Volunteer for Inclusion – Villiam Põldma – 12 Months Volunteering in Lisbon, Portugal
Hello, my name is Villiam Põldma. I am from Rakvere, Estonia.
It was in my mind already to go and live in Portugal for a while. That thought came into existence after I had taken part in many Youth Exchanges. Through these projects I had met a lot of Portuguese people and they always left a great impression. I made a lot of Portuguese friends, heard a lot of great stories about their country and its nature, and of course the women were gorgeous – the old saying “the grass is greener on the other side” is true I suppose.
So I was in front of a decision – either go there on my own, find a job etc. or go there via NÜH, which as a coincidence, offered a one year long EVS in Lisbon, Portugal. Since Lisbon was also the place I set my mind on, the decision was no brainer. I also wanted to try EVS as a cherry on top of the cake apart from Youth Exchanges, so I figured I would get two flies in one hit. So I decided to apply.
The process was quite smooth and also professional, I wouldn’t expect any less from NÜH, they know how to deliver. I received a preparation training, informative documents and a smooth connection with my coordinating organization abroad.
Month later I already set my first foot on Portuguese soil – not then knowing that with the following 12 months it will change my life. I had of course my dreams and expectations, but those were far exceeded.
My first two weeks were complete vacation as it took time for my receiving and coordinating organization to prepare everything, so I enjoyed that time to the fullest – beaches, city life, nightlife, restaurants, parties, new multicultural friends, romances etc. I was having the time of my life and those two weeks felt like a month. It was a dream come true. And I was happy that I have a full year ahead of me still.
When the actual “work” began I immediately became upon an obstacle. The language barrier. Although the work I was suppose to do was new to me and I had no experience beforehand, it was easy in its essence. I was to spend time with teenagers that came from school to their foster home. I was also to create freetime activities for them. I deemed myself naturally good in such things. The dreaded language barrier however made establishing communication difficult and prevented me from establishing deep and meaningful connections right from the start. My strategy was blown. My best tool and skill – communication – was robbed from me. Almost nobody understood English, including my superiors, at my workplace, so any kind of head start was just a dream. But I took this challenge head on, with no excuses, as I knew this was the only way to succeed and grow in life. I began to learn Portuguese hard. I became quite good quite fast, or so I thought. My progress was good compared to other volunteers. But when it was time to communicate in Portuguese I noticed another challenge. I was good at speaking, but I sucked at listening and understanding, because people just spoke too fast. I didn’t give up, but the hardship remained more or less throughout my project. I succeeded however teaching some of my kids English and were able to overtime create some very deep friendships that last to this day. Expectations from my workplace were however higher and the speed of learning the language was expected faster, so I felt a constant pressure, but I did what I could. Beside that overall everything was good. The work was easy and enjoyable. The teenagers acted already as grown ups and were capable of being independent. They were very responsible and good kids. I didn’t encounter a single problem with them, which is something you wouldn’t expect at first when imagining foster homes. They weren’t however kids anymore in that sense, so finding activities to do, especially after tiring school days, was not easy. Most of the time we resorted to simple things such as going shopping, going to cinema, playing football, cooking, watching movies, playing videogames, going to restaurants etc. Sounds simple, but when dealing with teenagers there was a lot of things to learn and the experiences I gained are definitely valuable in the future.
Aside from the work and the regular enjoyments of life there were also lots of other activities that I took part and pride in. There were two trainings in total related to my EVS that I took part in and they were great. Essentially these are like your regular Training Courses or Youth Exchanges but specified to your particular expertise. Those were very refreshing and had a snapping out effect from the regular daily routine. It made me realize that a lot of volunteers are all over the Portugal, and also Estonians. I also took weekly dancing classes to perfect my skills in dancing – probably made a fool out of myself and looked like a clown in the beginning but it was worth it in the end. Spinning around the ladies is a second nature now. Another cool things were the monthly intercultural days, where volunteers from each country had to present their country and culture. I had my arsenal ready from previous Youth Exchanges so only things I had to worry about were decorations and food – which I left up to ladies. A person from Estonian embassy also visited us and congratulated our presentation. I also had a chance to celebrate Christmas and New Year in Portugal – without snow, which was compensated by two months of rain. When the spring smiled upon me, I also had a chance to view the Eurovision in its host country. What I enjoyed the most was the weekend spent in a small villa in countryside with all of our fellow volunteers. It was amazing. It was the peak of my Portuguese experience. The environment, the people, the connections, the love, a sky full of bright stars, more stars than I ever had seen. It all created an atmosphere that is truly magical. Memories I will never forget. And yet this was also the beginning of the end. After this, as the summer started, all of my friends started to leave one by one. This was the time of great difficulty for me.
The life I had built abroad started to end and I slowly realized it. I lost motivation to do anything for almost 2 months. During that time however my coordinating organization also started to host Youth Exchanges at my home, so at least I had new people to meet and to have some new company to cheer me up for a bit, among them were many Estonians. During summer I mostly travelled with my girlfriend that I had met in Portugal and visited every exo
tic beach we could find. I started to accept the end of my project and started to focus on the future and be positive. Life is full of ups and downs and this is what makes life worth living.
In august I was transferred to work at beach as a lifeguard for a month, to assist elderly and disabled people to go to water. It was a refreshing experience and my assistance was greatly appreciated.
The last month I was completely alone at home. No volunteers were left and I had space and time to physically and mentally prepare myself to arrive at home, and reflect upon my year.
In closing I want to thank Noored Ühiskonna Heaks for giving me the opportunity for this amazing experience. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. I strongly recommend EVS for anyone looking for an adventure that will leave you with lasting memories. Even I left with tears in my eyes, and I hadn’t cried since I was a child. So you better believe me when I say that be prepared for the experience of a lifetime. But I also want to stress that it also requires your own active participation and action for truly making it a meaningful experience. So start by taking action right now and applying for one!
This Project was financed by European Commission’s Erasmus + Programme