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A real learning experience: the European Voluntary Service helps out in Barcelona

Tanja Niederstein and Maja Grigat have come to Barcelona with the European Voluntary Service and spend most of their time doing voluntary activities such as helping handicapped students, teaching English or playing with sick children.


30 April 2012 08:21 PM


Elisenda Barreda

Barcelona (CNA).- They are young and they are willing to help. Their names are Tanja Niederstein and Maja Grigat, from Cologne and Munich, respectively. They decided to take part in the European Voluntary Service Programme in Barcelona because they thought the project was interesting and because they wanted to learn Spanish. Since 1996, Europeans between 18 and 30 years old have the chance to develop social, educative and professional competences through full-time voluntary activities in a foreign country. The aim of this programme is to promote tolerance and solidarity among youth and to reinforce social cohesion in the European Union.

Culture, sports or social care centre volunteers\u2019 interest

Volunteers can work in a wide range of fields, such as culture, sports or social care, among other possibilities. What do these German girls do in Barcelona? In the mornings, Tanja works in the office of the Fundació Autònoma Solidària organisation. It is an administrative task, in which she answers mails and gives information to people who are interested in the project. In the afternoons she does different activities, depending on the day. On Wednesdays she goes to a prison for young people near Barcelona and teaches them English. On Thursdays, she participates in \u2018Projecte Salut\u2019 (\u2018Health Project\u2019), giving information to students about drugs, safe sex or nicotine. And on Fridays she goes to the Vall d\u2019Hebron Hospital where she plays with sick children between 1 and 6 years.

Maja\u2019s work is slightly different: she deals with handicapped students. In the mornings, she drives a van, and takes them to college. The rest of the day, she accompanies them to the library or wherever they need to go, so as to make their life easier. She confesses that in the beginning, she felt a little bit useless, because everything was new to her. Now, things have improved and she really feels her work is worthy. On weekends they both have free time and enjoy going to the port, going for a walk through Barcelona\u2019s Gothic Quarter, and going to the beach.

How to apply?

Several steps need to be followed in order to take part in the European Voluntary Service. First of all, it is necessary for the volunteer to find a sending organisation in his own country and once found, seek for another one in the country where he/she will be living. Then, one of the two organisations coordinates the application process, requesting a European Union grant on behalf of the partnership.

The most active organisations from Barcelona for hosting volunteers from other countries are \u201CLa Rotllana\u201D association and the \u201CCoordinadora d\u2019Organitzadors de Camps de Treball de Catalunya.\u201D In the case of Maja and Tanja, their hosting organisation is the \u201CFundació Autònoma Solidària\u201D, and it is obligatory to know Spanish, to have previous volunteering experiences and to have a driving license. The process usually takes six months and requires presenting a motivation letter and a curriculum.

The service period abroad can last from 2 to 12 months. Tanja and Maja are staying 10 months in Barcelona, from September to July. Currently, they are not studying, only doing volunteering work. However, they are both learning Catalan, and assure they can speak una mica.

How did they find out about the European Voluntary Service?  At school, they gave them some information and they also attended a meeting where they explained things they could do after finishing high school, before going to university. One of these things was working as an \u201Cau pair\u201D or participating in the EVS.

82 volunteers in Barcelona in 2011

Statistics for 2011 are not yet official, but so far, in 2011, 7,200 people participated in the European Voluntary Service, and 82 of them went to Barcelona. Italy, France, Germany and Turkey are the countries who sent most volunteers to Barcelona. All volunteers receive free accommodation and food, insurance and pocket money. Sometimes they have to pay a small amount of money, a maximum 10% of the travel costs.

Maja and Tanja had both worked as volunteers before, but not in a way like they are doing now in Barcelona. Tanja had been teaching children at her school, while Maja was a monitor in a German church, where she used to go on excursions on weekends with children and young people.

The main differences they find between Barcelona and their own cities \u2013Cologne and Munich - are related to schedules and people\u2019s character. They think Catalan people are very open-minded, very hospitable and kind. Maja and Tanja had never slept \u201Cla siesta\u201D before, but since they have been living in Barcelona, they do. In Germany, they say, people start working earlier and have different eating times. They believe Barcelona is a city full of life, with a lot of history and a very interesting culture. 

Tanja and Maja agree that the experience so far is being very positive and if they could, they would repeat this volunteering adventure without hesitation. Apart from improving their Spanish, they are developing new skills in personal, educational and professional fields that will certainly be useful in their future job. Next year, Maja will start studying Psychology at college, and Tanja, European Studies.


  • Tanja goes on Fridays to play with sick children at the Vall d'Hebron hospital (by T. Niederstein / E. Barreda)

  • Tanja goes on Fridays to play with sick children at the Vall d'Hebron hospital (by T. Niederstein / E. Barreda)