Markéta Pavlíková started her working-abroad adventure with an internship in India during her social work studies at university. Later, she spent nine months on a European Voluntary Service (currently: European Solidarity Corps) project in Armenia and two years working for the United Nations in Ukraine. After that, she used her experience in the biggest Czech NGO, People in Need. There, she worked locally, as well as abroad, in the Middle East.
During the years spent on projects, she learned that volunteering abroad is not always easy, but definitely rewarding. From her story, you can get inspiration to challenge yourself and go abroad to use your skills and talents to help others.
“Why Not EVS In Armenia?”
Frustrated with her master degree, Markéta saw an advertisement on Facebook about the EVS project in Armenia. “I thought it sounded good. I didn’t know where exactly the country was, and I thought that why not try volunteering there. It was for youth and it went hand in hand with what I wanted to do in life”. So she just went for it!
During her nine months in Armenia, Markéta worked with unprivileged youth, mostly preparing leisure activities. She taught English to young people and educated them about environmental issues. She also spent time with a lady on a wheelchair, who was excluded from the community.
However, not all parts of her project were how she expected. English occurred not to be enough to communicate with the local people, and Markéta had to work on her Russian.
“Everything popped up during these months. For example, when I travelled, I met a guy who did yoga. I invited him to lead yoga workshops for youth in our organisation.
“I think it was a challenge and I took the best of it”, Markéta sums up her experience in Armenia.
Fulfilling Fieldwork And Local Friendships
The United Nations project in Ukraine was also full of challenges. At first, Markéta worked in the office in Kyiv. “They asked me to support them with a project focused on small and medium businesses. It was interesting, but it was not my thing, because I was not into business at all.” Where she saw herself was the fieldwork.
She asked to move to Donbas, the area touched by war at the time. “I thought that I do not get scared easily, I do not panic, and I know how to behave in critical situations. That could be useful for people who live in such places and do not have a choice.”
In Donbas, Markéta worked on youth participation in peacebuilding activities. Her work was a series of small tasks and projects that she delivered to the locals. She did the paperwork, but what was more exciting for her, she talked to the people of Donbas and worked directly with them.
The biggest project was a trip to Prague for twenty people from Donbas NGOs to see a different culture and practices of the well-known Czech organizations. “I think that for many of them, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience when their eyes opened, they saw different nationalities and different approaches.” Markéta started as a support of the project, but in the end, was the main organizer. She traveled to Prague with the group and enjoyed her contribution to the project.
Another achievement was the improvement in the Russian language, which brought her more personal rewards. “I was able to speak with locals, and I found local friends. It was amazing. Because if you are a humanitarian worker, you live with expats. The topics of the conversation are about the work, and you are in a bubble. For me, it was a way to escape. With the locals, I played beach volleyball, and they invited me to birthday parties. It was really awesome to get good friends.”
We Are All The Same
Projects abroad were challenging, but thanks to that, Markéta learned so much from them. Demanding tasks and ordinary life situations let her know herself better and resulted in eye-opening insights into the world. She discovered that volunteering is a two-sided process. It is not only about giving but also about receiving something back. She also gained new work habits and learned how supportive her good friends were. But the biggest lesson came from the people of Donbas.
“The most eye-opening experience was that these people are the same as we are. It does not matter if they are in Ukraine or Syria, or wherever. They have the same needs, they have the same wishes, and they have the same problems if we put the war aside.
“I think that you get more humble because you can be in touch with people from different nations, backgrounds, and it opens your eyes. It is the most valuable experience, and you cannot get it in any other way.”
Challenge Yourself And Just Go For It!
“My story sounds like a cliche, but when I was fifteen, I had anorexia, and I focused completely on myself. My doctor told me to look around and see that there are people with various problems. I think that she said ‘real problems’. She got me in touch with someone who organised camps for children from orphanages. I went, and it was my first experience with a vulnerable group. I realized that my problems are not the worst in the world. And that I like the fact that I can do something nice and change something, even though sometimes it is a super tiny thing.”
When asked about the advice she would give to people who are thinking of volunteering but do not know where to start, Markéta says:
“Google the information, get in touch with someone who has such an experience, and go for it. It is worth it, and I would recommend it to everyone.”
Would you like to challenge yourself and go abroad like Markéta? Check out our list of open calls for exciting projects!