Some 15 thousand Italian youths have gone to Countries across Europe as volunteers, an equal number have arrived into Italy. In more than 20 years the European Union has given Italy 36 billion euro to support European volunteering experiences. Since the creation of the European Voluntary Experience (EVE) until the newly-born European Solidarity Corps (ESC, , https://europa.eu/youth/solidarity_it), an initiative launched at the end of 2016 by the President of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, 100 thousand young Europeans have taken part in the programs. The European Parliament has recently voted in favour of earmarking 1.1 billion euro to this program in the next Multiannual Financial Programme 2021-2027. The precious value offered to youths by the EU was illustrated by Silvia Rapizza from the Volunteering Service Centre (CIESSEVI), that since 1998 provides support to the world of volunteering in Milan. “We work to introduce the program in schools, among the young, and we give support in registration procedures of young people interested in making this experience abroad. In 2018 CIESSEVI accompanied three young girls and a boy, but also many more specialized organizations support the program. Our goal is to spread information along with the awareness of this important opportunity among the young.”
What is the European Solidarity Corps?
It’s an EU program providing opportunities for young people between 18 and 30 years to volunteer or work in projects lasting from two to twelve months within the EU or beyond in many different sectors: social, cultural, environmental, integration and inclusion programs directed at disabled people or minority groups. A wide range of organizations and bodies receive the volunteers. Young people can chose according to their specific interest, disposition, capacity or aspiration. Along with the volunteering opportunity, that remains the most consistent also in terms of budget (80%), ESC offers young people the possibility to work or do an internship in their own Countries or abroad in the framework of solidarity projects. This is an unprecedented feature of the European Corps that will be managed by EURES, the European job mobility portal. Another innovative feature compared to the previous EVE, is the possibility for young people to run a solidarity project in their country of residence. This enables those who are unsure about wanting to make a long experience abroad to devote some time to volunteering programs in their home Countries, perhaps in a different territorial or social reality.
What is the role of the European Union in this respect?
Young people will not have to worry about expenses because the EU funds the program. The cost of travel, food and accommodation, along with local transport, are covered. Participants also receive a small allowance for personal expenses, linguistic support along with a tutor – a person from the organization that welcomes and guides the young person in carrying out his duties – and a mentor tasked with supporting the youths’ integration at local level, in the extended community. The mentor is often a youth who has had experience of volunteer work abroad and is aware of the difficulties and needs of those making this experience for the first time. The EU also acts as a guarantor to ensure the quality of volunteering projects, thereby guaranteeing personal and cultural learning path and in terms of job-opportunity. The EU controls that all sending and receiving organizations have the necessary requirements to ensure project quality. That is why all receiving organizations registered for the program will undergo checks to obtain a “Quality Label” by passing an examination at the national youth agencies of the EU. The accredited organization has three deadlines each year to present its project to the Agency that approves the grant.
Which Italian organizations receive volunteers arriving from abroad?
Many different organizations receive young people in Italy based on the potential of this medium not only in operative terms but also with respect to the contribution of young people arriving from abroad that can offer innovative insights into the new reality they will work with. Candidates to volunteering work are invited to propose activities and to promote initiatives related to the field of activity of the receiving organization. In Lombardy for example I can mention Caritas ambrosiana, Avis in the Lombardy region, Joint, Casa per la pace Milano, Scambieuropei, Lipu, Legambiente Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta.
In concrete terms, how can youths join the Solidarity Corps?
They must register in the portal of the European Solidarity Corps providing information on their experience, training, motivation, favourite areas of interests and preferential periods. They can register when they are 17 but they cannot start a project until they are over 18 and they must return before their 31st birthday. Accredited organizations present descriptive fact-sheets of the projects and view the profiles of the youths. Young people register their interest to the organization. The organization will then contact the potential recruits on the basis of submitted details. The first matching occurs on the portal and then the interlocution begins. There is also the possibility of “volunteer groups” applying for shorter periods, (lasting from two weeks to two months), in groups of 10 to 40 people, often from different Countries, engaged in activities often during the summer months. This possibility is meant to foster participation of young people who are not happy about leaving on their own and to promote participation of students or young workers who intend to give their contribution for a few weeks. Another new element is represented by solidarity initiatives or projects to foster active citizenship at local level. Informal groups of at least 5 young people can decide to propose an engagement at local level that may produce a change on relevant themes also at European level (from the environment to integration…). They receive a small funding to carry out projects amounting to approximately 500 Euros a year.
Can anyone leave?
Yes, it is open to everyone. The main requirement is a strong motivation and the yearning to get engaged and face the difficulties related to living far from one’s home country, in a new environment, with people speaking another language, with different habits and culture.
Are there stories of success?
I must say that there are many. These experiences are always enriching, formative experiences that leave a mark. In the final moment of evaluation, upon return to Italy, young people tell us how much this experience has changed them and how difficult it was to return home under certain aspects in the light of their intense experience.
In your opinion, will these young people vote in the European elections?
These young people personally experience the benefits of the EU and they have become aware that they form part of the European Union.