How can being a volunteer help you improve your mental health? What can we do to improve the lives of the Erasmus students coming to our city? Why should mental health be that important in our lives?
These were some of the questions that led ESN Venezia to organise “Volunthealing”, the event that won the Activity in the Spotlight of October. How is an event like this born? Let’s dive in ESN Venezia!
Life in the Laguna
Venezia is a city in the North East of Italy, built on 118 small islands, all located in the Venetian Lagoon (or Laguna Veneta in Italian) and separated by canals and over 400 bridges. It has been the capital of the Republic of Venice for more than a millennium, making the city the most important centre of trade and commerce.
It’s no wonder that approximately 1000 students decide yearly to come to this city for their Erasmus. ESN Venezia is always ready to welcome them and make their experience meaningful.
The Importance of Mental Health
Mental Health has always been an essential topic to the ESN volunteers of Venezia: as most of them are not from the region, getting settled in such a particular city as this one can be tricky, if not impossible. ESN gave them a lifeline, and this changed their perspective on volunteering.
When the situation presented itself, the Section members didn’t think twice. They started drafting an idea that soon became a reality.
They wanted to organise an event that focused on the importance of volunteering on mental health for everyone, from the volunteer to their target audience, the Erasmus students. Thanks to the help of the ESN’s Eduk8 team, a project which focuses on developing the skills of young people through non-formal education, and the Italian Pool of Trainers, “Volunthealing” was born, and they drafted together a Training Session Outline (TSO) for the Event.
“Volunthealing” lasted for three days. It was composed of different events targeting different audiences, from the local community to the international students of Venezia.
The local environment played an essential role in this event, granting a more personal approach to it from the volunteers and giving a more significant social impact to the Section; this allowed ESN Venezia to explore new possibilities.
On the first day of the event, the Section organised two sessions, both held in Italian, about the importance of volunteering on mental health: the first one was a lesson held by a psychotherapist that focused on the impact that volunteering can have and how it can be one of the best ways to express one’s love for life; the second session was a training organised by Pool of Trainers.
Starting from simple questions such as “What are the things that can influence the mental health of a foreign student when coming to Venezia?” the training moved to a proactive approach on how to address these issues: how can the Section, the University and the Institutions intervene to make the process of settling in easier?
The second day began with Venezia Football Club giving ESN Venezia tickets for a match: supporting the city's football club was an opportunity to make the Erasmus Students feel like citizens and not tourists for one day. This was a unique and complete experience: the stadium is located on an island, so you can reach it with a vaporetto and have an aperitivo before attending the match. “Mens sana in corpore sano”; after the game, to help achieve a healthier mind thanks to a healthier body, they organised a yoga lesson in Sant’Elena. Besides the activity, the participants also had the opportunity to experience a view of the Laguna and St Mark’s Basilica.
On the last day, ESN Venezia organised a round table during an aperitivo: the focus of the open discussion was about what ESN could do to positively impact the mental health of exchange students and make them feel part of the city they’re studying in.
What’s Ahead of Us
This event led the Section to start wondering about their position in the city of Venezia. New activities they are organising aim to make ESN Venezia more involved in the city’s society and engage in something that can benefit Venezia thanks to their strength and proactivity.
Now the Erasmus students have stopped being only the target of the activities; they are active participants, making a massive difference for the city.
Some events that ESN Venezia is organising involve Addolciamo l’Autismo, a pastry shop run by people in the spectrum and a retirement home: during the last few weeks, several Erasmus students baked some typical, traditional pastries. They also participated in one of the most traditional activities of winter holidays, a Tombola in the retirement home.
This event and what the Section is now doing because of it is the perfect example of how a simple concept (the importance of mental health) can influence us and our work as volunteers to have a positive impact on the local communities, bringing the international students closer to them and helping their integration through active participation and volunteering.