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Well, where to start I wonder. This will be a long one I guess. First off, my name is Velin and I’m 31 years old, from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. I decided to become an EVS volunteer in the beginning of this year (2018).

My sending organization – Center for European Initiatives – from Stara Zagora, introduced me to this project, named “Information Access for Youth”, which is implemented, by my hosting organization “Coalition of youth organisations Sega”, here in Prilep, Macedonia. Mainly, we are to inform the local youth, for the opportunities that the EVS and the Erasmus+ program is providing for the younger (up to 30 y.o.) representatives of the local demography. Inform them and motivate them to become volunteers themselves, and also to provide, accurate up- to date and reliable, youth oriented information for the website of the organization – these can be studies, internships, work, volunteering opportunities, home and abroad.
I arrived here in Prilep by car, in the end of January. In Sofia, there was ice on the little streets in my neighborhood and everything was frozen. Actually it was a neighbor of mine that agreed to give me a ride, and as we didn’t see each other for some time - I remember in the car, on our way here, we were talking about everything, and we were somewhere on taxes, philosophy and politics, when we stopped at the gas station, we took coffee, continued talking, no one even paid attention for the receipt – you know as far as technicalities go, this one was a little bit of a bummer, anyways, I was also a bit anxious, because you know – the journey into the unknown, you don’t know the place, you wonder whether everything is going to be alright, is the food going to be good, how is the weather going to be down there, whether something is not forgotten – all this inner doubt in one place, you see?!

Fast forward, we crossed the border to Macedonia, passed near Skopje and continued to make our way towards Prilep.  The guys that met us at the rendezvous, at the local bus station, but as you can imagine, this didn’t make any sense to us back then, and we wondered a little
, around Prilep, before we figure out the location. So as we arrive, the guys started explaining how this is the first sunny day in quite some time, so me and my travel mates smile, because we felt like we brought the good weather you know, like a metaphor for a positive change if you want. This also encouraged me a little bit, just because I remember, I was thinking about these small omens and how telling they are, and whether they truly predict a positive future. The important thing to remember here was that we arrived, in what was the first sunny day for a while. It was me, my aunt, who also gave me the contacts to my sending organization, and - the neighbor (our driver) and his wife. Big thanks for the ride, however, because if not for them, and given the big amount of luggage, that I had to take for one reason or another, the situation might be very different.  They helped me with my bags, took a look upstairs, had some drinks at the café with us and left, back to Bulgaria.

To be honest, Prilep seemed different when I arrived. I didn’t know the layout of the town, where the streets go, how big the place is, just what is where, shortly put. Now already, 8 and half months later, the things took shape, and now the town is no longer an unknown place. But also to mention here, I didn’t even tried to make sense, with the surrounding streets and neighborhoods, in the beginning, because no matter how simply a place is put, you always have chance to get lost in the beginning. I admit I got confused at least one or two times – of course, nothing serious. No matter where you want to go, the maximum amount of time you will spend walking, here in Prilep, is going to be close to maximum of 20 or 25 minutes, so you are to reach some landmark, to help you with the orientation, and there are also a good number of such “focal points” around town. I would say, be careful on the sidewalks and on the crosswalks, because there are parked cars all around the walking paths, and you always have to keep in mind when you pass behind a parked car like this, especially the bigger vehicles have a good chance, not to see you, if they wish to “leave parking” in the exact moment when you pass, so you have to be ready to move out of the way at any time basically. Or at least I feel in this way. And also the traffic light system here, without being a specialist, I think is not working in the exact same principles, at least to the Bulgarian, and you might get surprised, by somebody, who is making a left turn in his vehicle, behind you, while it is also green light for the pedestrians to cross the street. In general, it is common sense - be careful every time you have to cross the roads, which is also quite a typical advice for all Balkan countries. Always look in both directions, you know.

