Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Coordinator Story: Barney at Green and Away

Green & Away International Volunteer Project

Summer 2019

My thirtieth international volunteer project – my sixth as coordinator – took place at Green & Away, an ecological conference and events centre in Worcestershire. The other volunteers were Karolina from the Czech Republic, Amaury, Clemmy and Nicolas from France, Marta from Italy, Annika from the Netherlands and Laura from Spain. Our work involved laying a phone cable, helping in the running of a wedding, and dismantling and storing the tents and other equipment. We also helped with chores around the project site, including preparing breakfast, cooking, washing-up, cleaning, watering the flowers, lighting the showers and shutting the gates at night. 

This being an English summer, the weather was a mixture of sun and rain, but fortunately the worst of the rain was at night – on the last night of our project in fact. When the weather was nice we always looked forward to a swim in the river after work. On our days off we went to Great Malvern and Worcester, where we visited the cathedral, walked and shopped in the city centre, and enjoyed fish and chips and coffee. We also attended a discussion forum where we gave our feedback regarding the project site. Some afternoons after work there were sports and games, and some evenings there was a campfire. I would like to thank our hosts at Green & Away and the staff at Concordia for making this project possible, as well as all the Concordia volunteers for being such a great team – always cheerful, hard-working, flexible, and fun to be with.

Barney, Coordinator at Green and Away Take Down 2019

Friday, August 23, 2019

A Volunteer and Coordinator's story: Barney 2018 - Volunteer in France and Coordinator in the UK

This summer was my fourth which combined volunteering overseas with coordinating in the UK. 

My first project took me to France’s least-populated department, Lozère, where a mere 12,000 people inhabit its regional capital Mende. Our group, led by Rui from Portugal and Hélène from France, also consisted of the other Francophone volunteers Sarah, Marie, Aziz and Mohamadou, Spaniards Diego and Beñat, Rebecca and Luli from Italy, Jo from South Korea, and Alejandra and Jorge from Mexico. 

 Our task was to renovate Les Boissets, a complex of old farm buildings, by sanding and then varnishing the doors and shutters. We slept in tents in a neighbouring field. There was also time for canoeing, hiking and vulture-watching, and a walking tour of Sainte-Énimie. We stayed in touch with families by connecting to the local tourist office’s free wifi. The project was in a peaceful, remote and beautiful mountainous area with abundant wildlife; we saw deer and snakes (mercifully away from the tents!) in the wild. It was memorable for me as the only English volunteer not just because of our work and activities in this isolated corner of France, but because of the heroics of the English football team in reaching the semi final of the World Cup.

The second stage of my volunteering was as coordinator of the summer’s final Green Away project in rural Worcestershire. Due to a number of last-minute cancellations I coordinated what I’m assuming to be Concordia’s smallest ever group – consisting of Dana from Germany and me! Our work involved helping to run the final events of the summer at this sustainable tented conference centre, powered largely by solar energy, and then gradually taking down the tents and other equipment, as well as performing day-to-day tasks in order for the centre to function, such as chopping and then lighting the wood both for the stove and for the showers, watering the flowers, cooking, washing-up and cleaning. While I never quite got used to the compost toilets, the role they play in fertilising and in saving water is undeniable. We were part of a much larger group of volunteers from many walks of life, including even a volunteer who is a member of the House of Lords. The leisure activities included a day-trip to Worcester, a quiz night, dancing, cycling, swimming in the nearby river, football, rounders, cards and other games.

One of the best aspects of international volunteering is the variety of projects carried out as well as the range of people participating. Last summer’s projects, which bring my total to twenty-nine, were no different. Having participated in, or coordinated, international volunteer projects for two decades, I would encourage others to do the same. It is one of those times when you can break out of your daily routine, leave your comfort zone, broaden your mind, meet people you might not otherwise meet, and as a result become a better, more knowledgeable, more flexible and more open-minded person.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Volunteer and Co-ordinator Story: Barney

Volunteering, Coordinating, Leadership
My International Volunteer Projects 2017

Barney at Manjushri project as coordinator
This summer’s volunteering began by the sometimes rainy Cumbrian mudflats and ended in the heat of southern France. After these latest projects, which bring my total to twenty-seven (four as coordinator), I take the opportunity to reflect on how volunteering and coordinating have helped me to develop my leadership and organisational skills.

