Yann, EVS Volunteer at the Local Democracy Agency in Gjilan/Gnjilane, Kosovo

Article published on Jan. 13, 2009
community published
Article published on Jan. 13, 2009

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

The European Voluntary Service is a sponsored international volunteering program for young people between 18 and 30. In 2006, more than 4500 volunteered in NGOs throughout Europe with the so called EVS, including some volunteers in Balkan countries (1). Yann Cassaro, 29, is an EVS volunteer in Gjilan/Gnjilane, a small town in Kosovo near the Serbian and the Macedonian border.

Every morning, the day of Yann, 29, French volunteer in Kosovo, starts with a cup of hot Turkish coffee. Then he goes to work and stops for some drinking yoghurt and burek on the way. Yann got quickly used to this Balkan speciality, a fried pastry roll filled with cheese, spinach or meat, which people enjoy at any time of the day, just like Yann does now after nearly a year in Kosovo.

At any time of the day, Yann meets a lot of acquaintances on his way to work. They greet each other with a warm “A je lodhem?” “Are you tired?”. The French volunteer answers he’s fine, exchanges a few words with the friend he just met and makes his way ahead to a small office situated in the city centre, the Local Democracy Agency of Kosovo. Over the months, the inhabitants of Gjilan, called Gnjilane in Serbian language, get used to the tall silhouette of Yann passing by through the streets. The small town with a strong majority of ethnic Albanians is about three quarters of an hour with the bus from the capital Prishtina or Pristina.

Yann works at the Local Democracy Agency of Kosovo, an NGO fostering civil society building and supporting local projects in the region. His main task as an EVS volunteer was to run and develop an information point in the centre. He also took part in various initiatives, like organizing conferences, reprogramming the Agency’s website or putting a group of pathfinders in contact with Roma kids and launching a summer project with them.

Key moments and lots of coffee

In a few weeks, Yann’s time in Kosovo will be over. He experienced many historic moments during his stay, like the declaration of independence of the country last February. But working in an apolitical NGO, Yann considers it is not his job to tell what he thinks about this kind of issues. “I would not allow myself to have any opinion about this”, explains Yann.

More than politics, it’s the “unformal side of life” and the casual way you can get in touch with people that really impressed Yann about living in Kosovo. “When you meet somebody, he immediately wants to take you out for a coffee and have a chat with you, even if you may only talk about commonplaces”, says Yann.

The young man learnt the basics of the Albanian language on his arrival. When it’s not enough to communicate, Yann uses English, French or improvises nonverbally.

An “experience of exchanging and getting together

I had never been abroad during my studies. European Voluntary Service was the easiest solution for me to go”, remembers Yann, who studied political science and communication in France and finished university a few months before leaving for Kosovo. Yann’s decision to go there was mostly a coincidence, but now he says he’s happy about his EVS, an “experience of exchanging and getting together”, as he puts it.

From Yann’s point of view, the small city of Gjilan was a good choice to get integrated in the daily life of the population of the country. He thinks it would have been much more difficult to get so much involved with people from the place in a capital city like Prishtina, which is full of strangers working for international organisations.

After a year as a volunteer, Yann is now looking for a job. If possible, he would like to stay in this part of the world. “After the year I spent in Kosovo, I know a little bit better what I would like to do for a living”, Yann says. His new competences as a former volunteer may also help him to find a new position. “As an EVS volunteer, you learn how to manage things on your own, you learn to go beyond the stereotypes you have”, explains Yann. “And you learn a lot about yourself!”, he adds as a conclusion.

Margot Reis for LDA

(1) Estimate 2006, Source : Injep, http://www.injep.fr/IMG/pdf/8psvefr_output.pdf