ESC in Slovenia

Dates: 1.3.2021 – 28.2.2022

Venue: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Programme: European Solidarity Corps

Participants: Petra Novotná, Michaela Synková


How it all started

Míša and I applied for two volunteer positions in Zavod Voluntariat, a non-profit organization based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Míša, an artsy creative soul applied for graphic designer position, and I, an organized planner-lover applied for the position of SCI placement officer and a coordinator of the Club of Volunteers (without knowing much what it actually means, to be honest). We’ve known each other for 24 years and when we discovered this project, we were deliberating whether it’s smart to apply together or whether it might disadvantage us. During one of our interviews we decided to mention our common history and in the end it turned out to be a great choice. The organization was looking for independent volunteers with a strong sense of self-initiative – and this is much easier to be done in a team where you know the other person so well.

And so in March 2021 we started a year-long experience in Slovenia, which was, in some ways, the longest “professional” commitment for both of us yet. In the beginning, the idea of one whole year in one place was a bit scary and brought a lot of doubts, but barely half-way through the project we realized that the time flies way faster than we expected. And that’s a good sign:)


Ljubljana and Slovenia

Ljubljana can be very well described by one word – cute. The castle rising above the town, old town streets, a river flowing through the center surrounded by cafés, bars and restaurants with all-year-long outside terraces, and omnipresent cyclists on stylish city bikes with front baskets… Can you see the picture? Ljubljana is the perfect size city, smaller than Brno, but still offering anything you could ask for, compact but fun, simply, a very welcoming city from the very first day. (However, this doesn’t mean you cannot get lost on your first day to work and arrive almost one hour later, ehm…)

The best thing about Slovenia is that for such a small country, you can find almost all types of landscape you can think of. Incredibly blue rivers (this was a genuine cultural shock for me), beautiful meadows with little barns, mountains (like actual big mountains), waterfalls, sea… And all this easily during one weekend.

Our work

Zavod Voluntariat’s team was small – we were 5 in total, and the use of English language during our presence wasn’t even a question for the Slovenian team.

Our work was based on self-initiative, which gave us an opportunity to make it really variable and colourful. Míša was creating various promotional materials, and graphics for the social media, or even the Voluntariat’s website. I was taking care of the volunteers arriving to Slovenia from abroad for our summer project and Slovenian volunteers interested in joining a project abroad. Together and with the help of our colleague Marko we were also organizing events for the Club of Volunteers. The events were held approximately twice a month and gave us basically an unlimited space for creativity and realization of our own ideas. In the beginning of March we sat down, took the biggest flipchart we could find and wrote down any little idea. This way, each of us got the opportunity to organize something that was close to their heart.

We organized an online game night, multiple jam sessions which became a tradition, sunset watching, clothes swap, french evening and pancakes cooking workshop with our friend/French intern, visited a local kindergarten and made seedbombs (little balls of clay, soil and seeds which grow into flowers) with the kids, or played a scavenger hunt in the center of the city with over 20 people. In spring we were all hit by yet another lockdown, which gave us an idea to ask people for pictures of their safe spaces. Later in April, when Ljubljana became alive again, we organized an open air exhibition of these pictures in the center of the city. You can have a look at the online version here.

Sometimes, the ideas for events just fell into our laps, like when Míša noticed a group of people with Colombian flags in the center of the city. She asked them what they were doing and after they explained the current political situation and violently repressed demonstrations against the new tax reform, we agreed to hold two debates to raise awareness about the issues in Colombia. One of those two was even streamed online and gained a major audience.

During all these events we met many of our close friends who became an inseparable part of our lives here. These friends were also our regular and loyal participants. For them we also organized the last event of our project, which was an amazing concert of a band from our hometown in Czech Republic. When we saw all our friends in the audience, the full concert room, we couldn’t resist reflecting on our past year and thinking how lucky we were to create such a safety net in Ljubljana.


Our personal projects

As is the good tradition of ESC volunteering, we also had the opportunity to work on our personal projects, meaning anything that makes sense to you and you want to share it with the world. Míša is passionate about drawing, and so she managed to immerse the whole office (and especially me) into the sketchnoting and graphic facilitation method. We organized 7 workshops about these topics in total and my obsession with stationery and markers shifted to another level (or finally got a sense of practicality and professionality – yes, let’s call it that). I became a facilitator for a Climate Fresk, an interactive educational workshop about causes and consequences of climate change. Together we were not only supporting each other, being each other’s participants, but also enriched each other’s personal project by climate knowledge and fun and systematic note-taking.

… last but not least

Of course not everything was perfect (5 girls in one apartment, you can imagine), but in the end all challenges brought us something positive and were a big opportunity for learning (it’s a cliche, but it’s true). Our lives will never be the same due to the number of new experiences, new life paths opening and new relations, but also due to the amount of self-learning we made during the past year. Our project is officially over, but it is not the end of our Ljubljana story and its follow-ups anywhere in the world for either of us.

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