We spoke with Kamil Goungor, Chair of EDF Youth Committee. He is also working as the Policy and Movement Support Officer for our member ENIL (European Network on Independent Living), as well as one of the co-founders and board members of i-living, the Independent Living Organization of Greece.
He is actively involved in the Independent Living movement both in Greece and abroad, as well as in the fields of disability and youth in general. We discussed with him what it means to be a volunteer and the importance of inclusive volunteering.
Question: Kamil you were one of the volunteers at ENIL. It would be interesting to know if there is any change since you were a volunteer and now?
Yes, indeed, I had the opportunity to volunteer for ENIL and Onafhankelijk Leven (the Flemish independent living organisation) in 2015-2016, doing the European Voluntary Service (EVS), under Erasmus+. From what I know, back then disabled volunteers in Erasmus+ were not really common, and budget for personal assistance was even less common (not sure if it’s true, but I was told I was the first receiving PA budget in the region). Nowadays, more and more disabled youngsters are volunteering abroad (ENIL hosts a 1-2 every year since I finished) and it is easier to get financial support for PA and other access or support needs. So things are better today, but there is still a lot to improve.
Question: Which are the benefits of hosting volunteers for your organisations?
There are numerous benefits, not only for ENIL (and any other organisation), but also for the disabled youngsters, the disability movement and the society. Our organisation not only got valuable volunteering support (in many areas, from organising events to artistic design of logos etc) from very skilled and nice people, but we also benefited and developed ourselves, improved the way we work, and also proved to everyone that it’s possible to host disabled volunteers and that they provide great value. The volunteers themselves, got a unique opportunity to work at and international and diverse environment, met the leaders of the movement, connected with other people and organisations, learned things and acquired new skills, developed themselves and some took the opportunity and changed the direction of their lives (for example the facts that I am working today for ENIL and that I am EDF’s Youth Committee chair is thanks to my volunteering experience back then. Also, one of our other volunteers, Mher, is now a valuable part of the EDF secretariat team!). The disability and the independent living movement got some of their future leaders through this process, and finally society and local communities got more diverse, while people and organisations realised the value of such volunteering opportunities for everyone.
Question: Are there any challenges and which ones?
We don’t live in fair, inclusive and accessible societies yet, and therefore yes, there are barriers when we try to have disabled volunteers. The bureaucratic monster is one of the biggest challenges, as you and the potential volunteer always have to fight to get the support needed, especially the necessary budget for personal assistance (sometimes it is not enough and you have to compromise or to get creative). Also, there are practical obstacles like the inaccessibility of Brussels, which makes it difficult to find accessible accommodation within a reasonable price, and the lack of accessible transport is challenging as well. In addition, what if something happens with the PA of the volunteer? We need to be ready and flexible to solve potentially critical situations. Then sometimes there are issues like with visa for people out of the EU, and with finding and arranging everything the volunteer might need, like physiotherapy or assistive devices (portability of rights among European countries would make this much easier). Finally, in the times of pandemic, there are new challenges like travel restrictions, shifting to teleworking (which is sometimes suggested to disabled people “because it’s easier”, but it is a clear discrimination), the balance with PA duties etc. So yes, there are challenges for an inclusive volunteering experience, but, as I said before, there are more benefits! And we at ENIL prove every year that it is possible and worth it!
Question: If how could the EU improve to help young people with disabilities to easier access volunteering opportunities?
EU is doing some good work on this already, and, as I said, more and more disabled youngsters are enjoying European Solidarity Corps and other volunteering opportunities. However, as we saw, there are still many barriers that EU should address. First of all, reduce the bureaucracy and paperwork and make it easier (and sexier) for organisations to host disabled volunteers. Flexibility is a key element, during the whole volunteering period, as unexpected issues might occur, but especially in the beginning (you are asked to specify the budget, but you cannot really know it before you know your candidate and talk together about their needs). Increasing financing would help even more to ensure that disabled people will have all their needs met (sometimes it is not the case, as you might get budget for only one PA, but you might need more, and then this one PA has to be there 24/7 for all the months – which is very challenging for both the disabled person and the PA). Better promotion of the existing possibilities is important too, not only for disabled people to learn about them, but also for organisations and national agencies, which sometimes are not fully aware and cannot support disabled youngsters adequately.
Question: Coud you share some recommendations for organisations that would like to host volunteers with disabilities?
As I wrote above, hosting disabled volunteers is a great experience for everyone and gives added value to your organisation’s work and mission. In terms of practicality, always have a person-centered approach and try to shape the programme around the skills and access needs of the particular volunteer (each volunteer has different talents and needs). Always talk with all parties involved (volunteer, national agency etc), explain everything clearly and clarify all needs from the beginning. The more you know the better will the project be organised. Be flexible, from budget and working conditions, to unexpected issues (for example you need to be swift in case the PA gets injured or disappears). Establish a good connection with your national agency, as you will be in touch a lot and might need to address some challenges together. And finally go for it, host disabled volunteers and enjoy the experience!