Friday, November 28, 2008

Daniel Sparling on his project in Hungary 2008

In the picture: a moving Hungarian sunset

I arrived in Hungary just a day before I was to meet up with my fellow volunteers and begin my second project of the summer. After finding my accommodation for the night I decided to go for a some sightseeing and discovered, thanks in part to my trusty guidebook, that I was in a very exciting part of Budapest, right by the River Danube, with lots of interesting places to visit, and good places to eat (and drink). I looked around for a while, marvelling at some of the fantastic architecture on offer, but finally the long day of travelling I’d had caught up with me and I decided to head back and rest up for the next day.

The next day I met the other volunteers at the station and we left Budapest for Bükkösd. On the 3 and a half hour train journey I was able to get to know the people I would be working with for the next two weeks. Already there was a wide range of nationalities with an American, a Korean, a couple of Spaniards and a Czech, as well as the Hungarian camp leaders.

At the station in Bükkösd we were spared a two hour hike to Gyűrűfű as the village minibus was able to come and pick us up. On the minibus ride to the village I began to get a sense of how remote we were, a dirt track road through a forest was the only route in, and with my phone rapidly losing any sort of signal I knew this was going to be a really good place to escape to. In Gyűrűfű we checked out the very basic accommodation and went up to the work site. Seeing the half built house I was excited about getting started, but we were due at the hosts house for my first taste of real Hungarian cooking. It was getting dark and we finally sat down to paprika stuffed with meat, which we ate under the light of the stars and a few candles. With the dinner we had traditional Hungarian Palinka. Another long day of travelling made everyone tired and we eventually got back to our home and were able to curl up in our sleeping bags for a very disturbed night of sleep. Cesar, one of the Spaniards, slept soundly, but unfortunately the sounds he was making kept every one else up.

After getting a few hours sleep we were woken at 6 o’clock for breakfast, it was early but the beautiful morning scene made it worthwhile. We had a big Hungarian breakfast with lots of meat, local cheese, and very fresh milk. After filling up we started work and we were shown how to make ‘csömpölyeg’ (mud and straw balls). Feeling fresh on our first day we worked quickly and finished well ahead of schedule at 10. We cleaned up and went back to relax for a while before lunch, another fantastic meal, a local goat soup. After lunch we were able to have a siesta and we were woken up to ‘energizers’, which were to become a regular feature, followed by a work shop, which started off with games to get to know each other and each other’s countries, and involved lots of drawing.

In the picture: volunteers built an earth-house, doing stamped wall, throwing adobe, doing masonry, wall carving, plastering, etc.

The evening work was preparing for the work the next day, with digging and pick axing to ‘mine’ the mud that was used to fill the ditches where csömpölyeg were made. After dinner we played a few more games to get to know each other, this time involving some alcohol, and went off for a better second nights sleep.

On the second day we gained the final four volunteers, another Korean and three French friends, all of whom were eager to work and got stuck in when they arrived. A couple of days of work passed before we were told at lunch that we had the afternoon off, and we prepared for a special night with Czech food and a Spanish Sangria.

The next morning we got a lie in before we left on an 8km hike to another village, where we held up the bar at cocktail bar run by a Nigerian-Hungarian man. We walked around the local village before meeting a local artist/Santa Claus doppleganger, who painted a few pictures for us.

We got straight back into work routine, and this continued until the apparent ‘storm of the century’ hit and we were unable to do any more. Prompting another rest day and we hiked to Ibafa where a tour of the famous pipe museum was rivalled by the local bar (no surprise where we spent most time).

Over the next few days, between work, we visited some of the other houses in the village and learnt about the traditional, sustainable techniques that were used to build them, as well as given the history of the village and how it is run now. The two weeks had seemed to fly by and soon we had finished up work on the last day in Gyűrűfű and were preparing for a bonfire in the evening. As we lay around the fire watching shooting stars above us I realised that I would soon be leaving this remote, beautiful place and getting back to the stressful lives we all have, stuck under piles of university work and student debt, although I wasn’t going to miss the cold showers!

The next day we packed up and left Gyűrűfű, hiking back to Bükkösd, before getting the train to Pécs where we were treated to a festival, with lots of singing and dancing, although two weeks of hard work, and another day of travelling, had us all drained and we were unable to experience more of it, but gladly headed for bed. In the morning we packed up again and caught the intercity train to Budapest, where, after some sad goodbyes, we went our separate ways, and before I knew it I was back on very wet, home soil.

