As I sit here in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and reflect on the last two weeks in one of Europe’s undeservingly unrecognized treasures, I can’t help but feel a sense of sadness that European-funded projects are now likely under threat from our heart-breaking referendum result.
Within the space of just two short weeks, I was incredibly lucky to stumble across Project2020 CiC, discover a series of amazing community projects across the continent, and find myself boarding a flight to Macedonia.
The previous week had been unkind to me; my girlfriend had left and my job had similar plans. Never one to sit around and feel sorry for myself, I took these metaphorical lemons by the horns and made a sweet gallon of YOLO juice!
Project2020 is a not-for-profit organisation, born to inspire long-term positive change and community engagement for deserving regions through Erasmus+ funding. In human speak, that means volunteers going to developing places and offering something that will benefit the area. Normally this would be something which helps the locals to flourish through fostering employability skills, cultural awareness and sustainable development. It’s also important for the volunteers to take something from this experience which can be used when they return to their native countries. Personally, I left Macedonia with a tight group of friends from all walks of life, valuable reflection on the importance of European ideals in young people, and a new perspective on the challenges faced by other people my age simply because of where they happened to be born.
The group was comprised of 11 young European volunteers from as far afield as Russia, Belgium, Spain, Estonia and France. We were joined by around the same number of local participants, and handful of core EVS volunteers who created the project.
Despite our different backgrounds and journeys to Macedonia, we all learned very quickly that motivated young people are able to achieve anything and meet the strictest of deadlines if it means making time for a party!
Not even the most industry tested icebreakers will bond people like the universal language of drunken-karaoke in a language you don’t speak.
Erasmus+ schemes generally look for open-minded, sociable and independent young people who are excited to travel thousands of miles by themselves and work together with new people who may not fully share your language! I was lucky to combine my twin passions (running and travelling) on the Born2Run project.
Now into its second successful year, Born2Run organise a series of varied running races around the city of Kavadarci to unite the community in a sporting festival, and offer a challenging experience to showcase local athletes. Everyone is welcome, from the freshest-faced youngsters and old biddies simply getting around the 3k course, to the seasoned competitors testing themselves over 10k, or even further! It truly was a day for the whole family, as supporters lined the streets and helped celebrate everyone’s achievements at the race HQ, alongside the live music, stalls from sponsors and refreshment stands.
My role was to oversee the timing and results side of the races (no pressure there!) which I planned with a team of five local volunteers over the first few days of my visit. Despite early language barrier “challenges”, our strategy was flawlessly executed and went without a hitch (apart from the near-disastrous late start but, in the interest of good publicity, we’ll gloss over that). Once the evening was upon us, everyone was simply too tired to do much but reflect on an incredibly successful day. We saw fantastic performances from volunteers and team members. Around sixty runners took part in total, with some incredibly competitive times posted by the big dogs of Macedonia’s athletics scene, and a fantastic fourth place (and first veteran) for our Lord and mentor, Dan Carter!
Following this, we spent a well-deserved day on the beaches of the beautiful lake Tikveš. I sought out this trip as an escape from the daily monotonous grind of back home, and to broaden my experience of new cultures. I had a truly incredible time, enjoyed fantastic food, and discovered a new and fascinating toilet system. To say my time in Macedonia will remain a formative experience for me would be an understatement. I have left with a newly-ignited wanderlust, a group of new friends I have already made exciting plans to visit in new and exotic places, and further travelling adventures to mythical lands such as Estonia later this coming winter.
To anyone looking for a new challenge who would like to develop communication skills, build confidence and enjoy the spiritual awakening of YouTube hits such as I am Potato, get in touch and take the plunge! You won’t look back.
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