EVS Spotlight: Alec Nash-Thomas at Centre of European Initiatives

On the 4th of November 2015, I arrived in Sumy, Ukraine at 3am in the night unaware of what I would be doing in this new environment but nonetheless excited for my sixth month stay which would end on the 2nd of May 2016. I had always wanted to visit a post-Soviet country, and I had always wanted to work in the charity and NGO sector, so as a work colleague posted the information about the Centre of European Initiatives (CEI) on FB two months ago, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity.  I had little knowledge of Sumy, but I was eager to participate in a new culture that I wasn’t used to. I believe it is always good to break outside your comfort zone!

The placement

The Centre of European Initiates is a community based NGO which was founded in 2008-2009 and for the last 6 years has been developing community led projects centered on European values of democracy, human rights, culture and youth work. CEI runs for example Euroclubs, which provide children from 5 – 16 with information on the European Union and the cultural aspects of the continent.

But one of the best things about the Centre of European Initiatives is the way in which the organisation encouraged you to start your own personal projects which would benefit the community. For example, I set up a 'Film club' in Sumy which was on every Sunday and for two weeks I worked at the University providing lectures to university students on the values of a united Europe. Another project which were organised by the volunteers where Humans of Sumy; based on Humans of New York, it was a project designed for the locals of Sumy to provide a more human portrait of Sumy with personal anecdotes as they would answer questions like, “What does it mean to be young in Sumy?”, “When was the last time you were happy?”. It has so far received a lot of support and I enjoyed working with the other volunteers and local translators on the process of interviewing and photographing the local community.

Aside from these projects, I would also hold weekly language clubs at local libraries. I dealt with a large range of age groups and levels which was a challenge at the time, as I had to come up with different ways of dealing with the diversity of the groups (but great for skills development!). I also hosted weekly “English Clubs” at a school where I spoke about English culture and traditions, and hosted my own Euroclub once a week.   

Doing an EVS is an experience which has been like no other, I had little knowledge of the process before coming over to Ukraine. It was hard to describe to my friends what I’d really be doing there because it all seemed very new to me. What was clear from the beginning was the fact that much of the learning process would be practical and would take time to get used to.

My first month in Sumy was very strange considering that I had to get used to the language barrier and certain cultural attitudes which seemed unusual to say the least. However, I learned to adapt to the environment and to get my different opinions in a more reserved manner rather than being hostile; I think this is an important skill to have because in life you will have to deal with certain viewpoints and mentality’s which don’t fit yours and you have to find a way to co-exist.

But most importantly I learned about patience; when it comes to organising an event which doesn’t happen due to low turnout, when it comes to presenting to a group of people who don’t understand because of a language barrier, when it comes to trying to organise a personal project but it fails due to time and organisational difficulties, ultimately it all comes to patience in dealing with these problems whilst still being motivated to continue.

Looking Ahead

This experience has encouraged me to work within for community led and cultural projects worldwide or in the UK.  But the best part of EVS was working with other volunteers, who will inspire you as they come from different parts of the world with different ideas and cultural experiences. EVS volunteers provide you with new outlooks on life and memories you’ll never forget as you all do fantastic work together.


Published September 2016.