A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE
By Paul Claes, EFIL Secretary-General
2014 will be remembered as the year of the AFS Centennial celebrations. The AFS global network met in Paris to honour the courage, spirit, vision and legacy of the founders – the World War I and II ambulance drivers of the American Field Service, who later transformed the American Field Service from a wartime volunteer humanitarian aid programme into a ground breaking international secondary school student exchange programme. The events in Paris not only honoured the past, they also focused on celebrating the present, and on exploring and shaping the future, the direction, the thinking and the impact of AFS as we look ahead to the next 100 years.
In the past year the EFIL board met in Milan, Madrid and Brussels. We welcomed new Board members Jatta Erlund, Andrea Franzoi and Ragnar Thorvardarson. Jörn Lehmann stayed on as the Board’s Chair. In the EFIL office in Brussels the five permanent staff were happy to work with dedicated interns Loredana Crucitti, Roberta Arbinolo, Tara Tarabtseva, Frederik Brinck Jensen, Marin Björt Valtysdottir, Paola Cana and Giuseppina Nappi.
Advocacy has gained further importance in EFIL’s activities. EFIL was present at several relevant events, and as a member of European platforms and working groups, EFIL has closely followed up on developments in Europe, participating in the political and lobbying processes under way in the field of educational exchanges and citizenship building. In 2014 EFIL organised its first e-learning course on advocacy.
EFIL’s annual flagship projects no longer need an introduction. The sixth edition of our European Citizenship Trimester Programme with the closing camp in Brussels enjoyed the participation of close to 250 young people from across the continent. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than 200 volunteers from 29 countries gathered for the seventh edition of the EFIL Volunteer Summer Summit. For the seventh year running, on the last Thursday of September, EFIL and the Member Organisations reached out to the public on our Europe-wide Intercultural Dialogue Day, a celebration of culture and diversity all across Europe. EFIL organised its second IDD Quiz in Brussels, targeting international organisations and more in particular the AFS EuroNet group of AFS returnees living and working in and around Brussels. 2014 saw EFIL’s third participation as co-organiser of the Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange, taking place in Vienna, Austria.
Next to these large scale annual projects, several highly appreciated EFIL training events, seminars and meetings took place, targeting AFS volunteers (training events in Budapest, Hamburg, Jahorina, Krakow and Mollina), and staff of the national AFS offices (meetings in Colle, Oslo and a retreat for National Directors in Malaga). Substantial funding was raised by EFIL for the majority of these training activities, mainly through the European institutions, including several successful funding applications under the EU’s new Erasmus+ programme.
Efforts were put in the further development of our young Partner Organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Further steps have been taken towards establishing AFS structures in Romania and Bulgaria. Contacts were made with volunteers in the UK and with EIL in Ireland with a view on a soon to be launched cooperation, mainly focusing on participation in ECTP.
Last but not least, I would like to extend a sincere word of thanks to the numerous people who have supported EFIL in 2014, sparing no time or effort to keep things moving and help us improve our services: the staff and Boards of the national offices and of AFS International; members of the EPOT, EPOR and TICLAB; the wonderful AFS volunteers all over Europe who participated in our activities and helped us with the coordination of events as members of the preparatory teams, support teams and trainers teams; and last but not least my very own Board and my dear colleagues at the EFIL secretariat in Brussels, without whom none of the above would have happened.
I wish you all the very best for an unforgettable 2015.