In the picture: Daniel and the group of international volunteers cheering after a hard days work!

For more information on Hungary and our partner click here.

Click here for a country profile on Hungary

Monday, November 24, 2008

Monica's final report

Concordia CONCUK15 & CONCUK23 Playschemes (Fairplay 1 and 2) - A final blog from our lovely MTV Monica Burns who was in the UK for 6 months over the summer of 2008 from the USA

From the end of July through the end of August, two Concordia playscheme projects ran at the YMCA Fairthorne Manor. For the first project, lasting three weeks, volunteers came from France, Spain, Mexico, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Korea and Italy.

For the second project, two weeks long, volunteers came from Italy, Japan, Korea, Turkey, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, and Finland. In fact, two were past volunteers on last year’s playscheme project here at the YMCA.

During the summer break from school, the YMCA held daycamps for hundreds of kids throughout the region. The volunteers assisted the summer staff with the supervision of kids ranging in age from four to sixteen. They helped kids put on their harnesses and helmets for the aerial runway, covered the kids with soap and water for the huge waterslides down the front lawn, and played games between activity sessions. Many of the volunteers were able to participate in activities alongside the kids, such as canoeing, kayaking, archery, and the bouncy pillow, much to the delight of the kids they were supervising. Some vols even assisted the nursery with looking after children between 4 mos. and 6 years of age.

When they were done having fun with the daycamp kids, the volunteers had their own fun, playing games in the lounge, going for a swim in the river, lazing in the sun… Volunteers spent their spare time off-site in Brighton, Winchester, Bournemouth, and Portsmouth.

The presence of the Concordia volunteers was an impactful one. When their work was done, the volunteers received fond farewells from the kids they looked after. And when the projects were ended, the volunteers, who developed close friendships over the past few weeks, said their tearful goodbyes. Luckily, we have Facebook to keep us united

Monday, November 10, 2008

Concordia Post Season Event 2008 - 24th-26th October report

Now I know I say this every year but I honestly believe that this years Post Season Event was the best yet! We had around 25 volunteers join us in sunny Whitehawk for a weekend of information sharing, volunteering, games, food and fun. At every Post Season Event we spend Saturday either volunteering or undertaking global education activities. This year we were particularly keen to volunteer as the weekend coincided with CSV’s (Community Service Volunteers) Make a Difference Day - a nationwide initiative to encourage volunteering and Saturday 25th October was the biggest annual day of volunteering in the UK.

Our contribution to Make a Difference Day was volunteering at one of our new UK projects, Stanmer Organics. Stanmer Organics is a co-operative of individuals and groups based at an 8 hectare site at Stanmer Park in Brighton. They are committed to using the land for organic food production which is sold locally with the aim of reducing road travel & air pollution and being sustainable.

Our first stop was at an apple orchard where we collected apples and pressed them using a traditional hand operated apple press that made a surprisingly large amount of delicious apple juice - several buckets full in fact!

Also based in Stanmer Park is the Earthship a pioneer project in sustainable building techniques. “The Earthship is the most sustainable facility available in England with all electricity and water flowing freely from nature” (Low carbon website).

Mischa Hewitt who was greatly involved in the design and building of the Earthship joined our group and very kindly gave us a very interesting and honest tour and talk on the design of the Earthship, and sustainable buildings. Thank you to Mischa for taking time out from his busy weekend to join us. For more information on Earthships check out

No post season event would be complete without some get-your-hands-dirty volunteering, so once we had been shown around the Earthship we assisted John and Ben on their allotment planting trees and picking vegetables. The trees were an evergreen hedging plant Elaeagnus ebingeii which make a superb windbreak and also have edible berries and were part paid for by Concordia thanks to the money that Chloe won for us.

Needless to say we went out on Saturday night and painted the town red… well actually we painted it white as Brighton had a number of free events running to celebrate White Night – the night the clocks change. There was free access to the Pavilion, a variety of street performances to enjoy and of course more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the UK!

