How can being a volunteer help you improve your mental Health? What can we do to improve the lives of the Erasmus students coming to our city? Why should mental health be that important in our lives?
These were some of the questions that led ESN Venezia to organise “Volunthealing”, the Event that won the Activity in the Spotlight of October. How is an event like this born? Let’s dive in ESN Venezia!Life in the Laguna
Venezia is a city in the North East of Italy, built on 118 small islands, all located in the Venetian Lagoon (or Laguna Veneta in Italian) and separated by canals and over 400 bridges. It has been the capital of the Republic of Venice for more than a millennium, making the city the most important centre of trade and commerce.
It’s no wonder that approximately 1000 students decide yearly to come to this city for their Erasmus. ESN Venezia is always ready to welcome them and make their experience meaningful.The Importance of Mental Health
Mental Health has always been an essential topic to the ESN volunteers of Venezia: as most of them are not from the region, getting settled in such a particular city as this one can be tricky, if not impossible. ESN gave them a lifeline, and this changed their perspective on volunteering.
When the situation presented itself, the Section members didn’t think twice. They started drafting an idea that soon became a reality.
They wanted to organise an event that focused on the importance of volunteering on mental health for everyone, from the volunteer to their target audience, the Erasmus students. Thanks to the help of the ESN’s Eduk8 team, a project which focuses on developing the skills of young people through non-formal education, and the Italian Pool of Trainers, “Volunthealing” was born, and they drafted together a Training Session Outline (TSO) for the Event.The Event
“Volunthealing” lasted for three days. It was composed of different events targeting different audiences, from the local community to the international students of Venezia.
The local environment played an essential role in this event, granting a more personal approach to it from the volunteers and giving a more significant social impact to the Section; this allowed ESN Venezia to explore new possibilities.
On the first day of the event, the Section organised two sessions, both held in Italian, about the importance of volunteering on mental health: the first one was a lesson held by a psychotherapist that focused on the impact that volunteering can have and how it can be one of the best ways to express one’s love for life; the second session was a training organised by Pool of Trainers.
Starting from simple questions such as “What are the things that can influence the mental health of a foreign student when coming to Venezia?” the training moved to a proactive approach on how to address these issues: how can the Section, the University and the Institutions intervene to make the process of settling in easier?
The second day began with Venezia Football Club giving ESN Venezia tickets for a match: supporting the city's football club was an opportunity to make the Erasmus Students feel like citizens and not tourists for one day. This was a unique and complete experience: the stadium is located on an island, so you can reach it with a vaporetto and have an aperitivo before attending the match. “Mens sana in corpore sano”; after the game, to help achieve a healthier mind thanks to a healthier body, they organised a yoga lesson in Sant’Elena. Besides the activity, the participants also had the opportunity to experience a view of the Laguna and St Mark’s Basilica.
On the last day, ESN Venezia organised a round table during an aperitivo: the focus of the open discussion was about what ESN could do to positively impact the mental health of exchange students and make them feel part of the city they’re studying in.What’s Ahead of Us
This event led the Section to start wondering about their position in the city of Venezia. New activities they are organising aim to make ESN Venezia more involved in the city’s society and engage in something that can benefit Venezia thanks to their strength and proactivity.
Now the Erasmus students have stopped being only the target of the activities; they are active participants, making a massive difference for the city.
Some events that ESN Venezia is organising involve Addolciamo l’Autismo, a pastry shop run by people in the spectrum and a retirement home: during the last few weeks, several Erasmus students baked some typical, traditional pastries. They also participated in one of the most traditional activities of winter holidays, a Tombola in the retirement home.
This event and what the Section is now doing because of it is the perfect example of how a simple concept (the importance of mental health) can influence us and our work as volunteers to have a positive impact on the local communities, bringing the international students closer to them and helping their integration through active participation and volunteering.
“I want to provide a supportive environment for members and students”.
“My goal is to integrate students into the local community”.
With the Tunas Night event, ESN Évora won the Activity in the Spotlight in October, appointed by the Network Committee of ESN International. For local volunteers from Portugal, it is time to shine and let the world know about the factors that make their events unique.For starters
In case you are wondering, Évora is located in the South-East of Portugal. Its origins date back to antiquity and Celtic tribes living there before the Roman conquest.
There should be no question about the choice of international students that come to Évora to experience the rich culture. This semester alone, over one hundred students came here for their mobility and ESN Évora welcomed them with a warm spirit that made their arrival feel like home.The Event You’d Love to Be a Part of
Tunas Night is a common event for Welcome Week in Évora, as it allows the exchange students to encounter Portuguese culture through the typical "tuna" music groups that spread the perpetuity of academic spirit.
For the event, the participants gathered in an auditorium. The performance started with the opening act by the whole group, followed by the presentation of each member and the music itself. They wore traditional black clothes and their music filled the room with wonder. The entire tradition in the academic environment is unique. Additionally, mobility students are welcomed to see what praxe looks like. In Evora, there is a tradition of initiation - hazing - where the 3rd-year students involve 1st-year students in the community.The Family
ESN Évora currently has around 20 active members. What describes the section best is the word “teamwork”. It starts with creating an event calendar together, from preparing to helping out during the initiatives. They have their backs and support each other as they know that each opinion in their section matters.
“We can always count on each other, especially when it comes to decision-making. When we need a common opinion, we just ask, because they are really active, help as much as they can, brainstorm and simply make this section better” says Filipa, who is the local board member responsible for finance.Events Melting Pot
The members of ESN Évora take care of organising events that students would not come across anywhere else. There are also recurring events (such as karaoke or trivia nights) because they know their exchange students’ needs and interests.
“I entered the section during the pandemic, it was hard to motivate myself. Once I started meeting people and hanging out with mobility students, I realised that there’s a whole new world you can live in, and that’s inspiring: people are very different from each other but they still connect.”Getting connected - the power of collaborations
The section is active also in working together on joint projects. It is a way to help internationals in a variety of ways, yet with the same goals.
One of the collaborators is FEA - Fundação Eugénio de Almeida, which works on a voluntary basis as well. Another one is with a feminist group Núcleo Feminista de Évora, who participate in actions together on stopping violence against women or create a support group for minority groups.Having the impact
ESN Évora represents every bit of local heroes that truly care about the international newcomers. With such a spirit, they have a tangible impact on the academic community, steady contact with exchange students and the list of possibilities is constantly being developed, also through the power of local collaborations.
“Just when international students do something meaningful, they experience getting to know the community, and they don’t feel like outsiders”, explains Madalena, the local vice president. “To me, events through which we integrate international students can also be impactful because they mean students are not left alone. It can change their lives as well”, adds Filipa.
There is however one question that still needs to be answered: What’s the recipe for a successful ESN section?
“Not seeing each other as coworkers. You choose to work together and do it well while doing it. We became a family. Of course, sometimes we get annoyed with each other but that’s normal. At the end of the day, it’s amazing to see international students and ESN volunteers grow together”.
Stay tuned to their activities and follow their social media:
Activity in the Spotlight is a project led by ESN's Network Committee which features outstanding projects within the local associations of ESN to inspire others and learn about the diversity and impact of the Network.