Worldwide Friends, also known as Veraldarvinir (in Icelandic) was founded in 2001 as a non-governmental, non-profit organization promoting nature and peace orientated activities for people interested in spending some time in Iceland as volunteers.
The main task they develop are workcamps, exchange programs and educational seminars. At the same time, Veraldarvinir offers to the icelandic youth the opportunity to go abroad also with european programs like EVS or workcamps.
However, there are pretty few Icelandic volunteers, whereby voluntary movement is being performed only in one direction. But why does this happen? What factors influence the unpopularity of EVS in Iceland?
I talked with several Icelandic young people (in informal conversations) to ask them some questions:
- Do you know the EVS program in Europe?
- Why do you think this program is not popular in Iceland?
- Do you like to travel or prefer to stay in Iceland?
- Would you like to be volunteer and travel around Europe?
I found it a pleasant experience because I have also served as a bridge of communication, because here in Iceland, the main problem is the people doesn´t know about European projects. Also because Iceland is not yet formally adhered to the European Union, the general feeling of the Icelanders is they don´t belong to this European society normal for us.
Icelanders are very social people (much more in the city than in rural areas, as I already wrote) and like to chat with outsiders. When I say I’m EVS I have to explain what is the volunteering service, because nobody has any idea!
I found young people who say they love to travel, even a very special case of a boy who has traveled throughout Europe for the pleasure of knowing different languages. He speaks Icelandic, English, Italian, German and a little Spanish too. But he does not know about EVS. When I mentioned the types of projects we do, he seemed very interested, even he was volunteer last year in a project that also involved veraldarvinir: RIFF (Reykjavik international film festival).
I talked with other Icelandic girl who knows the program and has several friends who have been EVS. She offered me an interesting point of view about Icelandic society.
First, as for us in Canary Islands, for Icelanders travel is very difficult due to the remoteness and insularity. Leaving the country is to be compulsorily by plane, which is never a particularly cheap option. The arrival of cheap flying companies to Iceland is relatively recent and is not yet well integrated into society the option of going abroad more regularly.
This girl also told me that people in Iceland are afraid or insecure to travel alone and organize trips with friends or partners is always more complicated.
And last and the most interesting to me, has been the revelation that in this country people do not know how to travel cheaply, in Iceland the standard of living is high and the Icelanders accepted as normal to pay high prices. In this economic culture are not used to have promotions or discounts on clothing or even in supermarkets. Thus, do not know how to look for cheaper options when traveling, do not compare prices in different transports (for I had not known the use of train or bus networks overseas because here these infrastructures do not exist) and therefore no knowledge of any achievable method to leave the country.
Even the Erasmus program is not too popular with Icelanders, less the rest of Youth in Action programs. But it seems that these young people are beginning to react and they will take the opportunities, so do not be surprised if soon you begin to have Icelandic closer partnerships!