This is a story about how a simple coincidence and right decision can change lifes. My name is Rasa, I am 29 years old, I am from Lithuania and I have a two year old son Matas.
When I was 18 years old and I was graduating from school, together with my other classmates we used to discuss the possibility of not going to study further in some universities but having a gap year. A gap year is a great chance for young people who are not so sure what they actually want to do in their lives, which profession to choose, whether to continue studying or better to start gaining skills in practise by actually working. Going for a year of volunteering seemed like a great idea, so exciting, challenging and romantic in a way. Well, life happened and I didn’t have a gap year and went straight to studying in a university in Klaipėda, Lithuania. Studied for a few years, quit after finally realising that it was a wrong choice, got myself a job, worked hard, started studying again in a different university in a different study program, tried to combine working and studying. I was at the peak of my career, everything was great but then I got pregnant. I had to quit my job, give birth, go on a two year long maternity leave. Years went and I totally forgot about such an opportunity until being in a second year of maternity leave, I restarted talking to an old friend of mine who happened to be working in an outdoor organization in Riga, Latvia. We had long talks about life and my huge wish to change something and do something out of my comfort zone. Out of nowhere he sent me an application for a long term EVS volunteering project in his organisation (by what he did not actually mean to invite me, just asking to share it with whom it might concern) and it made me realise that I can actually still participate in those kind of projects and that this could be the thing I was searching for. Only challenge that was holding me back was that I had a one year old child all the time with me and I was strongly not sure if that could be possible for many many reasons, fears and uncertainties. I took it seriously because I saw it as a sign and it took me a few weeks to decide, to put all dots in my life. The key factor was a very supportive talk to my project coordinator to be – Ilze. She made me think that everything is possible and promised all the support needed. Well, there are no rules that you can not participate in EVS volunteering projects with a child, huh? That worked. So here I was, packing my car and going to Latvia.
Never would have I thought that I would be living in Riga, Latvia but here I was and volunteering in the organisation Adventure Spirit (Piedzīvojuma Gars) was the best choice. My EVS project was called “Woods of Wisdom” and it was a diverse and fun experience filled with meaningful and adventurous days. Together with the PG team it gave me the opportunity to learn and implement experimental and outdoor education methods with local schools and communities in their personal learnings, promoting activities for youngsters such as physical and psychological healthcare and wellbeing, respect for nature and environment, team-work and overall better results. My daily work consisted of preparation for and actual doing of different team building events, outdoor activities such as boat rides, climbing, various length hikes, night and day games, slackline events, camps, outdoor cooking, treehouse building and other adventures. I was always challenged to learn something new, to overstep my comfort zone, to do more and all of it together with my one year old. Even though outdoor activities and informal education were not new to me as I was scouting for half of my life, I had lots to learn and multitask all the time.
During the project that took 11 months I had lots of mind-blowing moments, gained valuable lessons, acquired or improved many skills, started to understand myself a bit better and got some life-long experience that I will never forget. I attended, supported or held more than 50 various events, jumped from the trees, rediscovered my core values, shaved a side of my hair, started to learn how to drive a motorbike,started learning new (very similar to my native) language, made new amazing friends and totally changed my life and almost all of this I experienced together with my child. I admit that sometimes it was hard, sometimes very hard, sometimes very easy and fun but for sure it was interesting and valuable. I am very grateful because I had the most amazing mentor Katrina who supported me in various ways and was always a great friend and inspiration. I am also very grateful for the CEO of the organisation Viesturs and my project coordinator Ilze, who shoved a great example, supported and introduced me to a totally different lifestyle. All in all, my host organisation was very supportive, patient and open-minded, they made me feel that everything is possible during the whole project and my personal processes. I truly believe that EVS projects and an opportunity to go volunteering abroad can make a big impact on a person’s life and that all young people shouldn’t even doubt, just go for it!