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From Bulgaria to Spain – Vocational Education and Training (VET) broadens the mind



The ability to travel and study across Europe is something young people from all EU member states should take for granted. However, when Presiyan Ivaylov Shahanov travelled from his home in Ruse, in northern Bulgaria, to Valencia in Spain during the Covid-19 pandemic in October 2020, such travel was a long way from the norm.

Presiyan was taking part in an Erasmus+ programme organised by his VET school in Ruse, in cooperation with ESMOVIA, a Spanish mobility organisation, providing education and training programmes for participants from all over Europe.

“The project in Spain offered me a way to travel abroad, explore the lifestyle of an entirely different country, and gain experience in the workplace, where I used my previously acquired skills and gained a few new ones,” says Presiyan.

Presiyan was assigned a role at a small computer maintenance company called APP Patraix.

“While I was with the company, I had the opportunity to work on various technical problems,” says Presiyan. “The company really surprised me with its warm-hearted team of professionals. Their guidance allowed me to grow professionally as well as personally.”

But it was not just the work experience that Presiyan benefited from.

“I had a blast in Spain,” says Presiyan. “Everything from the accommodation to the cultural activities, and everything in between, was well thought out by the organisation.”

Presiyan is now back home in Bulgaria, studying as a 19-year-old freshman majoring in computer science at St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tranovo. He has also successfully landed a part-time job as a computer technician, which supports his curriculum and allows him to keep in touch with his passion for computer hardware.

Come together to celebrate Vocational Education and Training

Presiyan’s story will be celebrated alongside many others at this year’s European Vocational Skills Week (EVSW), which takes place from 16 to 20 May 2022. The Week will also highlight innovative projects like ESMOVIA and their work to help young people travel across Europe, build friendships, and develop fundamental skills that lead to careers through enhanced Vocational Education and Training.

The theme of this year’s EVSW is ‘VET and the Green Transition’, in line with the European Commission’s vision of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Developing soft and hard skills

While Presiyan visited Valencia as part of a small group of 20 students, he was actually part of a much bigger programme.

ESMOVIA has committed to hosting 1,500 apprentices in Valencia between October 2020 and December 2022.

Highlighting ESMOVIA’s work with young people, the organisation’s director, Maria Angeles Ruis Gámez, explains that they receive participants from 29 countries.

“The countries we receive most participants from are Italy, Poland, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Germany,” says Maria. “We also have some from third countries associated with the Erasmus programme, like Turkey and Serbia.”

The young people on the internship programme typically stay in Valencia for four weeks. However, with the launch of ErasmusPro, more extended stays (from 90 to 365 days) are becoming increasingly popular.

“ESMOVIA works with host companies to create work-based learning experiences,” says Maria. “At the end of the programme, they will acquire the soft and hard skills that will definitely help them grow as European citizens and improve their value on the labour market.”

But it’s not all hard work.

Digital and green skills

ESMOVIA has placed digital and green skills at the centre of its work.

“We created the ESMOVIA club to organise activities aimed at discovering the city, having fun and meeting people from other countries and cultures,” says Maria.

One of these activities is a robotics project where young people from different countries collaborate in building a robot to participate in a “sumo-bot” competition.

“This session is open to all our participants regardless of their specialisation,” says Maria. “In this way, students from the marketing or culinary arts sector can get familiar with some basic coding and robotics in a fun way.”

ESMOVIA also collaborates with a local NGO and regularly organises volunteering sessions for cleaning the beach and adjoining sand dunes.

Find out more

The work that ESMOVIA does highlights the opportunities to travel, study and work across Europe, while equipping young people with the vocational education and training and the cultural insight they need to equip themselves with the skills for today’s rapidly evolving job market.

To learn more about how ESMOVIA is helping young people across Europe travel to and study in Valencia, Spain, visit the company’s profile on the European Commission’s website

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Zimbabwean peacekeeper selected as UN Military Gender Advocate of the Year 2021 Award



Following reports of sexual and gender-based violence against women collecting firewood in Rubkona, South Sudan, Captain Irene Wilson Muro and and Major Winnet Zharare (2nd from the right) reached out to local women to discuss ways to stem the abuse. Photo: UNMISS

A Zimbabwean peacekeeper who recently completed her assignment with the UN Mission in South Sudan, will receive the 2021 United Nations Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award. 

Military Observer Major Winnet Zharare, 39, served in Bentiu, South Sudan in 2021-2022, and will receive the award from the Secretary-General António Guterres during a ceremony marking the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on Thursday, 26 May 2022.

Created in 2016, the United Nations “Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award” recognizes the dedication and efforts of an individual military peacekeeper in promoting the principles of UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, as nominated by Heads and Force Commanders of UN peace operations.

Secretary-General António Guterres commended Major Winnet for her award. “Major Zharare is a role model and a trailblazer. Through her service, she has demonstrated the invaluable role that women play in building trust, advocating for change and forging peace,” he said. “Her example shows how we will all gain with more women at the decision-making table and gender parity in peace operations,” Mr. Guterres added. 

Major Zharare expressed her gratitude and pride in receiving  the award which, she said, “motivated [her] to maintain [her] course towards gender equality.”

“My parents gave us equal opportunities with my brothers, so I believe that equal opportunities should be given to both men and women in all aspects of life,” she added.

Major Winnet Zharare deployed to UNMISS in November 2020. Throughout her 17-month-long service, she advocated for gender parity and women’s participation, within her own ranks, among local military counterparts, and in host communities.