As coordinator of one of the summer projects at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre (MKMC) near Ulverston, I was privileged to work with a small but enthusiastic group of international volunteers: Barbora from Slovakia, Eliška from the Czech Republic, Florent from Belgium and Julie from France. Our work consisted of housework and gardening, as well as helping in the art studio and café. We also enjoyed two days out walking in and around Ulverston, as well as a trip to Coniston where we made good use of the leisure budget by treating ourselves to coffee followed by hiring a rowing boat. While the work of our group, together with that of the other volunteers, was directed by Steve and his team at MKMC, I was the first port of call if any of the Concordia volunteers had any issues which needed resolving, whether relating to work, accommodation or free time. I made sure there was a leisure activity available in the evenings and on days off, when I also organised packed lunches for the volunteers.

Barney and Manjushri Volunteers on a day trip in Ulverston, Cumbria

After a gap of a couple of weeks I was one of a group of international volunteers to renovate the Réals mill near Cessenon-sur-Orb, a village not far from the southern French city of Béziers. With the guidance of the local organiser Rodolophe, the aim was to remove excess vegetation and to rebuild the parts of the mill which had fallen into disrepair, so as to make the mill a more attractive place for visitors as well as habitable for bats. 

Barney and his fellow volunteers at the work site in France

The group also consisted of our two French coordinators Emelyne and Alexandre, as well as Marlene and Mariame from the Dominican Republic; Adèle, Florian and Toine from France; Nebojša from Serbia; and Maria and Sophia from South Korea. While not a coordinator on this project, I found the leadership and organisational skills which I had learnt on UK projects to be useful when (while careful not to be a “backseat driver”!) I was occasionally asked my thoughts on group matters. As an English native speaker and who has studied French as my second language, I was sometimes asked to interpret, although I have to admit that after putting into English as well as I could a talk on bats I decided I might benefit from brushing up my natural history vocabulary in both languages! Free time activities included trips to the seaside, nearby tourist sights and mountains, an outdoor concert, dinner at a nearby village, canoeing and bowling.
Barney on his second project as a volunteer in France
Having seen my own leadership and organisational skills develop from volunteering, I would definitely encourage others to coordinate and participate in projects. These are important skills in many careers and walks of life including in my own career of teaching. Both as coordinator and volunteer I have been on a constant learning curve and I look forward to continuing to develop my skills in the future. 

Barney Smith, Summer 2017

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A Group Coordinator's Story: Joana at the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre

Joana lead a group of international volunteers on the last shift of our project at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre at the end of summer 2017. Volunteers' work supported the day to day running of the centre and had the chance to learn a lot about meditation and Buddhism. Thank you Joana for your great article and we are glad you had such a great experience and learnt so much from it!

Joana leading volunteers on a outdoor excursion!

Being a coordinator on one of Concordia's summer project was one of the most rewarding experience of my life. At first I was really worried about not being able to make this experience the best possible for the volunteers, indeed having all those responsibilities in terms of social activities and group bonding was a first for me, however the volunteers made it quite easy. The main problem I encountered was probably trying to be firm and cool at the same time, acting like a “mum” and a friend at the same time.

Joana and the group of international volunteers
 The greatest lesson I learned from this experience was putting other people's interests (mainly volunteers) before my own, as a coordinator I thought it was my role to make everyone feel comfortable and as satisfied as possible from the various activities. However, as a human being I wasn't always agreeing with what the volunteers were keen on doing; it was really uplifting to put myself second for the best of a group, as it is something I was not too used to do (but I really enjoyed it and it taught me so many things about myself). Within the group as well, many differing views were expressed in terms of social activities, being the coordinator taught me a lot about doing compromises and taking responsibilities to please everyone whatever was decided. For instance, when we went on a day trip to the Lake District, the physical abilities of all the volunteers were quite different in terms of hiking, but by talking to each of them separately and then as a group we managed together to make a plan for the day that pleased everyone.

One of the volunteers doing some cleaning at the Manjushri Centre
 I believe the experience of coordinating a project in the UK made me more confident about a lot of different things; I now know how to make all the voices in a group heard, I've learned how to communicate well with two different parties (in this case the host and the volunteers) to prevent any issues from happening and avoid further conflict when an issue is already here.

