You enter a room, sit down and after one hour you find yourself far away from where you have taken a seat, much farther away than where you would have been if you had run a marathon. This is how it was like to take part to the debates and the conferences organized during Folkets Møde, the Aarhus Volunteer Festival which took place from 22nd to 24th September.

Folkets Møde was for all ages. Photo: Per Bille

The Folkets Møde Festival has been a unique occasion to stop and reflect on topics related to volunteering, which, in our hectic daily routine, we do not have the time to take into consideration, a unique occasion to bring to the surface problems common to many voluntary organizations and an opportunity to celebrate once again Aarhus for its energy and resourcefulness in the voluntary sector.

Of course, everything was seasoned with some typical ingredients of the Danish culture: talks which were open to everyone to promote democracy and a non-hierarchical society, child-friendly activities designed for families and dynamic initiatives proposed by the volunteering organisations themselves following the invitation of the Secretary of European Volunteering Capital Aarhus 2018. The result has been three days of both reflection and entertainment during which everyone could feel part of the European Volunteering Capital.

Danish politician Morten Østergaard (R) and John Hebo Nielsen (Chairman, FriSe) debating strategies for a stronger civil society. Photo: Per Bille 

How to make volunteering more attractive to young people? How does volunteering contribute to our well-being? Are volunteering organizations inclusive enough or should new strategies be implemented? How can a long-term commitment can be ensured? How can we transform the traditional form of volunteering making it more suitable to the modern society?

These are just some examples of the challenging questions to which politicians, volunteers and citizens tried to give answers during the Folkets Møde. It is said that the secret of success is never stop calling yourself into question, no matter how good you are. In these days Aarhus had showed to know the road to success as it had kept asking itself what can be done to go a step further, even though the city is already a European reference point in terms of volunteering.

The Folkets Møde festival had the honour to have among its guests also Gabriella Civico, the Director of CEV, the European Volunteer Centre. She opened the “European Conference on Volunteering” on Sunday morning in FO-byen focusing on the social inclusion in the volunteering sector. She underlined the importance of making volunteering accessible also to the vulnerable target groups. Through her words the audience realised that exclusion in Europe is still a big challenge. Indeed, the chances to feel isolated are even higher in the modern society as everyone is more focused on himself.

Gabriella Civico (CEV) and Camilla Fabricius (Vice Mayor and member of the Magistrate, Aarhus). Photo: Per Bille

Moreover, exclusion is not only a widespread problem, but also a shared problem as everyone experience it at least once in his life. To face this threat there is still a lot to be done and one of the crucial steps is to reshape our perception of the society and to become aware of the importance of the freedom of being different.

Also, volunteering has to take into account this crucial factor and should benefit from differences instead of cancelling them. Otherwise all its potential would get lost. Gabriella Civico pointed out that we are often invited to build bridges as if our society were split in parts that have to be connected. The truth is that we do not need bridges, we need crossroads as we all live on a common ground, no matter if we are different from each other.

Cultural Bazar in Ridehuset, Sunday. Photo: Per Bille

Inspiring words like those of Gabriella Civico will resound in the ears of the attendants of the Folkets Møde Festival in the days to come as it will be difficult to forget what their eyes had seen: the stunts of the Flying Superkids, the Ridehuset after it was turned into a buzzing cultural bazar, the performance of break-dancers in Frederiks Allé, the game show “How to live in Denmark” by the American journalist Kay Xander Mellish etc.

Kay Xander Mellish. Photo: Per Bille

But what will remain of all this in the long term? Without any doubt the feeling of having been a gear in an engine which produced valuable ideas, the commitment and the passion of the volunteers in attendance, the foresight of the politicians and of the policy makers who showed that they are always trying to solve problems before they even arise and the palpable desire of being all together again.

This is why the Secretary of European Volunteering Capital Aarhus 2018 cannot wait to see everyone again for the closing ceremony on 5th December to celebrate for the last time the engagement and the inventiveness of the city in the volunteering sector and to inspire and get inspired once again.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.