacement.
· Which difficulties have you met in your EVS?
Difficulties? Troubles? Not so many, that I remember. Stories? Thousands: northern Croatia, far from the sea where Sisak is, is as anyone can guess very icy in winter. And that winter specificially was terrific. I’d never been at –20 degrees Celsius before or in a snow storm. We had to get warm in our apartment, where we had fireplaces. Have you tried to light a fire with freezing cold? Oh! And we had to carry the amount of wood for three months from the street to the basement, and later upstairs. So, I learned how to chop wood. Aye, aye… I know, I am a city slicker… what can I say in my defense? They are stories at the end, from the distance and time, they are even funny now, I remind them with a smile on my face.
· How did you work them out?
Every problem has its solution. You must learn the context and map out a strategy to get out of trouble the best way possible. With the immeasurable help of Frosina, of course, everything was always easier and funnier than usual.
· What did you like the most?
With perspective, what I enjoyed the most was to dive in a foreign society: it was a real life’s experience! I could see our ability to adapt -which defines us as human beings- so the conservation and survival come into play. Definitely, it was a huge learning experience. On other hand I could verify that, despite of the recent wounds in that
society, despite of the tragic war they got involved in, it looks like they are healing properly. At least this was true among the youth people with whom I developed more my activity. I also traveled around Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia. Walking through Zagreb’s streets: I miss it, to tell the truth. I met people I still have in high esteem, despite the distance and time: Frosina, Robert, Nikola, Iva, Dinko, who were my friends, or my workmates Nusa, Ivana Grgic and Ivana Kaleb, or even my supervisor, Paula Rauzan, whose work I value over time more and more.
· In your opinion, how has the EVS influenced you?
It was a lesson in self-effacement and self-awareness. At home, my family always taught me that value. Despite the position you have, don’t take advantage, try to be humble. Nevertheless, traveling is a good way to heal the arrogance of thinking about ourselves as only individuals, as the center of the world. As the old professor Otero Pedraio tell us in his book Arredor de si, I experienced that sort of personal travel as his protagonist Adrián Solovio. I started to think more about the common welfare, as community, as a collective being, and less as only I, me and myself. Put differently: I think about my persona related with other people around, and not just about mine. Thinking in my welfare in order to, like a small drop of water in a puddle, a bit like the butterfly effect, improve my environment. Professionally, I’ve been studying the EU Administrator tests for a while and I’m getting the diploma of Expert in EU policies in the Instituto Ortega I Gasset soon.
· Would you recommend anyone to volunteer? Why?
Yes, of course. What’s more, I believe it’s a really good initiative for youngsters between 18 and 21 years old because in that age, when you are dealing with thousands of doubts in your life a trip and experience like this -that forces you to free your mind, so tied to prejudices, stereotypes and habits in common sense- is a treasure to improve any abilities, skills and competences.