For the future, I will definitively be using those leadership skills, communication skills and of course the kindness and understanding the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre taught me. I would really recommend to anyone, from any background and any personality to try being a coordinator as I think we all have so much to learn from volunteers and hosting organisations.

Joana Salles, Group Coordinator at the project Manjushri 3, summer 2017 

A Group Coordinator's Story: Coordinating an Eco Festival project in the UK

Here is the story from our of our Group Coordinators, Alex, who lead an international group of volunteers at an Eco-Festival project in Worcestershire during summer 2017, especially helping with the set up of the site before the festival started. 

The main marquee of the Eco Festival Green and Away

After I came returned to the UK, from an amazing long term volunteering project in Romania through Concordia, I had a meeting with the Concordia team to discuss the experience and settling back in. Soon, the conversation turned to the future; “What’s your plans for the summer?” (or something to that effect). Bored of my small room in a busy flat and full of wholesome memories of my Balkan travels, I gladly said “I’m down for anything!” (or something to that effect).
Before I knew it, I was heading to the Concordia office for a coordinator training course, where I’d meet a bunch of like-minded volunteer types. We discussed everything that we might encounter as a UK coordinator, if and when we ever coordinated other volunteers. The handy information we were given had strategies for dealing with matters like group cooking to conflict resolution, the latter transpired to be more applicable than the former.
Inspired and intrigued I came away with many new ways to take two weeks off work and volunteer instead. I could have stayed at Buddhist sanctuary, worked with deserving young carers or taken part in a music festival! Instead I was bound for two weeks camping in a muddy field eating vegan food – not my grandparents’ idea of a good break. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to working with ‘Green and Away’, an eco-friendly and creative events venue.
My first notable encounter of Green and Away hospitality came when one of the Concordia volunteers missed their connection and was going to arrive in the middle of the night. Although it was only my responsibility to ensure the Concordia volunteers were settled into camp, half the other volunteers at Green and Away stayed up with me to welcome the lonely traveller in with a cheer and a hug! It was very warming and I knew I would I be with good company for the duration of the stay.
As the long hot days went on we could see the camp growing and taking shape. Structures were being built every day and the muddy field was transformed into a homely venue. We could see the fruits of our labour. Everyone had their jobs to do, which was increasingly difficult in +30oC heat, but we had plenty of water and support. In the midday sun we would swim in the stream and cool off, it really put you in touch with your senses and with nature. Later in the evenings we would sit around the campfire or snuggle up in the Mongolian yurt and get to know each other. It was a satisfying, social and wholesome lifestyle.

We would get days off allocated during the week, so there was the opportunity to head into town and relax. The Concordia volunteers and I went for a day in Worcester, where I treated them to a full English Breakfast. Despite having a vegetarian among us, everyone enjoyed their meal (the café offered a veggie full English). This was their first encounter with a British classic, since they all came from different countries. It’s nice to know I could offer a cultural experience as well as a tasty one.

Once all the physically hard work was done and our beautiful camp was ready for guests. This is when the dynamic on camp changes from being practical and resourceful to being hospitable and service driven. The guests were always lovely and everyone on camp bands together to help each other out.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. After being so absorbed in the atmosphere of Green and Away I had to don my coordinator hat once more. Gathering the other volunteers feedback was great, because I got to hear that they had a magical time too. This project was very comfortable from a coordinator perspective. Although, I think the role was useful, the accommodation, food and task allocation was excellently handled by the Green and Away team, so my job was to keep everyone happy and having the best time possible.

Despite having to resolve an issue between Green and Away and one of the volunteers after I got home, which was later resolved, I had such an amazing time. Green and Away is a special place where you can forget time passing and enjoy eco-living. They a strong sense of community which is welcoming and supportive. The work is hard and can be physically challenging, but it certainly pays off. I’m proud to have been a part of Green and Away and to have helped spread the message of sustainable development while personally having a lot of fun.

Alex Kimber, Group Coordinator at Green and Away Set Up, Summer 2017

Are you interested in becoming a Group Coordinator for Concordia? Read here about how to apply.