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Non-Formal Learning – not always easy to recognize, but all the more important

DEJAME SER FELIZ – LET ME BE HAPPY

Who?
Name: Emilia
Age: 20
Home-country: Austria

Volunteering experience: 8 months in Honduras in 2019
Volunteering programme: ICYE / Erasmus+

2019 was a life-changing year for Emilia, as she spent almost 10 months in Honduras: eight months in the project through ICYE volunteering programme and after that traveling. She got to know the new country and culture, lived in a local family and contributed to the NGO called El Arca de Honduras. Her project was to do a social entrepreneurship campaign for El Arca. The aim of the project was to combine social and sustainable values with responsible entrepreneurship to support beneficiaries – in this case people with intellectual disabilities. Emilia made an Instagram account for marketing and awareness-raising and organised an “open house” event at the end of her project to make El Arca and its activities more known. In this event they sold handcraft products made by the beneficiaries, and there were also music as well as Honduran and Austrian food. In addition, Emilia supported the daily work in the organisation, helping for example in handcraft workshops, cooking and sport activities. In her social entrepreneurship project she could at the same time help the beneficiaries and to use her own ideas and creativity. The project was very diverse and teached a lot.

When it comes to the long-term volunteering in a foreign country, one of the most typical and visible learning outcomes is language. This happened also to Emilia. She already knew some basics of Spanish before her trip to Honduras, but wasn’t fluent at all. By actively listening and using the language and attending some classes her skills improved all the time – and in the end she felt herself really fluent in Spanish! “It feels pretty amazing when you can fully express your ideas in a language different to your mother-tongue. It’s about self-confidence, ability and freedom to express yourself.” The improved self-confidence and “don’t be shy” were one of the most important features that Emilia came back with. “Life is all about learning, and I don’t want to be shy for the new things or just passively wait for things to happen, I want to be open for new learning opportunities and make myself involved.”

Emilia learned also a lot about intellectual disabilities. “We had some workshops/trainings about this topic and how to cope with disability in life. That was super interesting and I learned better understanding and empathy.” But more important than formal knowledge about disabilities, was the attitude and philosophy that the beneficiaries promoted. “They have their special way to enjoy life, live in the moment, be honest with emotions and make the most out of everything. That’s something that I really appreciate.” This philosophy can be summarized “dejame ser feliz” in Spanish – let me be happy. “I don’t say that I’m perfectly living according to that, but it’s the philosophy and way of thinking that I really want to keep going with.”

While living and working in the country, Emilia learned a lot about Honduran culture and she started to be able to broaden her own perspective. “I learned so many new things which made me see my own European culture in a critical way. But on the other hand, I also learned to appreciate some things at home that I didn’t give so much thought before.” One thing that got her to “open her eyes” and see her own culture differently, was the culture of giving and taking care of others: “People were so genuine and always ready to help, without expecting anything back. That’s something very beautiful and it made me to critisize a bit our culture. In Honduras they showed me that giving can be even a bigger joy than getting.” To mention something that she learned to appreciate in her home-contry, one essential thing is security: “I can really understand now how fortunate I am when I can feel secure almost any time and any place in my country.”

Emilia mentions that coming back home from Honduras was quite hard for her. She learned so many things and gained so many experiences that she really felt she had been growing and changing during her time abroad. “I was a bit afraid of falling back to the old patterns, but I really didn’t want to live my life like I did before. I wanted to live with my new ideas, new perspectives and a new view of life. Because I recognize my own change, I have also learned to let other people grow and change. Each of us learns something new every day and we grow all the time.” Emilia found a useful tool to track and support personal development and change. “I really learned the value of self-assessment. I liked when we did it in the on-arrival and mid-term training and training in the end. I think I really would like to continue doing that, every four months I could write down how I feel, what I feel important and want to focus on, what I probably want to leave behind etc.”

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