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The activities of European Solidarity Corps participants during the corona crisis


Slovenian version of the article is available here.

There are currently just over 100 European Solidarity Corps participants in Slovenia, performing their activities with around 40 organisations. Most of them are volunteers, while some are also in job placements. Of course, the crisis related to the measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 also affects them. We made a bit of research, and asked them how they adapted their activities, and whether some of them were also involved in the measures directly addressing the pandemic. At the end, this article also reports on Slovenian volunteers currently placed in other EU countries as part of the ESC programme.

Some of the volunteers are actively engaged in solidarity campaigns for helping the communities in the crisis

Coordinator Špela of the Velenje Youth Centre (MC Velenje) told us that their two volunteers “joined the volunteer group MC Udarnik in providing help to the elderly and vulnerable groups. They go to the store, pharmacy, deliver warm meals and things like that.” Laura, a volunteer at the Trbovlje Youth Centre (MC Trbovlje), helped package washable protective face masks at the Trbovlje startup accelerator Katapult. She also enlisted as a potential volunteer with the local civil protection and Red Cross, although they have enough local volunteers at the moment. Another volunteer to actively engage in addressing the crisis is Laure, who is hosted by the Škofja Loka-based education and therapy centre Familija. Since she loves sewing, she had sewed face masks for the entire volunteer household using old T-shirts, and then the City of Škofja Loka and the local civil protection unit arranged for her to receive cloth for 40 face masks from the local bedware company Odeja. She is now sewing them for the local community together with her fellow volunteer Makala. Along with that, they are making a video tutorial on how to make face masks, which will also help others. Laure also joined the local scout group in making drawings that will be put in first-aid kits for the elderly to give them a more personal note. She has prepared numerous drawings and is now making an Easter-themed series.

For some organisations, on the other hand, not much has changed

Normally, the main activity of volunteers at the Sotočje Medvode public institute is making videos on what is going on in Medvode. Volunteer coordinator Simon explained that for them “not much has actually changed. Above all, we needed to change the topic of the videos, since no events are happening in our municipality at the moment. Together with the volunteers, we decided they should perform their activities at home, which is in natural surroundings.” The volunteers have made a home fitness, they are arranging a garden and will also do a video on this. The new conditions have also brought new ideas. They have decided to prepare tourist videos for hiking the hills around Medvode. Of course, the programme also includes projects where participants’ activities take place in nature and small communities, far away from screens, so the current situation requires little adapting. Farms are one such example, and the EkoPot farm in Jareninski Dol reports that the work of volunteers is business as usual, as these are activities related to food production and processing, although they, of course, follow all the recommendations on hygiene and disease prevention.

Most organisations have adapted the activities of the volunteers to the new temporary reality

In this sense, Nataša, a coordinator at the Pekarna Magdalenske mreže organisation in Maribor, tells us that their volunteers Filip, Gilles and Lucas are preparing different activities online. Gilles and Lucas continue their French and German courses with Zoom videoconferences, and Lucas also offers tutoring and language advice for German from home. Similarly, Guste, a volunteer at the Zagorje ob Savi Youth Centre (MC Zagorje ob Savi), holds an “Online English Corner” as part of the local intergenerational centre once a week and offers one-on-one conversation practice in English. Back at Pekarna Magdalenske mreže, Gilles is about to do an online sex education workshop/discussion under the title “Let’s talk about sex, baby”. Pekarna’s volunteers will also move online the organisation’s traditional library project and their own project as part of the local Festival of Walks 2020. Andreja of the Ljubljana-based Association of Inclusive Culture (Društvo za kulturo inkluzije), which would under normal circumstances be actively preparing its international festival “Play with me”, says that the “volunteers will be making a video tutorial every week with new ideas on what we can make from materials everyone has at home”. So far, they have prepared videos on making a memory game and a bookmark. At the Zagorje ob Savi Youth Centre, volunteer Miriam is also making a video series entitled “Kreativa poziva” (Creativity calls). She has so far posted videos on how to make a picture frame and a rainstick (instrument). Marina, who is doing an activity at one of the primary schools in Trbovlje, also takes part in teaching from home. Similarly, Darya at Familija keeps in touch with students at the Škofja Loka secondary school, who are learning Russian, and she helps them practice conversation. She has even contacted a school in Ljubljana and is now doing the same for them. Lucie (also at Familija) has been available over the telephone to participants at the local mental health centre ŠENT, her host organisation, from the very start. Marina and Laura at the Trbovlje Youth Centre are also working to keep alive a solidarity campaign designed by all their international volunteers, which will move from the streets as initially planned to social networks—and the timing of the campaign couldn’t be better, says their coordinator Katra. The Zavod Bob institute and Pekarna also said that the volunteers were using this time for intensive learning and online education.