As the Chief Military Information Officer in UNMISS’  Bentiu field office, she helped ensure that patrols included both women and men to improve protection efforts as well as build trust between host communities and the Mission. Her efforts also contributed to an increase in  gender-aggregated data so that issues raised by local women and girls would gain appropriate attention.

Advocating for gender parity and womens’ participation in an environment where they are traditionally excluded from decision-making, she encouraged local civilian and military authorities and community representatives to involve both men and women in meetings with the UN. Her diligence and diplomatic skills quickly gained her the trust of local military commanders who would systematically reach out to her on issues pertaining to women’s protection and rights. During her patrols and numerous community engagement initiatives, Major Zharare also successfully encouraged men and women to work together in farming and in the construction of dikes around Bentiu town to alleviate food shortages and prevent further displacement.

Major Zharare is the first Zimbabwean peacekeeper to receive this prestigious award.

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‘New dawn’ for Europe as War in Ukraine Strengthens EU and Support for Enlargement



The European Union surprised the world, and even itself, with the speed, scale and unity of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This “new” Europe is ready to project both soft and hard power on the world stage, European leaders told participants at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2022.

Christine Lagarde, President, European Central Bank, on the panel at the session, European Unity in a Disordered World?, said the Ukraine war has revealed how powerful Europe is collectively: “This is a new dawn for Europe.”

The war on Ukraine has also revealed weaknesses – including global supply chain vulnerabilities and over-reliance on Russian energy, she said, but Europe is addressing this and can begin to flex its muscles on the global stage. “Europe has untapped purchasing power, trading power, technology power, pension power and moral power.”

Roberta Metsola, President of the European Parliament, reinforced the point. “This is Europe’s moment,” she said. “Europe can become the global project for peace.”

Mistakes of the past will be rectified, she said. “For way too long we did not seriously consider an energy union where we can rely on each other rather than on a country that can switch us off at any time.”

Referring to the EU’s support and defence of Ukraine, she was emphatic: “This is not the time to talk about face-saving for Russia or appeasement.”

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, also on the panel, said: “If Ukraine falls to Russian aggression, Slovakia is next.” He added that we must continue to provide military support as well as step up humanitarian aid. “Above all we need to give Ukrainians hope.”

“Let’s not compromise – we must remain faithful to the values of the EU – freedom, rule of law, human dignity and equal rights.”

Micheál Martin, Taoiseach of Ireland, said of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: “The people of Europe have spoken. Enough is enough.” In response there is much stronger unanimity between member states and more support than ever to accept the accession of new members.

He continued: “We see the EU’s future in terms of the green economy and in terms of the digitalization but also in terms of enlargement.”

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands, called on European member states to continue to raise their defence spending. “The NATO alliance members are inseparable, but Europe must play its part,” he said. “This will help transform Europe from a soft power to a hard power.”

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Geopolitical Crises Forcing Leaders to Face up to Difficult New Realities



Poland’s President Andrzej Duda delivered a harsh rebuke to Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, pledging “100% support” for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and calling for Moscow to pay reparations to Kyiv. “I simply cannot accept that Russia can violate international law with impunity.”

Russian aggression against Ukraine has revived unity within the West and highlighted for many Western nations the importance of democratic values. Finland and Sweden, notably, have set aside their longstanding policies of neutrality and applied to join NATO. “We are in a totally new situation and have to wake up to that,” said Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, noting that the collapse of the post-war European security architecture, as well as Russia’s increased appetite for risk, were among the major factors prompting Finland to apply for membership.

Haavisto said that in this “grey time” between the Nordic country’s application to join the alliance and its potential full accession, when it will enjoy mutual security protection under Article 5 of the NATO charter, NATO members have given Finland and Sweden assurances that they will guarantee security. Asked about Turkey’s stated objection to extension of membership to Finland and Sweden, he expressed confidence that Helsinki can address concerns.

Alarmed by an increasingly competitive geopolitical landscape marked by mounting frictions between the United States and China, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, emphasized the need for cooperation.

“If we learned anything from COVID, it is that we need to focus on cooperation and I think we need to continue to look towards avenues to foster that cooperation. Even when there is difference, when there’s competition, we need to find mechanisms to talk to each other.” He noted that Saudi Arabia, which values both its extensive trade relationship with China and its national security relationship with the US, is well-positioned to facilitate dialogue between the world’s leading powers.

Prince Faisal’s remarks were echoed by Pakistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, who commented on the “binary choice” that countries with close ties to both China and the US are increasingly asked to make. “We are typically asked this question all the time: Who do you choose? It shows how far we have fallen as a global community,” she said. This is particularly difficult, she noted, for a country like Pakistan, which is already in fiscal crisis and now faces “the superimposition of a food security crisis”.

Gregory W. Meeks, Democratic Congressman from New York’s 6th District and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign, praised the bipartisan support for a recent Senate bill pledging $40 billion in humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine, as well as the broad international support that Ukraine has received.

He also focused on the potential food crisis, emphasizing the need to break the blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports so Ukrainian grain can be delivered to the many countries that depend on it. “You got to open [the port of Odessa] up because that’s not been just limited to what’s happening in Ukraine; this threatens the entire world.”

Madrid is host to next month’s NATO summit and Spain’s Foreign Minister, José Manuel Albares Bueno, praised the alliance’s response to Russian aggression in Ukraine. But he emphasized the threat that the looming food crisis, if left unresolved, could pose to Europe. Noting that the Sahel – the region of North Africa bordering the Sahara – is not only already deeply food-insecure, he warned that rising cereal prices could set off a potentially destabilizing northward migration. “Unity is our best defence.”

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