- Do you ski? No…?! So probably you do rock climbing? Neither that?! What are you doing in Jaca then? - After a month, I already got used to this type of questions every time I meet somebody new. In the beginning it was quite funny, but now I feel really motivated to finally take up a course of rock climbing, as I had been planning to do so for a long time and there is no better place for that than Jaca. Yes, Jaca. A small town, mountain resort-like place situated in the northern part of Spain, surrounded by Pyrenees, barely 20 km from the French border. A perfect location for the Joint Secretariat of POCTEFA, an Interreg program of territorial cooperation between Spain, France and Andorra to promote sustainable development in the cross-border area of those three countries.

I arrived in the end of February, running away from the Polish freezing cold expecting to be welcomed by the mythical Spanish sun. Nothing could be further from the truth! :) After a month I still struggle to survive in this rainy place (“But there are 300 sunny days in a year in Jaca, really!” – everyone tells me that). Though there are some first rays of springtime hope appearing day by day in the sky.

Nevertheless, Jaca is a charming place. People are extremely hospitable and warm, everyone knows everyone and all the time I´m witnessing incredible connections (“You know him? But he´s my cousin!” or “You went de tapas with her? She works with me!”).

Passing through the medieval alleys of the old town with beautiful colorful houses, I see people greeting constantly in this expressive Spanish way, calling from the other side of the street, having time for a small chat while going to work… And the mountains. They are everywhere. Peeping through my bedroom window, lying majestically in front of my eyes while working in the office, towering over the town covered with a white blanket of snow.

But let’s go back to volunteering.... Though I have taken part in many initiatives organized or funded by European Union so far, I had never before heard about Interreg Program. I am surprised how wide is the network of organizations and how many innovative projects are being implemented on the transnational and cross-border level. And think of that it has already started in the 90s! And this is precisely why we – Interreg reporters - are needed. To let people know how the EU funds are used and what kind of initiatives are happening in the regions all over Europe.

Volunteering at the Joint Secretariat of POCTEFA gives me a wonderful opportunity to observe how the EU projects are managed from the scratch. I get to know dozens of projects and organizations working together to improve certain aspects on both sides of the border. It can be related to climate change, sustainable use of natural resources, raising employment opportunities, starting a rail connection between two regions etc.

One of the interesting projects that were implemented with the help of POCTEFA was the Hospital Cerdanya situated in the isolated mountainous area of France-Spain border. Because of this location, whenever there was an emergency, people from the nearby villages used to be forced to cover dozens of kilometers to the bigger towns to get the medical help. Thanks to the Hospital and the transnational cooperation, people from both sides of the border have quick access to the medical services. It wasn´t easy though, as there were many legal issues that had to be addressed, e.g. if a French woman gives birth in this hospital which is still within the Spanish territory, what nationality will be granted to the child?

Leaving behind such dilemmas, I continue making the most of my experience and appreciating the opportunity I was given. Because what matters as much as the professional learning, is the personal growth. Viva IVY Volunteering!

Katarzyna Stachyra

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