Learning Together – MAARJA LIIV – 12 Months Volunteering in Lisbon

Hello! My name is Maarja and I was volunteer 2016/2017 in Lisbon, Portugal. My project was about working with disabled people in a daily centre in organization called APCL.

To begin with, before going I was studying architecture. Something totally different but in my heart I felt that maybe it is not my way. In my free time I enjoyed traveling and i took part many Erasmus+ youth exchanges from where I met people who told me about the magical EVS. I started looking and I got lucky that Marco encouraged me to go for 1 year.

First I was scared. About the whole year. And about taking a gap year. And about I will be unexperienced with working with disabled. But the idea about doing something I have never done took my attention and excited me. “What is there to lose?” I thought, there’s only one time you could do that and being 21 and unattached from real work and debts etc. Why not, if not now, then when.

So I went. The beginning was the most euphoric in my life. Lisbon in September was warmer than summe

r in Estonia. All the volunteers were so friendly and I got used there so quickly. I fell in love with Lisbon immediately -the location next to the ocean, the hills in the city, the river, the sightseeing platforms called miradouros where people played music and chilled every evening, the cafeterias, the good prices, the city is so walkable. So here is the one reason why EVS opened me and made me free. I was living in the capital of Portugal which didn’t feel like capital of all. Everything seemed close and people warm.

The main fear about work was that working with disabled will frighten me, didn’t become true, it opened my eyes and shocked in a positive way. They were so overly positive and happy people. Little different than us but exactly like us. More sincere and loving maybe. My work was to help them with their daily activities in the centre and sometimes I worked in the residence too where they lived. My partner at work was amazing Italian volunteer Pamela. What spiced up our work, we never had real routine. Everyday was something new. We visited lots of museums, parks, also beaches with work. Even went to theatre. It was so warm to see how much people make effort to make their lives versatile. It was a really heart-warming workplace.

What is more, we got a chance to develop personal project and I decided to teach and paint with the clients. 3 months we painted auto portraits and even took part in one exhibition in Lisbon with acrylic paintings about nature. It really filled my heart when I had the possibility to share and teach what I love.

During the year we had also many trainings. The most memorable was the on arrival training where I met all the other volunteers in Portugal and with these days, made friends and connections for a year. I never expected that there are so many volunteers there. What a shame  that there is no official system to know about it, you just have to be lucky to meet them in trainings. 

The other volunteers are the key to have a successful EVS. I was lucky. I loved my flatmates, we lived 6 of us together. It was funny, crazy and always vibrant . There were 3 Spanish and 1 Italian  and 1 Estonian. Beginning was funny because of the language barrier but month to month we improved. They learned English and I understand Spanish now.

So its also all about the languages in EVS. I learned if you can Spanish in the southern of Europe , then you speak Spanish and people understand. I didn’t. But I lived in Portugal and we had good private lessons and I pushed myself to talk Portuguese, I really needed that for work because the people I helped, did not speak English. But it didn’t happen so easily as I thought.. In the and ¾ of the year , I was able to communicate in Portuguese. At work and it gave me so much more opportunities to work better. To be honest, the language barrier was the hardest thing. But from the hardest things you learn the most. 

EVS was a year for myself discovering new perspectives for life. After 14 years of nonstop school and running from one place to another, I took this year and did all the things I wanted. I also got to travel a lot- to the paradise in the middle of Atlantic called Azores, dozens of beaches in Portugal, even visited France. Was such a freedom in a good scary way. Wasn’t always rainbows and sun, there were of course hard times when feeling alone, but it is totally normal. The good thing is, there are other volunteers who understand.

To end like in a cliché way, thinking back, it was the fastest year in life. I would even say like 1 life in 1 year, that amazing EVS bubble. But you have to be careful, going back home to real life can be tough. But still the things learned, people met, placed visited, parties partied , they will always be with me and the best what I can do is inspire others to overcome their fears and do some unexpected movements. It is easy with Erasmus+ support, which is totally amazing and safe way to try out new things even jobs.


To close up personally, after this year working with people, I quit Architecture, and started again university in psychology studies, I take extra Spanish classes and keep painting. EVS really does change the lives if you open your mind.





This Project was financed by European Commission’s Erasmus + Programme