Lions Europa Forum 2016
Sofia, Bulgaria – 27-30th of October
Lions Europa Forum, an annual event for all European Lions and LEOs, but also with participants from other parts of the world. Two years ago it was in Birmingham (UK), last year in Augsburg (GER) and this year it was in Sofia, Bulgaria. The ILO council was strongly represented together with several other LEOs, which made us a rather big group of 30 LEOs in total – COOL! The ILO council had planned the EF on beforehand, and especially Deborah Herlan, ILO from Germany, had made a big effort to keep all of the LEOs together, both program wise, but also for the accommodation. Most of us stayed at a hostel in the center of Sofia, close to the conference center where the Forum was held. Hostels are always charming and cozy, and this time was no different – we’ll get back to that!
Thursday – Arrival
I arrived at Thursday, where I met in the airport with Madalina and Deborah, both ILOs. We quickly went to the hostel and moved on to the conference center, as we had our first meeting to attend – the Refugee Steering Committee meeting. We had to give our opinion on how LEOs are participating in the effort for helping the refugees. This is also one of the reasons for LEOs and ILOs to participate in Lions events, as we’re able to show our presence in the global Lions Family. Afterwards, the opening ceremony was held. The ceremony is quite amazing, as it starts the whole event and brings everyone together for the first time – it’s a big event with speakers, shows and live music. In the evening, we had a LEO get-together dinner followed by a few beers.
On Friday, we got up early, as our program started a 9 in the morning.
Usually, hostels have a good ratio of bathrooms pr. person, perhaps like one bathroom for three or four persons. Here, we had two bathrooms in total, for over 30 people – and not only where they rather small, they also had a limited amount of hot water. I was lucky though, to be one of the firsts to use the shower in the morning – the worst thing I know is cold showers!
After our breakfast, our first meeting started.
The LEOs are also represented in the program with workshops, hence the Leos with Lions workshops, that lasted the whole day. One of the main topics across these workshops is to engage Lions to be enthusiastic about LEO – of course everybody is enthusiastic about us, it’s just that not everyone is aware of it!
The ILOs had the workshops planned in advance, and different ILOs had different responsibilities. I was lucky to present together with my fellow Italian ILO Eleonora Fresia, who I’m working together with on the European LEO Activity – LEO4Green.
This project is about promoting environmental awareness and activities, and was started in Italy. Eleonora is really passionate about this project, and it’s amazing to work together with such a dedicated person, which also reflects in her when she talks about the project. Our goal for the presentation was to create awareness of the project for the Lions, and to tell them about how LEOs and ILOs are working together, and how this can be used in collaboration between LEOs and Lions as well.
We were finished with our workshops late afternoon. Afterwards, we quickly went home to change for the host evening, but before that, we had been invited to a get-together at Othmar Fetz apartment. Othmar Fetz, LEO from Germany, is doing a really big project about documenting the different sides of being a LEO in different countries – the project is called The LEO Book, and is a quite amazing activity, while he’s also a cool guy to be around.
The host night is a chance for the organizing country to show their local culture, and this year was, as every other year, a great opportunity to experience a new country’s history, culture and traditions. We were served with traditional Bulgarian food, while there was different activities during the evening, such as traditional music, folks-dance and fashion show. And yes, we LEOs typically participate in as most dancing as possible! After the host night, we LEOs went out for socializing and had a great time. Now, we had to get back to the hostel, and here’s the story:
Hostels are always charming and cozy, and this time was no different – you really get the chance to get close to the rest of the group – the boys were especially lucky, as we had two rooms in extend of each other, totaling over 10 guys sleeping together – the only downside with big rooms like this is, if somebody is snoring. And by snoring I mean the Slovenian way, where you actually make people switch rooms because of the noise, even though they’ve tried to wake you up for half an hour! We had a lot of fun about it the next day though.
On the Saturday, while some LEOs went around Sofia to see the beautiful architecture on historical buildings, the ILOs had planned to do some promotion for our European activity LEO 4 Green, which goal is to improve environmental awareness by promoting environmental friendly services. We spend most of the day filming for our activity, before the closing ceremony, which, as always, was a beautiful event and a nice way to end some inspirational and rewarding days with a lot of great people from all around the world.
The last event is the gala, which is a great tradition – everybody dresses up, and the frame is set for a spectacular evening. This year was no different – all of the LEOs got ready at the hostel, and afterwards we met at the conference center. The atmosphere is always incredible, because everyone makes an extra effort is in general excited for what the night brings. The ingredients for a great gala is a beautiful venue, good food, great music and of course, the most important, great people.
This year, we, as always, had a ton of fun. The incredible thing about LEOs is, that no matter what we’re served with, we’ll manage to get the best out of it. We danced, laughed, shared some great dishes, had a lot of fun photos taken and made some great memories – that’s the most important thing. I won’t go into too much details, as I think it’s hard to how amazing these evenings actually are.
Tears and goodbyes is usually what the last day is filled with, and of course we guys doesn’t cry, but it’s still a bit sad to leave all of your friends which you’ve spend time with. Some people leave early (directly?), some people get a few hours of sleep and some people doesn’t have to leave before the evening.
I left at noon, which were fine as it wasn’t too early, neither too late. The last thing I remember, is the plane taking of, before I woke up in Copenhagen again, with a lot of great memories, inspiration and renewed passion for doing a difference for others.
By Andreas Vejlstrup, ILO of MD-106 Denmark