And as the adaptation period passed, we already started doing some of the activities in our EVS project, like the EVS presentations in the local high schools went under way, we did some creative workshops with the youngest kids in elementary, one of the language cafes was organized right at the get go if I remember properly. I also started writing articles for the website. Seemingly without any big struggle, the things were already underway. And so in the end of my third month, I had to go back to Sofia, to acquire all the needed documents that I didn’t have and to receive my visa. This is when some really weird situation developed, and the Prosecutor’s office in Sofia, failed to provide one of the legal statements that I needed, at least in the set time period, and instead of 4 working days I was stranded in Sofia for maybe three weeks, to wait for this document to be prepared, but eventually after our institutions managed to put a good test to our patience and self- determination, with being hopelessly late with the deadlines,  everything was cleared, and with one more full trip to Prilep and back, eventually I was done with my visa process. To explain in greater detail, they changed the building of the regional Court of Law in Sofia, so the archive of the court also moved, and it was complicated for the staff to confirm on the documents, that I needed, so they didn’t refused me my documents, but just waited to find their folders instead, and instructed me to wait at home as well. Eventually, a couple weeks later, it all got figured out.  So we continued working, back here in Prilep. Some of my assignments were the usual ones, which are, to reach the purposes of the project, some, however, were a little bit different, like helping with some office work or technicalities if needed, even preparation of some graphic designs for flyers, banners or leaflets, helping with the recording and editing of some audio stories for the Pulse radio, which is a project of Youth Council Prilep, one of the founding and partnering organizations in “Coalition of youth organizations SEGA”. Anything that we were able to do, basically, in order for the work to go smooth. We continued to take part in some of the other events, which were organized by our hosts “Coalition Sega” and “Info Sega - Youth Informational Centre”, and of course also by the partnering organizations. Soon the summer vacation has begun, and the planned activities also moved to summer schedule. Also the team started changing, because two of the original volunteers, had finished their service, and went back to their home countries. These were respectively, first Raisa, from Moldova, who was volunteering on a different project than mine, who left in in April. And then Paul, who was my French flat mate and had his contract finished in July. Their places were eventually taken by now, by Irem, Katalin and Jermain, from Turkey, Romania and France correspondingly. When I’m done with my project here, six weeks from now, “the torch will be passed” to them, not that they’re not carrying it already, but in order for them to continue the representation of the EVS voluntarism, here in Prilep, Macedonia, when my service is over and I go back home, on my turn – and so on.

Life can be quite the emotional roller-coaster, as some like to describe it. So you can imagine, that for any given time period, there will be ups and downs. Everyone has their different backgrounds, beliefs and system of values, so it is easy to see that it is highly situational, the condition, for everyone to be pleased and happy in the same time. However, there is also the saying, that when you put a man (human) in a tough situation, you will understand what is this person made of, in the psychological and literal context, if you would like. And still as we all have our inner voices, so we could apprehend or try to resolve a given problem in different ways – this is not mathematically impossible, or at least not always. Maybe the key here is to always be benevolent and rational in your way of thinking.

As my stay here is in its final phases, I try to recollect the time and draw my conclusions here, so there is always a lot to think of, so I will try to be philosophical with what I state here, rather than, very detailed and actual about my work here. A good part of our activities here were very well documented, announced and reviewed in the public media. As an EVS volunteer, here in Macedonia, I prefer to choose to leave the summary and assessment, of my work, to my friends, colleagues and hierarchy here in my organization. My way of thinking is that, I should always be vigilant about what is going on, but in the end, my feelings are mostly positive, and my mood is good. I hope that I managed to contribute to the cause of my project, during my stay here. Becoming an EVS volunteer gave me stability in a situation, when I was unemployed and in a vulnerable position in my life, so just for that, I have to make sure to repay for this act of kindness, with my voluntary work here and served the purpose accordingly.
To look in the future, I don’t know if I will continue to work in the public sector, I think that at a certain age, a time comes in the life of a person to become a regular taxpayer, independent and local. I think that I am in this point in my life, when my priorities in life are more or less stationary; my schedule to become air tight, my home to be safe, and everything is in its place. I’m ready!

Big thanks for everybody that have made the wonderful opportunity, that the EVS is, available for me.

Written by: Velin Nedkov

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