Cluj Napoca is one of the biggest cities in Transylvania, a student’s city as it’s called. Full of youngsters and their newest “it”. Projects, mainstream, underground, activist, corporate, NGO etc., this city has almost everything except a seaside or skyscrapers. It is also home of a fairytale downtown, with old houses that would happily invite you in but they are still waiting for some painting or some creative graffiti to rejuvenate them.

As you walk towards Matei Corvin’s house, stepping on cobblestone and observing vendors opening their stands with traditional outfits or jewels there is a grey corner, hidden from the eye by Bistro Restaurant. This undercover corner camouflages a second-hand book shop, with spiral green stairs, which kindly invite you under a shroud of a frowzy but somehow pleasant odor, where a vendor, who is designing leather covers for his books, welcomes you in while timidly presenting his latest work. Above this bookshop there is Cluj-Napoca Volunteer Center, the place where EVS people come and go so I decided to sit for a talk with Ioana Bere, their PR and Program Coordinator. I cannot but smile while my eyes stop on her email ending note: “Print this message only if necessary. Reduce, recycle and reuse!”

How many EVSers did you receive so far?

Starting with 2010 we were able to welcome 74 people. Around 70% of them were involved in long term programs of 9-12 months. Most of them are from Germany, Spain, Italy and some from Portugal or Austria. From a national overview, there are a lot of people coming from Turkey as well, this program is a very well seen there. Surprisingly there are also many youngsters from the Baltic countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

What kind of programs can they find through CVC (Cluj-Napoca Volunteer Center)?

We have an annual program, which began in 2010, called 3G! Go. Give Gain. With focus upon animation with children from 5 different sections of Cluj County Hospital: surgery, pediatrics (x2), nephrology and psychiatry. Volunteers entertain the kids through different kind of activities such as origami, creative workshops, face painting, jugglers, Puppet Theater etc. This is our constant project given the huge need of creating some activities for the hospitalized kids.

We also had some projects in schools, within the foreign language classes, where volunteers engaged in multicultural activities, where they were provoking the students to discover new nations and cultures. Last year we started going in the rural areas as well. Here the professors are more welcoming and also more excited about what we do. The kids are enthusiastic for meeting foreigners, people who do not speak Romanian and who, on top of this, are volunteers.

Now we are working on a possible collaboration with Reactor, an independent theatre, and we hope we will be able to link volunteering with this area.

What other volunteering programs coordinated by the EU would you recommend?

Well there is EU Aid volunteers Building in Resilience which is centered on the community not the volunteer. Compared with EU Aid, EVS focuses more on a learning experience, an educational program whereas EU Aid encourages professional volunteers to go into developing countries and help communities with specific needs such as education or urban development.

What comes in mind when you think of volunteers and your interactions with them?

It feels really nice observing their evolution through their stay. There are a lot of them who are really young, 18-19 years old, most of them from Germany or Austria, and you just see them gaining confidence in themselves. It is like they wake up little by little and they learn new things, not something out of the ordinary, but it is clear enough that it encourages them into growing faster.

They live in a new environment, they have to interact with completely new people, no more spoiling from their mommies and they need to take care of themselves. They are quite out of their comfort zone and if at the begging of the program they are too shy to go to the immigration services on their own, by the end of the year they already know the community, their areas of interests and they might start developing personal projects.

One girl even wrote a book for kids inspired by her own experience here, it was about a little girl who discovered a whole new world. It is their choice how to use their free time, you can have the best year of your life or just witness as another one just passed by.

This year we even had 10 volunteers who came back to visit us through some other international activities, of which we informed them about. Maybe their decision was also influenced by the context given the fact that Cluj-Napoca is the European Youth Capital 2015. Other 4 people who met during their EVS in 2012 agreed gathering here. We also have our first EVS who decided to move in Cluj Napoca, he is form Spain but he managed to learn Romanian very well and he accommodated quickly.

Before meeting Ioana I explored their website a bit and I stumbled upon some really nice feedback from their previous volunteers:

„Hello! I am Lisa form Austria and I was a CVC volunteer in Cluj Napoca within 3G. Go. Give. Gain project. In Cluj I spent 12 months and half, meeting new and extraordinary people who inspired me with their total different lifestyle and perspectives upon life. I can definitely say that I fell in love with the atmosphere of volunteering and I am sure that I will never forget all of the beautiful experience that I have gained. “

Travelling is the best experience one can have to learn new things about herself, but volunteering + travelling seems to be the perfect adventure to figure things out on our own.