Summer is the favourite season of many AFS volunteers and not only because of vacations and the weather but because summer is the season of the Volunteer Summer Summit (VSS). This year the VSS was supported by the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe and gathered 115 AFS volunteers and staff members from 31 different partners that run AFS programmes. Among those were 27 EFIL Member Organisations along with AFS Argentina and Uruguay, AFS Chile, AFS Dominican Republic and AFS Japan.
Following in the footsteps of France, Turkey, Hungary, Portugal, Latvia, Denmark, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Germany and Italy the host of this year´s VSS was AFS Iceland. This makes Iceland the 10th destination on the journey of the sunflower, the mascot of the VSS, around Europe. The participants were welcomed at the venue Hellishólar under the notorious Eyjafjallajökull on the south coast of Iceland. There they got to experience Icelandic summer and all the different elements that make the VSS such a special event.
The theme of this year’s VSS was Equal Opportunities and participants were offered space to engage in discussion, project building, best practice sharing, intercultural learning, critical thinking and a lot of fun. Participants explored equal opportunities in workshops dedicated to 5 different tracks: Organising Inclusive Intercultural Exchange Programs; Reflecting on their Habits in Dealing with Differences; Examining the Role of Intercultural Learning in Promoting Equal Opportunities; and Exploring what Inclusive Leadership and Volunteering mean in AFS.
To facilitate these workshops a team of experienced EPOT (EFIL European Pool of Trainers) trainers was recruited. Together with the trainers, the prep– and support team formed the team behind the whole event. We were lucky to have such a hardworking and amazing team that made this VSS an unforgettable one. With all their “behind the scenes” work they offered participants space to work together and develop not only in workshops but throughout the whole event.
The support team then made sure nobody was bored and offered a variety of leisure activities between other programme elements. They also prepared an Icelandic night where participants got to know local culture, food and traditions. In return the participants had the opportunity to introduce their own culture to the others at the well-known Bazaar Night. The participants also took part in a community project where they got to select between different tasks to give a helping hand to the local community.
We want to thank AFS Iceland for being a great host for the VSS and for all the help and support it provided as a host country. We are extremely grateful to all the volunteers and staff members of AFS Iceland that had a role in making the dream of a VSS in Iceland come true. As the VSS finishes we at the EFIL office are lucky to keep our EVS volunteer, Valentina Milanese, for a little while longer as her internship finishes at the end of this year. At the same time we welcome our new intern (also an EVS volunteer), Alma Dóra Ríkarðsdóttir, to the EFIL office.
For those who missed the handover of the sunflower, the next VSS will be hosted by AFS Norway. The venue is at Utøya Island close to Oslo where volunteers will discuss and work on the theme of Civic Education against Extremism. We are excited to see as many motivated AFS´ers as possible there next summer, so until then: See you in Norway!