Youth Time highlights young inspiring voices bringing positive changes through different activities in their communities. In this piece, joining the worldwide celebration of International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development on December 5th, we will talk to the 27-year old, Leon Gojani from Kosovo, volunteering in the city built on seven hills- Lisbon, Portugal.
Although he had a stable job back home, Gojani, who describes himself as a nature lover, optimistic and self-driven, decided that there’s more to be explored and lived. Along these lines, amidst a pandemic, in July 2020, he flew to Lisbon, where he will spend another eight months, doing a voluntary service for Check-In Organization, through the one-year volunteering programme European Solidarity Corps (ESC).
In this interview with, he shares his inspiration behind volunteering, the biggest benefits and challenges of it, and how volunteering helps young people in building a better society and living in better conditions.
The ‘Eureka Moment’ of Volunteering
For him, the decision to volunteer abroad did not come all of the sudden. Volunteering has been his own way of contributing in Kosovar society since he was a 14-year-old boy then volunteering in his small hometown, Klina.
In this way, Gojani begun to fall in love with the very idea of volunteering, and this has taken him different adventures to Turkey, Italy, Austria, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Sweden, that make the list of some of the countries he visited as part of training and volunteering camps.
“During my high school years, I volunteered in a local youth centre and somehow, later on, volunteering became an important part of my life.
“However, I would say that I had my ‘eureka moment’ last year, when I made up my mind to actually do something out of the ordinary and flip my life around.”
He dwells on how having a 9-5 job led him to thinking that something was missing.
“I had a good job in Kosovo where I was learning and growing professionally for about four years. However, I was experiencing this feeling that something was missing, and I needed to get out of my comfort zone, live through a different experience and just be out there in the unknown. And that’s how I decided to join ESC in Lisbon.”
Advantages and Disadvantages
This time can be seen through two pairs of lenses- what makes Gojani’s experience in Lisbon beneficial and what are the key challenges that he faces?
According to him, there are a lot of benefits, since his project is part of a European framework of volunteering and he benefits from many training enhancing his communication skills, project planning and cultural sensitivity.
“Through my involvement at Check-IN, in offices in Lisbon and Beja, I have the opportunity to engage with different partners, stakeholders and agencies who work closely together to ensure that projects are run successfully across Europe.”
“I learn first-hand how the youth development field, youth policies and volunteering is planned through and executed on a European level, an opportunity that I would not be able to have back home.
“Additionally, being a volunteer gives you the freedom to also choose in which parts of the organisation you would like to focus and work more, and frankly, this is an opportunity that you don’t normally get when you are an employee.”
He further elaborates that a core component of volunteering through ESC is cultural awareness and being immersed within a culture that is quite different from yours, by adding: “interestingly enough it will make you understand your own culture better and appreciate differences that are out there in the world.
“The whole experience is also a challenge on its own..
“You are bombarded with a lot of new information that becomes impossible to process because everything is happening so fast, and everyday there is new information that you learn.
“Time to time, you miss home, but then you quickly remind yourself that this is your home for this year, or sometimes you find it quite hard to understand the language and you can’t get things done on your own.”
“Together We Can Through Volunteering”
Since this year’s campaign for International Volunteer Day will thank volunteers worldwide and also shed light on the difficulties and needs of volunteers during the pandemic, Gojani further spoke about how he has being a volunteer during the pandemic.
Just like everything else in the world this year, he says, there is an evident extra pressure when you are volunteering during a world pandemic.
“You feel good that even during the world’s biggest challenge of the 21st century, you have decided to leave your comfort zone and selflessly dedicate your time to causes that matter and are beyond yourself. A part of you feels like you are doing something small but nice, and that is comforting. “
Nevertheless, he recalls, the pandemic situation caused numerous difficulties.
“Some of them [difficulties] are related to work and how you need to be adaptable and change your work routine and plan on bi-weekly basis. The other ones are staying home during curfew hours, and also being extra cautious and responsible for your coworkers, flat mates and the community you serve.”
Volunteering – a growing worthy experience for young people
He encourages the youth to follow this growing journey called volunteering, by saying that such path begins by one believing that their time and effort are doing all the impact in the community.
“Volunteering helps you meet the world and yourself. It is an opportunity for you to learn important life-skills that you don’t learn in your school – and if all of us would be more motivated and pushed to learn those life-skills, we would have a more open, understanding and better societies.”
It gave him “The sense of belonging, the space to talk, the patience to listen or the courage to challenge myself”.
Even though his very first experience of volunteering is more than a decade ago, he can still recall the feeling of being “involved, appreciated and motivated”.
“Through different activities with many people, volunteering taught me interpersonal skills, culture-appropriate behaviour and it decreased judgment and stereotypes, as I started to get to know the world personally. And it is crazy to think that this all happened to a guy coming from a small village somewhere in Kosovo – all thanks to volunteering.”
He strongly believes that we as humans need community and a sense of belonging to something that is beyond ourselves, and for this volunteering turned out to be the most powerful education he gained in his whole life to this day.
“If you are curious and want to learn, volunteering is the best way to start. Also, if you are feeling a little lost, uninspired and don’t really know what you want to do, go volunteer and I promise that you will find meaning and inspiration about what you are good at.”
Happy International Volunteer Day from Gojani and all of us at Youth Time!
Photos: Check-In Organisation; Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney
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