International Voluntary Service volunteer John Fenwick is currently in Bassano Del Grappa and volunteering with Casa a Colori as part of the Erasmus+ Volunteering programme
On the 1st of October, I embarked upon my flight departing to Venice, Italy. I had begun my journey to my EVS destination, Bassano Del Grappa. Preluding my adventure into Italy, I had just been awarded my MSc in International Development. Deciding to partake in the EVS was an easy choice, it would allow me to evaluate and improve all the knowledge and tools I had garnered during my time in University.
My first day in Italy was one of awe and discovery. Navigating my way, phrasebook in hand, I made my way through these newly discovered streets. Once I arrived in Bassano, with two other volunteers I just met, I had the pleasure of meeting my tutor, Laura. She instantly made us feel welcome, at home and at ease.
The voluntary work within Casa a Colori has varied considerably, it has never been strenuous but it is always uplifting. An example of such work I have undertaken is the delivery of much-needed food and supplies to the dwellings of asylum seekers; for which Casa a Colori is responsible. Another role, undertaken is in the immigration office, involving the processing of visas and providing advice on numerous matters to all who come. All the work carried out by myself and the others is humbling and working beside my colleagues, for example, with Laura it is always a pleasure to learn from and work with her. I extend this notion to the EVS program, each person from Europe I have had the pleasure to meet has only greeted me in kindness so I say to any potential volunteer, take this opportunity to meet wonderful like-minded people, build everlasting connections and help make Europe a better place.
During my time here in Italy it has been incredibly interesting to witness how an NGO adapts to changes in legislation, brought upon by the changing political climate; as isolationism and the politics of fear manifest across Europe. These changes in legislation, produced with malice and without due thought, seek to hinder the work undertaken by the people not just of Casa a Colori but of NGOs across Italy.
The challenges are not just faced by the NGOs, though seemingly insignificant in comparison to the problems faced by asylum seekers and that of NGOs, my own assimilation and learning of Italian has proved at times difficult. Each volunteer is provided with languages classes to aid in the comprehension of Italian, helping with their integration into Italy. This is truly invaluable to every EVS volunteer no matter their origin or destination. My current mastery of the Italian lingua (language) extends to politely asking for my morning coffee and talking about the differences between British and Italian cuisines; I can assure to any British person reading this that British bruschetta is a feeble imitation of its Italian counterpart. It astounds me the pan-lingual nature of Europe with every other volunteer being able to speak fluently in at least two languages while I struggle to speak in just one other. One day I hope to be able to speak and work in another language, for that would truly be a major accomplishment.
Finally, what I have found dumbfounding during my time in Italy is how ‘British’ I am. To clarify, I see my self-perceived Britishness as a positive quality. Myself, my yearning desire of a somewhat intrinsic characteristic of the British, our typifying love of tea. This sentiment is echoed amongst my fellow volunteers, each with their own unique quirks. The volunteer from Brittany, France proud of where he comes for flag draped against his bedside wall. His adoration for crepes is remarkable. A German volunteer showing and explaining to me the numerous pastries of her homeland. While, another volunteer from Spain has brought with her Spanish chorizo and salsiccia, I have never known such delicacies. What’s most remarkable of all is the exchanging of culture and ideas! Our differences bringing us together, each of us learning from one another and all learning together what it means to be European.