Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Liz Underhill's EVS volunteering experiance in Belgium

Split in Croatia - its amazing where EVS can take you?

Liz Underhill is an EVS volunteer in Brussels, Belgium for JRS

I arrived in Brussels on 1st March 2007, not at all sure what to expect from my experience. I would be living in Brussels for one year, working with the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe (JRS) as a Media Officer. JRS is an international organisation with offices all round the world. The JRS Europe office (where I am based) is the head office for Europe. This means the office coordinates the work of offices and contact people in over 20 countries. These offices are responsible for visiting asylum seekers in detention centres, providing legal advice, food and shelter and generally raising awareness about the situation of refugees and asylum seekers.

My own personal role with JRS is as the Media Officer. This means producing a monthly update for all staff, a bi-monthly newsletter, updating the website and assisting with arranging events. As this role suggests, any week can be quite varied and mixed.

I currently live in Brussels in shared accommodation for about 40 people. A few other EVS people live there but it is mainly home to stagières and interns from around the world. It is a very vibrant place to live as it is home to such a mix of nationalities. At any one time you could be sat with Americans, Germans, people from Finland or the Ukraine. However, being based in Brussels does mean you don’t really learn much French or Flemish! The majority of people speak English and are very happy to do so!

Brussels is a great place to live because it is made up of so many different quarters and areas. The European part is a very important part of the Brussels landscape but there is much more to Brussels than the EU.

Belgium is also very central so it means you can visit other European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg very easily.

I am now 5 months into my EVS placement of 1 year. I am really enjoying the experience of living in another country and meeting people from around Europe and the world. My role as Media Officer means I undertake a mix of different activities and tasks.

I recently spent a week in Croatia with the Slovakian winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007, a refugee awareness award run through schools and organised by JRS. The 16 year old winners designed a DVD about the lives of refugees and together we visited refugee projects and organisations working with refugees in Croatia. This was a truly amazing experience, particularly as the students were so passionate about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. After learning about the legacy of displaced people in Croatia, the students were shown the current situation for new asylum seekers seeking refugee status from outside Croatia. We met representatives from the UNHCR and the Croatian Law Centre and were given a tour of a reception centre for asylum seekers in Kutina, near Zagreb. We were also given the opportunity to visit the cities of Split and Zagreb. We spent some time on the coast at the resort of Opatija and on the island of Lošinj, experiencing traditional Croatian food and culture.

I’m looking forward to seeing what projects I will be involved in over the coming weeks and months and hopefully will enjoy the remainder of my time in Brussels.

Liz and the winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007

Click here for more pictures of projects in Belgium

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

EVS Iceland: the latest edition - June 07


Duncan's 3rd Iceland update:

In late May, I moved to the East of Iceland with the other EVS for a simulated workcamp. During this period, I was able to practice my leadership abilities; each of us took it in turns to lead 1 day of the workcamp. Our location was in Neskaupstadur, or North Fjord. Neskaupstadur is the largest town in the East Fjords, with a population of 1,500, and is only reachable through a tunnel under the mountains. Because of this, the town is self sufficient, with its own supermarket, bar, swimming pool, chemist and post office.

The work during the day varied, from raking stones close to the swimming pool to cleaning up the coastline. Perhaps the most interesting work was painting the harbour in preparation for the Fisherman’s Festival. The team of EVS painted the dock yellow, after painting themselves of course!

The training camp was hard work, but we still found time to have fun. My most memorable moment was a hike around the fjord into Hellisfjordur and back, a total distance of 25km. This was a challenging hike because there was no marked path – in fact we wanted to cross the mountain, but could not find a suitable path.

In reflection, I learnt a lot in the east, including many icebreaking games and how to evaluate a workcamp. But the most important lesson was about food. When cooking on a camp, always cook for 40 people, not 15. Too much food is never a problem; too little food means people complain.

The end of May also means the EVS split up and go in different directions. We will not be together again until September as we all have different schedules, although we can always call each other on our mobiles.

So I am now ready for my first proper workcamp…in Neskaupstadur! I am lucky in that WF01, or the first workcamp of 2007 is in Neskaupstadur. There were 4 participants and 3 leaders taking part from France, Denmark, UK, Czech Republic and Lithuania. I had a good feeling that this camp would be perfect, even though the participants were very quiet.

Our local contact was a lady called Jorfridur, a crazy (she likes heavy metal) biker chick who somehow managed to do everything for us during the 2 weeks. Our work for the camp was not quiet what we expected, but we all showed as much enthusiasm as possible. There was more painting in the harbour, lots of raking stones and sweeping docks, in the next fjord, Reybarfjordur. The most enjoyable work involved pulling out some pretty blue flowers. These are called Arctic Lupin, and are seen as a weed in Iceland. They are tall flowers, similar to Bluebells, which prevent other flowers from growing by blocking out the sunlight. We spent two very enjoyable days on the cliffs working with these flowers, but we felt like such vandals!

Part of the role of the local contact in a workcamp is to provide the group with an excursion or two. Jorfridur organised a boat trip for us (on two occasions), and we were able to go fishing and exploring the fjords. On one occasion, we visited a rescue house, which according to local legend is haunted. The story goes that a local man took a photo of a window in the house, and there was a face of a man in the picture. This man had been dead for 100 years. I also took a picture of the same window, however there is no man, or is there…

We also participated in the Fisherman’s Festival – there was a trip round the fjords on the big fishing boats, a BBQ, and a tug of war competition, where the losers had to jump in the fjord.

Finally, we found time to hike round the fjord, and this time, I cross the mountain range! I really enjoyed my first workcamp and am looking forward to my next in Flateyri in July. - Duncan

Ghost House

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