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Jessie Howard, European Voluntary Service, ARCS volunteer

Jessie Howard, European Voluntary Service, ARCS volunteer

22.05.2015
Jessie Howard, European Voluntary Service, ARCS volunteer

I am from Northumberland, in the north east of England.
I have never been involved in the BRC before except for making occasional donations. There is not much a BRC presence in my local area but if I come across a Red Cross charity shop, I always pop in! I’ve always admired the work they do and hoped to get involved. My team leader from my previous volunteering experience with International Citizen Service (similar scheme to EVS) worked for the British Red Cross, and she inspired me to get involved in both The Red Cross and EVS .

With International Citizen Service (a scheme for young people set up by the UK Department for International Development) I volunteered for 3 months in Burkina Faso, west Africa with Kabeela, a non-profit organisation which aims to reduce gender inequality, fight poverty, educate and empower women. This really taught me the importance of stepping out of our comfort zones, not being afraid, but curious about unknown areas of the world. Before International Citizen Service, I worked in a care home for the elderly with Dementia, providing personal therapeutic support and end of life care.

Before applying for EVS I was working as working as a support worker for four young ladies with Down’s syndrome. Our goal was to help maximise their lifestyle choices and ensure they live independent, safe and healthy lives within their shared home and community.

Most of my other previous experiences have involved both supporting people with complex special needs and exploring the arts as a form of therapy, non-verbal communication and documentation of humanitarian, cross-cultural values.

I felt drawn to EVS because I knew the process was not driven by financial gain and would not unfairly scrutinize my background or academic ability. Often if you have struggled under pressure in school or at University, there is the illusion that a ‘career path’ is a distant, almost impossible freedom. But EVS is one of the few, realistic opportunities through which I felt accepted on a much deeper, human level. It was an accessible, exciting stepping stone to something more meaningful and more enriching. I felt I didn’t have to pretend to be a product of my society, but instead I could be honest about being my own person, with life experiences which have taught me more than I can ever learn within an institution, and drive me towards working in the humanitarian sector and sharing all that I can give.

I found out about this EVS opportunity with ARCS through the British Red Cross website. Armenia instantly intrigued me, perhaps because I had heard so little about the country. The situation and geography of Armenia struck me as stunning and ancient and even mythical! I was straight on the internet and trying to find books, lightly researching its vast golden, resonant social history and the colourful, deeply spiritual culture. I also saw that the average sunshine days in Armenia was so much higher than Britain, and sunshine is like magic dust to us Brits!

The Armenian Red Cross website was really informative and made up my mind that this was a serious opportunity that couldn’t be missed. I listened to some beautiful traditional Armenian music, using instruments I didn’t even know existed, and that was it. I was in love with Armenia before even stepping out of my front door!

Our main responsibilities are supporting and promoting the Healthy Lifestyle and HIV prevention projects by helping provide engaging sessions and discussions in the English language at universities, colleges and schools. We also hope to provide a regular discussion group for the ARCS volunteers to relax, discuss films, books, poetry, music etc. as a cultural exchange of the best of British and Armenian culture. Jen and I also hope to support both the PSS and Smiley Club projects, as much as we can, providing some English language learning, songs and music. We are happy to help with ideas or anything more that needs to be done!

I’m star struck at how amazing the young volunteers are, they have huge such wonderful, positive energy which is so heartwarming and contagious. They have been so kind and welcoming to us, helping us feel at home in city so that is doesn’t feel too daunting. They have let us know about cultural events and always walked the extra mile with us. I enjoy the variation of work and I love visiting projects outside of the office.

I expect to continue to learn new things, explore as much of the country and its culture as is physically possible in the time we have! It would be great to travel further afield when possible and witness ARCS work in other regions and meet beneficiaries and hear their stories. I hope to be of help to anyone who needs support or is curious to learn more about our experiences and British Culture. We can always make time for a meaningful ‘chinwag’(chat) over a cuppa! I’m soaking up every minute of this experience and feeling things deeply, and I know there will be plenty of writing, music, drawing, photos and sharing of this EVS experience to follow - and this will fuel me for the future. Hopefully sharing these feelings will inspire other people to make the effort to explore this beautiful country and travel across borders to connect through humanity and art, wherever they are and on the planet, and whatever circumstances they are in.