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Today EPALE celebrates International Volunteer Day. The name Willem De Meyer first appeared on EPALE in October 2010 when we shared his story about his involvement in the HIHTAST project. For International Volunteer day we interviewed the IT specialist and teacher and asked him about his experience with the ‘I Volunteer!’ project.
My name is Willem De Meyer, I was born in Belgium and a teacher in adult education since 2002. I’ve a degree in IT-science but I later got my pedagogical degree because teaching was what I really wanted to do.
I started to write books to help people learn more about computers in an easy way. In total I have published 18 books in Dutch.
How did you get involved in the ‘I Volunteer!’ project?
It all started in 2006 when I went to a contact seminar in Radenci (Slovenia) and I met some interesting people from 6 partner countries for a great project named I Volunteer!.
I started the project because I wanted to build a volunteer network in Europe.
Tell us more about ‘I Volunteer!’
This project lasted between 2007–2009, and promoted volunteering as a way of boosting the social inclusion and integration of both vulnerable groups and the volunteers themselves. Partners from six European countries came together to recruit, train and motivate the volunteers who then went into their communities to help people with disabilities, older people, ethnic minorities and immigrants.
In some countries doing voluntary work is not very common, while in others it’s a second nature to do it without expecting to get anything out of it. It was very inspiring to see people’s motivations for working as volunteers. The methods used for recruiting people and keeping them motivated were different in all countries and the partners learned a lot from each other.
There is a need in the society for voluntary work and there are people who are ready to help others unconditionally. Even when they are not paid, volunteers work hard, improve their skills and learn new ones.
We created the ‘I Volunteer circle’ which shows the 4 steps of turning voluntary work into a success.
The different European countries had different approaches to these 4 basic steps but the end goal was the same. It’s a very simple but also powerful method. Partners who were doing great in a certain aspect of the method (e.g. recruiting), helped the other countries.
What were some of the challenges you had to go through?
For Latvia we created a platform where people could offer themselves as a volunteer and describe the voluntary work they were ready to do, but also where organisations could present themselves as employers for volunteers. Despite that, the financial crisis made it difficult to find many volunteers in that country, but in others we were more successful.
Nonetheless, we overcame all the difficulties faced during this project, because nothing is as strong as the heart of a volunteer.
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What are the results of this project?
The results from I Volunteer! included a CD with best practices, the ‘I Volunteer circle’, the Latvian platform, the job-specific knowledge volunteers received, and a new Grundtvig project for one of our partners named I’m Your Guide. The best and most precious result, though, is the volunteers’ work. They were really motivated and were a guiding light for the people around them. Even after the project’s end the networks of volunteers still exists and new people want to join the volunteer ranks. Some enjoy it so much that they spend more time at the “workplace” than at home.
What did you get from this experience?
The project enriched me as a person and I met some very interesting and motivated people that I’d like to do another project with. Once again for me, the biggest benefit from the I Volunteer! project was the contacts with other people from Europe and the need to go back.
The most enriching of this project was working with other European people in their own country. Other people’s methods of approach are different, and sometimes better than the ones we use. We learnt that we sometimes need to look further and use a “foreign” approach to problems. The collaboration with people from different layers of the society was educative and without this project our view would be quite limited.