Maria Stella Conte

Sometimes a small chance can change the direction of our lives for the better.

Maria Stella Conte

By doing my European Solidarity Corps (ESC) project with Voluntary Service International (VSI), my project is literally putting the ‘you’ in youth work, or in this case, the ‘me’ in youth work. I hadn’t heard of the ESC project before stumbling onto the opportunity to volunteer with VSI for 12 months as their Communications and Marketing Officer. The opportunity had a popped at time when I felt unsure of where I stood with myself and my future, and the pandemic definitely did not help that feeling. I appreciated the opportunity to self-develop and saw it as a mental escape from the immediate reality of being stuck inside with no real opportunity to grow or develop skills. It was great to meet new people and become part of a national and international community of organisations and individuals. I loved that I was able to get stuck into a new role and learn new things that were completely outside of my comfort zone, even while being online.

The interesting thing about my ESC project is that I’m both a young person volunteer myself, benefitting from the youth sector, but I’m also participating in youth work as part of my role in VSI. While being a volunteer sending organisation, one of our aims is to support the personal and professional development of young people. It’s been really exciting to be a part of the youth work sector that makes critical contributions to the life-long development of the skills and aptitudes of young people by getting them involved in challenging and progressive learning activities. This is exactly what has resonated with me so much during my time with VSI: their support and encouragement for lifelong learning and the way they have challenged my way of thinking and opened my mind up to new ideas and concepts that I hadn’t come across in my formal education.

Sometimes I think it can be difficult to first recognise the benefits of the learning effects of non-formal learning but thanks to my involvement in both youth work and with VSI, I have grown both personally and professionally. VSI have definitely encouraged me to become more active in local and global society and to not be afraid to be more vocal in my work and activism. And by helping me find my voice, I also just feel more self-confident in general, and ready tackle my future head on. Sometimes a small chance can change the direction of our lives for the better.