I am an EVS volunteer in Kumanovo, I work for CID for two months and one is still ahead of me. So three months in Macedonia! Sounds very interesting for a Slovakian student of ethnology, who is working on a PhD thesis about migration. When I saw this project „Volunteering for acceptance and tolerance“ (recommended by friend) on the internet and I did not have a doubt that I have to apply for it.
Thanks to the direct flights from Bratislava to Skopje, my first flight took only something more than one hour and a half. For the first time alone in Macedonia I had to just go to Skopje and catch a bus to Kumanovo, which was easier than I thought. Despite some problems with my phone and contacting another volunteer who was supposed to wait for me in Kumanovo, I ended up in the right place and the next three months started.
The activities of the project are divided into two sections: three days in a week we spend and work with children in MultiКулти youth center, and two days we spend in the refugee transition camp in Tabanovce near the Macedonian-Serbian border, which is just a few kilometers away from Kumanovo. My main role as a volunteer here is too do activities with children on one side and with refugees on the other side to fill their time with something, have fun, or learn something new.
I have to say that this work with completely new people from different countries is a very interesting and great experience for me, through this experience I can learn a lot about this country, but also about the wider cultural area. In Slovakia we have a lot of negative stereotypes about people from the Balkan area, some would say that travelling to countries in this area (except of Slovenia and Croatia) is a risk, but when you live here for some time, you can see a great diversity which totally ruins the ideas about some general „uncivilised“ mindset of the area. Probably even the worse thinking is connected in Slovakia to refugees, usually spread by people who have never seen any refugees from North Africa or the Middle East. My personal feeling after seeing the people in the camp is that all these characters and attitudes I can find in every European country, without exceptions, so there is no reason not to cooperate and try to live together in peace, preserving basic human dignity for everybody.
I came here with certain opinions about refugees and about Macedonia and I have to say that the reality does not force me to change them. It makes them stronger and makes me look on the situation in a wider context, which is very important and I am so glad about it. In three months I had a lot of oportunities to travel around and to get to know better the life here. I have oportunities to compare (not only) Macedonia with Slovakia for example. One of the first things that came to my mind (maybe not only to my mind) that life standards of people living here are lower than in countries of the European Union. Of course, it does not mean that they have nothing to offer. Beautiful nature, interesting cities with wealthy history, but not a lot tourists, which is probably a pity for locals, but it is very nice to be places that are not overcrowded with McDonalds or Starbucks at every corner. As an ethnologist, for me it is more interesting to see the authentic life of people in their places and not only the standard life of higher classes in fancy tourist restaurants in some big city. So this is the reason I am really enjoying my stay in Kumanovo.
Friends and family asked me: why the Balkans? why Macedonia? Because at the same time it is different and very similar to everything I know from my home. Sometimes I feel nostalgia here, for example when I am at green market buying fruits from local producers, it reminds me of the 90´s in my hometown, when I was a small kid buying fruit and vegetables with my parents in the similar market which does not exist anymore. The same happens with old communist cars, which I remember from my childhood; in Slovakia they disappeared, but here I can still see them in a bigger amount.
About various countries and groups of people you can learn a lot from the books, but meeting the locals and refugees, talking to them, listening to them is also very helpful in education and I would say more important. I may have different opinions from people I met here, but with everybody I was talking we could find some common opinions, ideas, values and it gives me positive thoughts about the future of this magical country, area and Europe as a Europe. The basic thing is education and communication with people and I am happy that I had this oportunity here in Kumanovo to get know more about people living here, helping here or people passing by looking for the better future for them and their families.
Thanks for the opportunity to be here and thanks to all the people sharing this experience with me. It is giving me a lot.