Nives is an 18-year-old high schooler who’s been volunteering with Slovene Philanthropy for more than two years. She’s into sports, but also interested in arts – writing, film, theatre -, she also likes to travel. We talked to her in the summer, during an international youth exchange titled ‘Find Yourself’.
You’re attending this exchange, organised by Slovene Philanthropy, for the third time now – this time also in the role of a youth leader. Can you tell us what all these experiences gave you?
I heard that there are volunteers, underage refugees and asylum seekers among attendees, which seemed like a good opportunity for meeting new people, but I wasn’t quite sure about what to expect. Turns out that this experience was priceless for me. I think I underwent an enormous personal change, I have a different view of the world since then and I see things from a wider perspective. Meeting refugees my age shook me to the core, because I learnt that people even younger than I am lived through things that I’ve only seen in films or books. Seeing those things that way can make them seem very remote, but when you meet people who actually went through awful stuff, you realise that it’s real and very common. So far, the exchange was a special experience every year, because the attendees aren’t always the same – some come more than once and some are new. I have to admit I hesitated before deciding to go this year, because I thought I’ve experienced everything I could at this kind of thing, but I’m not sorry I chose to come. Sometimes you don’t hang out with some people one year, but connect with them much better the next, and there are always new faces. Human beings have so many different sides and layers, which means you can’t really get to know someone in ten days; we also change constantly.
What do you think your life would be like if you didn’t experience these exchanges?
My life would be quite boring and empty without the exchange. I probably wouldn’t be aware of that, but I’d miss it a lot if someone took it away from me. I made friends with some people from London and wanderlust took hold of me – they offered to host me there, which is great. What I really liked this year is also that we hung out together within the Slovenian group for the first time, we weren’t scattered around like last years. Even though the purpose of the exchange is of course the exchange between cultures, it’s nevertheless nice to get closer with and talk with the ones in your group. It’s interesting to get to know Slovenians in a new way. There was a lot of sincere kindness between all of us in general, and almost no drama or conflict.
What will stay with you from this years’ experience when you return home?
I will definitely take home more motivation for continuing my projects. During the school year you usually fall into a routine, despite loving what you do. This exchange kicks me out of that routine, and at the same time gives me drive and new ideas. Here, you can think easier, ideas and visions become clearer, maybe because we spend so much time surrounded with nature and fresh air. I’m currently trying to write a book and was at a dead end before I arrived here, I didn’t know how to continue – but now I have a lot of fresh ideas and am looking forward to putting them on paper. The last year of high school is in front of me and I’m honestly not looking forward to it, but I came to a realisation about that at the exchange: school is not the most important thing in the world. Of course you have to finish it, but there are so many other things that are worthy of your energy and effort! It’s better to invest it into projects and ideas that make you happy, than to be stressed out because of school.
You’ve been volunteering with Slovene Philanthropy for a couple of years now, helping migrants learn the language or study. How did you learn about this work and who do you help?
For the last two years, I’ve been helping a family from Congo (their four children, who go to primary school) to study, before them was a boy from Afghanistan and this year I’ll probably help a girl from Syria. It all started with finding a catalogue of volunteering opportunities for youth, and migration being a very hot topic at the time. It was at the time of the ‘migration wave/crisis’ in 2016 and everyone had an opinion about it, everyone acted as if they knew everything there is to know. I just wanted to help somebody and was a little curious about who these people are. I had this humanitarian urge, and a certain feeling of obligation to help.
Do you think that this feeling of obligation is typical for your generation or not?
I don’t think that they don’t have it, but it’s true that some of them are quite lazy. Either they really don’t have any energy or they’re too busy with their problems. I know many active and engaged young people, but I participate in a lot of events and workshops, connected with activism, where you inevitably meet this kind of youth. If I only knew people from school, I’d find it hard to believe that anyone else is trying to change the world for the better. There definitely is youth with a feeling of obligation or duty towards building a solidary community, but there aren’t many willing to actually do something about it.
You’re a part of your school’s theatre group, for which you also wrote the play Project: HOME(land). What’s the play about and what were the responses?
The play is about how Slovenians see and accept refugees and migrants, who are either coming or we think they’re coming to Slovenia. I gathered the material from my volunteering experiences, from the refugees I know and from articles I read during research. The play is also about the Arab Spring and different political events, which influenced the flow of migration; and about the when and the why of migration. A big part of the play was also Muhammad, who I met at the exchange. He’s 16 now and a very inspiring person with a very difficult life story. I’ve known him for a year, throughout which he attended school, had a job, went to his trainings, all in all being very independent for his age. He appears in the play and recites his poem, because he writes poetry in his spare time, among other things. There are six actors in the play and they brought a lot of fresh, positive energy to it, portraying the script nicely. Although the theme is serious, the play isn’t depressing, and the responses to it were very positive. When we performed it at school I really didn’t know what to expect, because not all the viewers are very tolerant towards migrants, but at the end they received it surprisingly well.
How do your peers react to your social activism, especially concerning migrants?
At school, they admire me and my work is accepted in a positive way. There are comments of the kind ‘Where do you get the energy, what’s in it for you?’, but most people support me. When it comes to whom I’m helping, it really depends. My friends are very open-minded, none of them is hostile towards migrants. I’d have trouble spending time with people who have those kinds of extreme and hateful views anyway. Some of the others think the coming migrants pose a threat to Europe and that crime has spiked because of them, but they bring this kind of thinking from home, from their parents. It really depends from person to person, it’s hard to generalise.
What would be your message or advice to your peers?
I understand that we all live our lives the way we want to. Some decide to spend time for studying, some for trainings and sports, others for nothing special. My message is especially for those spending time for nothing special: find a life goal, ask yourself what you want to become and where you see yourself in the future. Work on the premise ‘My idol is who I’ll be in 10 years’. However, I also understand we’re all different and not everyone has ambitions, everybody has their own path. Maybe the only word of advice I’d really like to offer is to be aware you’re not alone in this world. I hope we’re not the last generation, so let’s try to protect nature and other living beings!
Slovene Philanthropy organises youth exchanges with the purpose of offering the youth an experience of intercultural cooperation, sensitizing them to differences and encouraging them to become agents of an open and solidary society.
Zavod Movit, the Slovenian National Agency of Erasmus+ programme, has recognised meaning in the project; the European Commission supported the project with funds, which enabled the quality in the programme and free participation for youth.