Innovation and search for new sources of empowerment

An example of a particularly good practice of adapting to the current circumstances also comes from Familija, which coordinates the projects and volunteers of several host organisations in Škofja Loka that have all closed their doors on 13 March. The coordinating organisation encouraged them to think what they could do now, and they came up with quite a few new activities. Juanjo, Ludvigs and Tomasz took on renovating a Crack Room. “At the end of the arcade hallway, opposite the EVS volunteers’ flat, we have a room that’s in quite a bad state. There are cracks in the walls, the plaster is coming off. The boys embarked on renovating the room and turning it into a guest room that we decided to call the Quarantine Room. They’re now in the construction phase. In the coming days, they’ll fill the cracks, then paint the walls, fix the floor, after which comes making the furniture (a bed, shelves and wardrobe) and a door from recycled materials, and decorating the room with mosaics,” says their coordinator Matjaž. Makala and Laure will restore an old stylised door and take part in making the furniture for the Quarantine Room. Sarah, who is a psychologist, is preparing a research on sleeping habits, for which she will do the pilot testing in her host organisation PUM. Along with that, she is also planning workshops and designing board games that she will use in host organisations once socialising in person is possible again.

Many organisations and volunteers are looking for new ways to address their target groups and communities online

At the Organization DIH—Equal under the Rainbow (Društvo DIH – Enakopravni pod mavrico), coordinator Andrej said that in March their “volunteers did an Instagram Live stream, answering questions on their experiences with volunteering at home and here, the programme in general, the host organisation, corona, Ljubljana, Slovenia and other topics. The activity was a success, and interesting topics were opened.” At the Zagorje ob Savi Youth Centre, Guste made a fun cooking video, as cooking is supposedly a popular activity in the time of COVID-19. Since Guste is a big fan of Eurovision, she also gave the initiative for the youth centre’s new online Quarantetion song contest. Nina, a coordinator at the youth centre, said that Guste and Vito, a volunteer from Zagorje who is currently in Rome, did an online interview on 4 April, where they exchanged and shared with the viewers how they were experiencing life away from home and how their projects were going.

Along with Vito in Italy, there are just under 20 Slovenian volunteers around the EU as part of the ESC, according to our information. The MOVIT team has contacted all of them. To our knowledge, they are all doing well, and most stayed in their host countries where they have the support of their fellow volunteers and host organisations. Volunteer Anja tells us she decided to stay in her host country Croatia because she feels safe there. “We’re on a small island, where you can’t fell the effects of corona yet. Let’s hope it stays like this for a long time. Sure, measures have also been introduced here by the local civil protection unit. But we mainly do field work, which means we spend a lot of time on a boat at sea. We’re a regular team of seven, and so far our work has been normal. Apart from the store and the post office, we don’t have much contact with other people,” she wrote. Only a few volunteers from Slovenia decided to return home for the time of the pandemic and suspend their projects until the situation is over. Some of them were just supposed to start their activities, but they agreed with their host organisations to postpone them.

MOVIT, the Slovenian NA of the European Solidarity Corps
Ljubljana, 9 April 2020

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