Calum Barron, from Penarth, who says volunteering changed his life, has been chosen by the European Commission to star in a video marking the 20th anniversary of the European Voluntary Service (EVS).
The European Voluntary Service is the part of the Erasmus+ programme that supports young people to spend time in another country as a volunteer, helping participants to broaden their horizons and gain new skills, while making a real difference in their host community.
2016 is the 20th anniversary of EVS, and the European Commission has produced two videos, one aimed at encouraging young people to take part, and one aimed at encouraging organisations to send and host volunteers. Calum is one of only three young people from across Europe selected to feature in the videos – and is the only participant from the UK. Both videos will be launched this week following their preview in Strasbourg as part of European Youth Week on 20/21 May.
For many, volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience. For others, like Calum, it can be life-saving.
Calum was nominated for the video by the Erasmus+ UK National Agency, a partnership between the British Council and Ecorys UK, as his story shows the life-changing impact that the EVS programme can have on a young person.
In 2010, Calum travelled to Italy through EVS, supported by Cardiff-based UNA Exchange, a youth organisation that offers community-based volunteering opportunities in Wales and around the world. As a young person with a troubled past and limited prospects, Calum had no idea of the profound effect that the experience would have on him.
“I think EVS was the best cure for mental health – better than any drug, therapist or doctor,’ says Calum. ‘Since I was a kid, I was always in trouble, and then I turned 16 and was getting into worse stuff – trouble with the law, drugs, hanging out with the wrong people. I think this was the reason my youth workers arranged to send me to a project in Italy – to keep me out of jail. It was a real eye-opener and life-changing. In that place, I started to behave. I became quite open-minded because I realised that people in other countries are just people like me. I learnt about respect, I learnt about loyalty. If I hadn’t gone, I would probably be dead or in jail.”
Calum has gone on to take part in and lead other volunteering activities with UNA Exchange in Poland, Wales and Lithuania. Here he took part in an eight-month long EVS programme and discovered a love for the outdoors and a new career path in landscaping. He continues to volunteer, working with children with ADHD and at a homeless shelter.
Since 1996, over 100,000 young people across Europe have been positively affected by volunteering abroad through the European Voluntary Service, over 5,000 of them from the UK.
“Most of the British Council National Agency staff are based in the Cardiff office, so it is even more rewarding for us to hear that a local participant from a Welsh youth organisation has been selected by the European Commission,” said Jenny Scott, director of British Council Wales.
“EVS is a fantastic opportunity for young people in Wales to experience another culture, another language and gain some valuable life-experience in the process. We encourage other organisations in Wales to apply for funding for their international projects via the Erasmus+ website by 4 October 2016.”
EVS Co-Ordinator, Leila Usmani, from UNA Exchange comments, “We have run EVS for many years and have seen the positive affect it has on so many of our young people, whatever their background or situation, so we are thrilled Calum has been recognised in this way and that he will now help to spread the word about the impact of the programme.”