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PeerAct – A time to remember

It’s been a month since our visit to Brussels, but it still feels like it was yesterday. All the happy moments, the new and old friendships rekindled, the lessons we’ve learned, and inevitably, the farewells, all of these are still fresh and fond in our hearts.

Before I tell you the story about our week in Belgium, I want to take you down memory lane. It’s summer, the year 2021. The first decent summer after the whole pandemic thing. About time. School is finally over, and summer break is just around the corner. You feel like you have all the time in the world but don’t know how to spend it. I would spend a great deal of the day mindlessly scrolling through social media, as one does. I noticed this post from VCS about a project or something (at the time, I had no idea what any of those things were). I somehow got myself to follow the link, read the description and decided to sign up anyway. It wasn’t long until a mail turned up in my mailbox. It was an acceptance letter telling me that I was chosen to be part of this project, which simultaneously felt both exhilarating and terrifying. I didn’t have prior experience and couldn’t help but feel anxious about it. Despite that, I gathered my courage and chose to follow through. I found the office, but now it was too late to turn back, and somehow, anxious or not, I went in. There, I met one of the coordinators, who welcomed me, and even the slightest initial interaction that we had, helped me settle my nerves. He was one of the first of all the amazing people I met during this new chapter of my life. I was introduced to the PeerAct project, its aims, and goals of it, and I couldn’t wait for it to begin. The first cycle of the project was on Zoom, and what really surprised me was that I enjoyed every single second of it. Given the fact that I hated online classes with every fiber of my being, this was quite a surprise. We discussed fundamental issues in society, our role, and our importance as individuals in initiating the change we want to see in the world. During our first week on Zoom, we were equipped with specific skills to organize local workshops and share what we’ve learned with other peers. And I must say, it went better than expected. I still didn’t feel comfortable and competent to manage a group of participants, but their curiosity and will helped me a lot. Therefore, I realized that I was genuinely ready to commit and dive deeper into the topic so that I could fight for what I believe in and find others who are also willing to make a world of difference, a space for everyone. Then came Struga, the second part of the training, where we were taught various methodologies and approaches to become better trainers and fulfill our goals.

Let’s fast forward to Brussels. The end of this summer. Reuniting with old friends and fellow peer trainers, getting ready for the one last training of our project. There was no distance between us, as if we were lifelong friends. As if we never left Struga. One last time, we gathered around to better ourselves with new knowledge and skills crucial for our role in our communities and society. We spent one week getting in touch with ourselves, exploring our own prejudices, own stereotypes, and simply meeting our inner selves, which not many do in this busy world. It showed us the power of dedication and patience and how in the end, every piece of the puzzle falls into place.

I know all this might have sounded like an ending to a beautiful story, but I want to see it more like a beginning of a new one.

“They say in our lives we’ll meet something like eighty thousand people. Most of them just in passing, sitting beside them on a bus, buying a latte from them, overtaking them too fast on the motorway. Some will stay in our lives forever, and some will be swept away by the flow of life. Others will become friends, lovers, and family. But we touch all these people in some way, tiny or huge, making more of a difference than any of us can imagine. The way we live on in other people matters the most.”

Stefan Nikolovski

EPTO | European Peer Training Organisation