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Skills & Volunteering Cymru visit Catalonia

Adrienne Earls is the Manager for Skills & Volunteering Cymru, a volunteering charity based in Cardiff. Through Taith funding, they were able to expand the international scope of their work by delivering reciprocal volunteering projects for young people and staff in collaboration with multiple international partners.  
A group of around 20 young adults smiling at the camera, stood in front of a sign saying "Fundacio Mona Benvinguts"
What was the focus of your Taith project?

Our focus was to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get involved with international volunteering, particularly young people who identify as being from low-income backgrounds. Most people that we support are unable to undertake many opportunities because of their personal circumstances; we feel that it’s important for them to still have the same opportunities as their peers. We really wanted this project to be about empowering young people, and young people engaging with other young people.

We applied for an international volunteering exchange and included 20 young people from Wales and Catalonia.

Why do you think international experiences are important for disadvantaged young people?

If you are someone who identifies as being from a disadvantaged background, often the opportunities that are there for your peers, you feel are not there for you. There are so many more barriers that life has placed in the way for you to get engaged in opportunities. Our work was focused on how we broke down those barriers.

We did surveys to try and understand what young people felt were their main barriers. Cost was a huge one, as well as time; people felt that even though there are lots of opportunities available for young people, often they’re multiple weeks, or even months in duration. If you are a carer or from a low-income family and have to work, it’s very difficult to take that time out. But it’s so important for young people to engage in these opportunities, because it allows them to meet new people and to learn new skills, such as independence, communication skills, budgeting, teamwork, and resilience. 

A group of around 20 young adults sat on chairs in a circle who appear to be listening to one male talking. They are in a room with one green wall and one white wall
Were there any highlights from your exchange?

We had an unexpected and emotional session which was delivered in Cardiff for young people from Catalonia and WalesThey were looking at the similarities between the cultures and the languages, and the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and between Wales and England. Sharing all this information together, these two groups of young people realised how they’re kindred spirits, and how there were parallels between these two different cultures. The culture and the knowledge this has given the young people involved  is difficult to read in a book.  

Were there any standout examples of individuals who were impacted by the experience? 

For background, four of our young people identified as Disabled. One of our young people was an estranged student from a low-income family. We had three others that identified as members of low-income families. 

One member of the group was not in education, employment, or training. They’d never been abroad on their own before. The feedback that they gave us was quite overwhelming because it was all about the independence they’d learnt. They learnt skills they’d never really had to consider, such as having to set an alarm, having to sort their backpack for the day, managing their budget for the trip, and considering what they were eating life skills that you or I might take for granted. 

We had another participant who identifies as having Additional Learning Needs, and they had also never been abroad without their mum. They’d never purchased an item on their own in a shop in the UK and explained that this is something that they would really like to be able to achieve as a goal. Their peers supported them to go in a shop together and have confidence in a group, followed by the confidence to go up and pay. By the end of the trip, they were able to go independently and purchase items from a shop on their own. That is a huge achievement for that individual in a different country, speaking in a different language in a different culture; we were blown away by that. That is something that they and their family will cherish because that’s such a success for them. 

A group of around 20 young adults in front a a cathedral. The front row of people are sat on the steps in front of the cathedral, and the rest are stood behind them.
How do you think international mobilities can help support youth workers in Wales?

 As part of our project we received funding to send  every member of our team to work with other international youth organisations. We did work in Canada, Norway, and Catalonia, and in total we visited 15 different youth organisations across the year. We found this personally and professionally engaging; we learned so much and discovered the differences about youth work in other countries.

We learned about how volunteering is viewed, measured, and reported across the three different countries that we went to. It resulted in us making some changes to our charity; we are encouraging more volunteers from people in underrepresented groups / disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Since the Taith trip to Norway we’ve taken things we observed and we’ve looked to mirror it here in Wales.  Within our charity we’ve employed a full-time Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer to try and expand our volunteer demographics further. We have also set up a new project  supporting marginalised groups of people to engage in voting.

Our mobility has also  supported our  partners in Catalonia to work more inclusively. Their staff feedback shows that their perspective on Disabled young people has changed, and they are far more inclusive now. The work that they’re doing has blossomed from working with us in Wales. I do believe it’s really put Wales on the map. 

A group of about 40 young adults, sat on some steps outside. Most of them are smiling and couple are pulling funny faces. There is blue sky in the background.
Do you have advice to people thinking of applying for Taith funding?

On reflection, when I first saw the opportunity being promoted, I was excited and nervous, because international volunteering is not something that we were familiar with at all. There were concerns and a lot of questions.  

My advice would be: if you’re considering doing it, do it! There are so many people out there who have experience of international volunteering and setting up and delivering programs. I have to say, every single organisation that I reached out to would be happy to have a chat.

If anyone is thinking about doing it and would also like to reach out to us, we’ve been more than happy to share information, because once you get over the initial hurdles of paperwork, the benefit you receive in return fully outweighs any of that. 

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