Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

How can NGOs help you grow?

Written by Marcin Kielczewski

#1 The inspiration

 A friend of mine once told me ‘make a home wherever you go’. What he meant by that was to establish a friendship network with people from every country you visit.  That is indeed one of the greatest methods of broadening your horizons and raising your cultural awareness. I firmly believe I have now reached the point when in most of the European countries, there is somebody I can turn to when in need of an insight on that country’s current affairs. In fact, I established such a framework without even visiting many of those countries. As a European Politics student, I find it extremely helpful. How did I get here is a long story, and this article will summarise the most valid reasons that brought me where I am now. 

#2 The Development

The other day, back in high school, I saw a poster hanged somewhere in the hall. It featured a workshop called ‘Take your point of view to work on’ organised by International Projects’ Association ‘INPRO’ – and so the story began. I decided to try this workshop out for several days. Each meeting, filled with great opportunities to gain new skills and exchange experience, kept me coming back. I was indeed in awe of how can education have such a remarkable and approachable form. I learnt a lot about prejudice, stereotypes, various types of discrimination – things you probably will not learn much about at school. I had met people I was in touch with for a long time after. 

Once the project was finished, I discovered other great activities conducted by INPRO. The Language Cafe (later known as the Open Cafe) was a form of a gathering of both people from my region and many international individuals residing in my town at the moment. That would include students, volunteers, sometimes even travelers with a shared desire to meet and discuss various matters suggested by the event coordinators. My English skills back then were rather poor.

I used to struggle to make a simple sentence. Going to the Language Cafe for the first time felt like jumping into deep water. I remember sitting in front of a girl and trying to tell her a story. She smiled at me so with a great dose of confidence, I asked her if she understood what I said and she denied. Feeling embarrassed, I stopped trying to talk to the others and pointlessly wandered around. Fortunately, it did not take long until one of the very friendly participants noticed my struggle. She approached me and kept talking to me. I had no clue how to reply to her, but she carried the conversation until I gained back my confidence.  

That was the day I found the purpose in studying languages. It was no longer just a school subject but a way of communicating and making new friends. When I came back home, I was filled with inspiration to learn, and so I started to work on my skills. With the following weeks, I could notice an improvement. I was good enough to participate in more sophisticated discussions. I was finally able to make some international friends I would later often go out with. 

#3 The Practice

A year later, I had the opportunity to go abroad as part of the Erasmus+ youth exchange scheme. I felt more confident with my linguistic skills at that point, yet not used to traveling, I was most definitely anxious about leaving my country. Getting on a wrong train or simply getting lost after the arrival were my biggest worries. The travel was smooth, and there were people waiting for us upon our arrival! Nothing to be scared of, as it turned out. 

The project took place in the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine. The general topic of the project was forms of education and intercultural communication. Every evening, one of the countries’ representatives would give a presentation on the culture. Afterwards, we often danced, laughed, and deepened our friendships.  I fell in love with Estonian sense of humour, Greek friendliness, and Ukrainian hospitality. I learnt a lot about ongoing problems in Georgia and even some interesting facts about the Swedish monarchy. As the project came to an end, we organised a farewell party. However, in times of globalisation and the Internet, a farewell is essentially synonymous to ‘talk to you later’. 

As I began to admire Ukrainian culture, I was excited to apply for the next project that also took place in Lviv. Although the city was the same, the people were different. It felt like discovering the same place all over again. I learnt a lot about mass media and verifying the information. That really helps me now, when, as a student,
I have to select the most appropriate sources for my essays. 

People from more countries participated in that international training course. Thus, the experience I got and the connections I made were more extensive. One day, representants from various NGOs would present their organisations during the NGO fair. That inspired me to think there are so many people across Europe, doing so much good for the society. I saw some organisations exchanging contact information and launching cooperations, which made me think it was a great place for expanding your net of connections. 

 The third international project I participated in was the most unique. It took place in my hometown. We were taught about social entrepreneurship, and that had a serious impact on my way of thinking. Instead of seeing the socially excluded people as those in need of help, I commenced perceiving them as those who can contribute to our society. They work, they have hobbies, they are among us. 

Social entrepreneurship is such an inspiring, innovative system, which allows those unable to work conventionally to improve their life quality by giving them an opportunity to work in a more suitable environment. I remember seeing people make handmade decorations they would later sell and the joy the process would give them. I also remember going to a restaurant run in the same manner. It felt like home, and the staff was extremely friendly.    

As participants from overseas were visiting my town, I noticed the way they look at all the places I would normally pass by without paying attention. They were amazed by the architecture and the way the city functions. I learnt that whenever I think I know a place, it always has that one unique angle, that one perspective from which it appears to be undiscovered and fascinating. 

 #4 Conclusion

When we hear the term NGO, we think of the prominent organisations with crucial international impact. However, I strongly believe that the hundreds, if not thousands, of local non-governmental organisations operating all over Europe, can do as much good for the local communities as the transnational ones. Take a minute to research local NGOs in your town, read about their work. Perhaps their mission will inspire you, and you will decide to join them.