Ways of Volunteering: Training in Lithuania

Team building, finding a consensus, ‘trust test’, active listening, tasks of the mentors and volunteers. Members of the Budapest Malteser Youth went to Lithuania with the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme.

Erasmus+ is a series of projects initiated and financed by the European Union whose aim is the non-formal education of the European youth. Various few day long trainings, seminaries and conferences are held in different places all around Europe and on these occasions the participant countries’ youth can meet and learn from their trainers and from each other as well, so that later they could use the gained knowledge back home in their organizations.

The aim of the Erasmus+ programme is to maintain the system of learning and education by these personal meetings, to support volunteer organizations with the trainings and to create and maintain a ‘European spirit’ by ensuring the possibility of networking and personal meetings. It is an overall, extended and complex project, aiming mainly the youth under 30.

Thanks to this project, the delegation of the Budapest Malterser Youth participated in the ‘Beyond Taking and Giving’ training held between 10 and 19 September in Daugirdiskes, around 40 kms from the capital, Vilnius.

The training’s main objective was to present the different ways of volunteering, discuss and practice this way of life and to improve some indispensable abilities for this work. It is hard to imagine the volunteering outside a group, without any cooperation with some sort of organization, so based on this chain of ideas, the first days of the training were also dedicated to teambuilding.

The task of the participants’, coming from Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Romania, Turkey and Hungary, was to perform the assignments together, forming groups, discussing, with special attention on the principles of micro-community, based on democratic ground, just like listening to each other inconditionally. Some of these tasks based on teamwork was for example to place a two meter high branch into the middle of a ring of 20 meter of diameter, without the branch touching the ground, having an empty bottle on the top. The participants could use ropes as tools. Probably, this was the most complex and enjoyable one between the tasks aiming teambuilding, team dinamics and consensus. Its realization took around 2-2,5 hours, but to carry out the task itself took little time, discussing how to do the job was a much longer process.

The next few days were dedicated to clarify and practice the work and the different roles: we shared our experience on volunteering and mentoring and we did some excercises in groups to improve the necessary abilities for the mentor job. We put emphasis on listening to each other, practising the so-called ‘active listening’, on understanding the others’ needs and problems and on asking the right questions (‘powerful asking’), but of course everyone had to learn the hypothetical basis before the exercise. Practising the right questions we transformed general questions (like ‘What do you feel you have to improve in?’) so they ask about specific obstacles and problems.

Another group exercise (3-4 persons) aimed to understand the others’ situation and problems as a mentor, this time we had to follow a guiding pattern. This pattern showed us how a mentor should get closer to someone who asked for help. The gained skills were related to each other, as the ‘active listening’, asking the right and powerful questions and the empathy itself, a wish to understand the other one, are indispensable for the mentor role.

But we practised other roles than the mentor’s. The pure wish to do volunteer work is not enough. We have to know our own motivation, our abilities we can use to help in the volunteer work. The question then arises: ‘How can I help as a volunteer? What can I contribute to other people’s lives?’ We filled some tests to clarify and understand this, often marking our own motivation and special abilities.

This ‘self-marking’ helped us to understand what and how to improve and to find the abilities we might want to improve at another training of the Erasmus+, at home or in our everyday lives. We found numerous and different motivation between the participants: some of them wanted to learn new things related to children care, others came to improve their English or to find new relations for their work back home. Defining the exact goals remained emphatic during the training and in sight of the organizations’ everyday life too. However, nine days are not enough to find solution and answer to these problems. The training’s main goal was to understand ourselves, our motivation, abilities and their limits, and to realize what is the thing we are good at.

The training’s and the Erasmus+ programme’s main idea is the lifelong learning: this guideline inspired us, with success we can say, to cope with questions and problems after the training too. There were some exercises and goals that were not really obvious and clear, but this was neither the fault of the trainers nor of the organizers. It was simply difficult to synchronize the work and goals of 27 young people from different countries.

Besides the roles of mentor and volunteer we could have an insight into the difficulties of building an organization. The task of the volunteers (8-9 persons in total) was to create an organization according to the guidelines defined by themselves, and to convince the other participants (the volunteers), with their programme. The task of creating the organization resulted to be difficult: there was little time for orginizing and sincronizing their programmes and ideas. There was a flashmob, a table tennis club among the programmes, and one of the organizations put the role and importance of art in the focus of their programmes.

The everyday exercise increased the training’s effectivity, in which the 27 participants discussed in small groups the gained knowledge, emotions and reflections on the training, all this according to the ‘3F’ pattern: feedbacks, find outs, feelings.

Within the reflection groups they were not only able to share their professional views but also their emotions with which they had reacted to the events of the past day. Firstly, it helped to create a more confidental ambience inside the groups, secondly, everyone shared their thoughts and experience with the other participants. One of the last day’s most interesting programme was the so-called ‘trust-test’: volunteers had to stand with their back against their partners and to fall back so the partner would catch the other one, firming trust between them.

Beside the ‘trust test’ the intercultural night helped in the creation of a trustful and friendly ambience too. Eight participant nations presented briefly their own nations and after the presentation, each nation served their traditional drinks and plates to the other nations. Besides professional contents, every nation got to know what other countries think of them in Europe, so such an international night is an interesting and instructive experience.

Presenting briefly the training’s programmes proves well that the Erasmus+ programme (besides the non-formal way of learning and education) considers the meeting of youth from different countries important, eliminating this way the possible fear of foreign people and creating the ‘European spirit’. Learning is a neverending process, so every young person wishing to learn is welcome to participate in the different programmes of the Erasmus+ all over Europe.

Dániel Mizsur

Translated by: Lilla Natasa Gálos