Hi everybody! I’m Olga from Minsk, Belarus. At the beginning of May I started my EVS in Italy with two NGOs – HRYO and Emmaus Palermo.

The project is for a year, but because of my passport expiry date I got visa for 355 days. So lifehack #1 for potential EVSers who will apply for visa check your passport expiry date in advance. Your passport have to be valid for 3 months after your coming back home.

The most popular question which I get from my Belarusian friends “What are you doing there?”. Okay, guys, l will explain.

HRYO – Human rights youth organization works with non-formal human rights education. They arrange different events to promote ideas of human rights among youngsters, especially they are focused on unprivileged social groups. So I am going to help them to find means of human rights promotion.

Emmaus Palermo – is a community of people who work in a charity shop which is in the outskirts of Palermo. There are about of 10 people in the organization. Some of them also live together in the house which is out of the city. There is a tradition in the shop – every day at 1 a.m. we have a lunch together. The shop is very big and on the 3rd floor there is a kitten, so we eat homemade food. I really feel at home there.

In Belarus I have been volunteering at a couple of organizations for 5 years. The topics were – homeless animals, veganism, human rights. So I decided to try myself in international volunteering. I found out about some programs and made decision that EVS is the best one. I was looking for a project on the EVS portal. Actually it took me a year to get to the project. There are some reasons for it. First, I was not looking for an opportunity to live abroad for a year, but wanted to upgrade my skills for NGO work to bring more benefit to my organization when I come back. And the second reason was that some European NGOs don’t want to work with partner countries because of bureaucracy. The was a case one organization in Budapest said to me that I was selected and in a week they wrote to me something like “We talked about you in our organization. We would prefer to have a volunteer from Europe”. But I didn’t give up after it. And then I found HRYO.

First time I wrote to them in winter 2017. They  refused me, because they had a selected volunteer for the coming project. I decided to write to them at the beginning of September and they selected me. On the 25th of December we found out the project was proved by the National Agency.

So that’s how I got in Palero. Now I live with 6 more people in the flat. We came in Palermo by three different programs to work at HRYO. My flatmates are from  Moldova, Romania, England, Norway, Spain. Here a Russian saying can be suitable “We are all so different and still we are together”.

As to the city of Palermo, the biggest advantages for me are:

  • The city is small enough. It is possible to walk to lots of places. Nevertheless there are some buses, trams and one metro line;
  • It is easy to be vegan here. Almost in any local supers I can find things with the label “vegan”. In Belarus vegans have more problems;
  • There are lots parks. I do like sitting under trees;
  • Most of local people are friendly and try to help foreigners.

There are some disadvantages either, sure, but the only one that is worth mentioning is the following. They take cash only in too many places, including cafes and the ATM don’t give cash if you use an American or British bank (and maybe some others). This brought many problems to my friend from the USA.

On the 9th of May I with 4 other volunteers of HRYO went to Cinissi, a small town 30 km from Palermo, to take part in the march of J. Impastato, the local hero who fought against mafia. We came there some hours earlier, so we had an opportunity to enjoy the landscapes. I was very happy to participate in the event, because in Belarus I go to peaceful assemblies as an observer only. So it was a new experience for me.

I hope the year will be useful for me and I will have a lot of fun either.