My volunteering at Svitac (Firefly) – Ben Owens, UK
My name is Ben, I am from Manchester, England, and for the past ten months I have been volunteering in Bosnia, at Svitac (Firefly), acting as a music coordinator for the NGO. My time at Svitac (Firefly) involved much more than what I had signed up for as a music teacher, which suited me just fine.
After I graduated university back in 2013, I wandered around in a somewhat aimless state. Jobs came and went and the length between them started to grow. I grew bored in my last vocation, as a bartender. The work was good, but it just could not quench my yearning for exploration and adventure and the unknown.
The opportunity to work at Svitac (Firefly) presented itself rather shyly, many pages deep into a job search engine, saying how this NGO worked in the heart of Bosnia’s multi-cultural free city of Brcko. And how it was doing good there, and making a difference; teaching the youth of Brcko foreign languages, keeping them entertained and energised with sports and artistic activities, offering me the opportunity to travel to a country deep within the continent of Europe, at a time I felt a lesser European thanks to the events of Brexit.
Jumping at the opportunity to travel, to do good, and to feel connected to a larger part of the global community, I signed up. And within two months, I was on a plane heading for Belgrade and a new chapter.
Upon arrival, the values of equality and tolerance were instantly felt and something to be admired, as I learnt more of the region’s recent history. Svitac (Firefly) promotes care and togetherness to all who come into contact with the NGO, and the people who man the helm to keep it all going.
Though when I first arrived I did not have much knowledge of the region, its culture – and by proxy its language – I was raring for the chance to learn through total immersion. Feel my way through, as it were, and with Svitac (Firefly) that was an easy task. Local volunteers, attendees of the many workshops that are available, parents and guardians of the attendees would always have something new to teach me about the local area, the language, or even just a kind word to say about the organisation as a whole.
In volunteering through EVS to Svitac (Firefly), I had the great opportunity to live and work with some incredible people from across the globe. Painters, activists, students, illustrators, musicians, polyglots, writers, gossipers, the overbearing, and the soft spoken, were the people that I got to spend each and every one of my days with. To learn from. To teach with. And that is something that I will always be thankful for.
The organisation in of itself is a truly wonderful entity. An NGO that is true to it’s name; a non-governmental organisation, with no leanings in any direction. With a schedule splitting at the seams with sports, the arts, languages, mathematics, information technologies, all being taught and shared by a community of global, informal educators, makes Svitac (Firefly) a shining example of modern Bosnia.
Brcko is a town placed across the river from Croatia, and it is located not too far from the Serbian border, which makes it the place to be if you want to go anywhere. The streets are scarcely trodden and heavily blanketed with snow in the winter, and in the summer the streets come alive with tourists and visiting relatives to the point of looking like the foot traffic of a major city. All the while, regardless of season, the cafes blare hit music both locally and internationally sourced.
Whilst living and volunteering in Brcko, I had the opportunity to do such incredible things. Some weird and wonderful things, and some that cause me to smile with each recollection.
Sat out in the three-foot deep snow conjugating verbs, reciting poetry to an auditorium near full of people, listening to children of four speaking to me in the English I helped in teaching them, all the early mornings and late nights writing up lesson plans, and all the coffees… So much coffee.
I have learnt a lot from volunteering at Svitac (Firefly). From learning to learn, acquiring the patience to teach, finding better and more creative ways in which to communicate with others, I feel that my ten months in Brcko were well spent and have been some of my favourite to date. I look forward to returning to this beautiful country, and to once again come and volunteer at Svitac (Firefly). After all that I have done here, in being part of this small community, I feel a part of the Europe I so wanted to feel closer to. Thank you for all that you have done for me. I will never forget my time at Svitac (Firefly).
Ben Owens, UK
Svitac (Firefly), EVS Music coordinator, 2nd November 2016 – 2nd September 2017