Path towards inclusion

Author: Greet Jans
This article is product of the project My Europe.
Reporting on European youth from the different parts of the continent. Young journalists from different countries and different media organizations are working all together to show how dynamic and innovative is the youth of Europe.
European media makers from Mladi Info (, Euradio Nantes (, Journal Europa ( and European Youth Press ( are reporting here on the topics of Gender equality, Youth unemployment, Volunteering and Intergenerational solidarity.
Let’s deal with the topics which were, are or will be in the European agenda. But… in a different way, showing our own vision on what the young people of Europe create and invent to answer those big issues. In a personal approach, our young reporters are analysing how is the youth involved in civil society, to create another way of building the continent.
Project is supported by the fund of Nantes Creative Generations
This is our Europe, this is My Europe.

2011 was declared as the European Year of the volunteer and therefore among others lately a lot of attention is given to the European Voluntary Service-program (EVS) from the European Commission. EVS is getting more and more known and strives to give youngsters the chance to develop themselves personally and professionally by volunteering abroad. Mostly participants in voluntary projects are well-educated and have a good socio-economical situation. What about those who are not?

EVS is part of the Youth in Action program (YiA) of the European Commission which aims on creating a sense of active citizenship, solidarity and tolerance among European youngsters. YiA claims to be in favor of all young people regardless of their educational, social and cultural background. In this framework, social inclusion is also mentioned as one of the main objectives. Nevertheless situations where EVS is used by vulnerable target groups are not that well known or widespread. Luckily there are some who try to change this and let everyone benefit of this easy accessible framework for volunteering. One of them is Henk Persyn.

Finding self-confidence

Henk Persyn, Belgian 41 years old, calls since 7 years Ljubljana his home and is one of the leading forces behind Zavod Manipura. Next to this, he also works as a part-time trainer regularly for “Support, Advanced Learning and Training Opportunities within the European YOUTH program“ (SALTO-Youth) and Salto-Inclusion resource center.
He explains that the chakra Manipura, which is considered as the centre of dynamism, energy, willpower and achievement, stands for the force inside you. And that is exactly what Zavod Manipura is basing its functioning on. This institute for advice and creative work with young people and families is a Slovenian organization which strongly believes in the good inside every one of us and therefore wants to give a chance to youngsters to help to find their self again through voluntary work.
The organization works closely together with Wingerdbloei, a Belgian counseling center for youngsters who ended up in special youth care. One of the methodologies they use is so-called “displacement”. The youngster is taken out of his usual surrounding and placed in a new environment, which can help him to regain self-confidence and reintegrate into society. For several years now, Wingerdbloei cooperates with Zavod Manipura to send their youngsters on short-term EVS on ecological farms in Slovenia and thereby giving them a chance not only to do community work but in the same time to learn about themselves and gain new skills.

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Mentoring and support

The technique of displacement is used for over 30 years in Belgium and in the last 8 years, thanks to the cooperation of Wingerdbloei and Zavod Manipura, 80 youngsters got the chance to volunteer in ecological farms in Slovenia. This year, 14 volunteers were sent out to Slovenia of which 10 through the EVS-program. Henk functions as the mentor of these youngsters and, together with the host families, tries to create a safe space as well as a home for their period of stay.

The EVS framework strives to make volunteering accessible for everyone and therefore foresees in extra support for the young volunteer in a socially or economically vulnerable situation. The volunteer can get support of a personal mentor and before the EVS-stay a preparation visit to the host organization can be made.

Gut feeling

We can wonder if there are special trainings for the host families to be prepared to cope with taking a “youngster with a background” in their houses. Henk answers that they very often have a long history of counseling centers and immediately feel if somebody tries to mentor them in a professional way. Again, a closed atmosphere would be created and often the youngster will react averse to this.

Therefore Zavod Manipura chooses not to provide special trainings but rather let the families to develop a relation with the volunteer based on their gut feeling. This is also one of the reasons why they regularly change the host families or after a busy hosting time give them a moment off.


As every person who changes environment there might be some difficulties to adapt to the new country, language and culture. Nevertheless, most youngsters see this as a chance to put of their masks and again to be their self and maybe discover their own me for the first time in their lives.

Often, in their own society, the youngsters are looked at as marginal and here finally nobody charges them for their past. They are given a challenge to integrate into a new environment, to learn a bit of the language and culture and even share something of their own with the locals. A project like this is definitely a chance to boost their self-confidence and self-awareness as well as to (re)gain social skills and motivation to build out their lives.

Inclusion for all

What started as a cooperation between Belgium and Slovenia is spreading out in other directions as well. Recently a Macedonian volunteer was sent to Slovenia and in the future a project with Spain will be organized too. In return, projects in Macedonia and Sardinia were organized for Slovenian youngsters with socio-economically troubles. Henk is also expecting that soon short-term EVS to Belgium will be approved.
These and similar initiatives are supported by the European Commission mainly through the Salto Inclusion center. Their mission is to provide opportunities for training, exchange and reflection on Inclusion. They want to make inclusion work and resources visible and accessible for those who need them. Their priority is to make inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities widely supported under the slogan “Inclusion for all”. Then, what are we waiting for?

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