On Sunday we ran a global education session on Millennium Development Goals that were created by world leaders in 2000 and aim to reduce global poverty by 2015. Many of the targets look unlikely to be met and we joined the Oxfam led campaign “In My Name” to pressurise world leaders into doing more. For more information go to

All in all we had a fantastic weekend and it was great to catch up with some old faces and meet some new volunteers. Every year the post season event gets bigger and better and we can’t wait for next year so we can do it all over again! We would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who contributed to making it such a success and so much fun.

Concordia Team

Click here to see more pictures from the post season event.

Click here to see the pictures for the "In my name campaign"

Chloe Foster office volunteer 2008

Chloe volunteering with Concordia
This article was written by Chloe for the Brighton University website (see link below)

"Chloe is studying towards a BA (Hons) Education.

I am writing this with a huge smile of my face as I am honoured to have won joint third in the Student Community Prize Competition. I volunteered with Concordia; a local charity who host UK community projects. They set up, send and receive international volunteers for short and long term projects of all types. Projects range from restoration, conservation, archaeology, construction, arts, festivals, children's play-schemes or teaching.

I first discovered Concordia in February 2007 after a meeting with @ctive Student, which helped me to discover my interests and potential and they recommended Concordia to me. Later I enrolled on the 'Concordia Coordinator Training Course'. I spent 4 days learning how to be a coordinator. My role involved leading a group of ten volunteers at a ten day health festival project in May 07. I enjoyed my experience so much that when I was offered the chance to carry out an internship as part of my degree in Education I jumped at the chance and got back in touch with Concordia. In the spring this year I spent ten weeks with Concordia being involved in numerous roles including training, administration and advertising. Alongside my volunteering I also carried out a research project on volunteer motivations.

I am looking forward to going to Germany this September where I will take part in a community restoration international volunteer project. By going overseas I hope to gain a truer insight into more of what Concordia do. On my return I plan to continue volunteering in their office alongside my final year of studying and can't stop spreading the word of how great volunteering is!"

[Chloe eventually went to the project in Germanyand now we are waiting for her report! Concordia Team]

read this article on the Brighton University website on

The co-ordinator training course

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Euan Davidson on his volunteer project in Kyrgyzstan

In the picture: Euan and other international volunteers cleaning the beach in Kyrgyzstan.

Going to Kyrgyzstan was one of the best things I’ve ever done. The flights were expensive and I nearly decided not to go for financial reasons but I’m so glad I did go. The scenery in the country is fantastic and there are loads of great places to visit. The local volunteer agency was very good and I think their projects will improve each year. They are very committed to improving things in this challenging country.

Kyrgyzstan has a lot of problems as an economy and tourism offers a great way of moving the country forward. Helping with some small tourism projects was great. The mixture of international and local volunteers was really good and we became a very close group. The work we did was really good but there could have been more work organized. The first few days we cleaned up some local beaches next to a beautiful mountain lake. We also cleaned up the local school yard and orchard which was good. The second week we helped translate tourist signs (correcting grammar etc.) and went on some really amazing trips. As said above, there could have been more work organized but the work we did was really good.

During the camp we had the weekends off so I got the chance to travel with a couple of the international volunteers. I also spent two weeks traveling with a couple of the European guys I met on the project once the volunteering was finished. The traveling was great, we did horse treks, saw beautiful glacial lakes, went to a few cities etc. I’ve traveled to a few different countries before but Kyrgyzstan is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. They also have a great community based tourism scheme where you can arrange home-stays, guides, trips etc very cheaply.

On the whole the experience was more than I ever hoped for. I got a chance to find out more about this fascinating country, get involved in some work and meet some amazing people. Traveling round Kyrgyzstan after the project was amazing as well and I would urge anyone who loves the great outdoors to go to there. I hope to work in economic development in the future and this trip only spurred me in my ambitions. It was also great to get away from work for a month and really immerse myself in a different country. Go there and see for yourself!

Click here for more information on Kyrgyzstan

Click here for pictures of projects in Kyrgyzstan

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nichola Villiamson on her social project in Vietnam working with street children

Picture:Nichola with the children she was looking after
Well where do I begin with this description of my first volunteer project at the age of 37!Perhaps a good starting point would be with the months leading up to the project as this [I believe] assisted in the whole success of the project. Well here goes……

Once I had decided to undertake a project I had to perform the daunting task of a web search to find a suitable organisation. As can be imagined the search found hundreds of thousands of sites. For me important factors included a friendly organisation and one that when I emailed or rang them were always there to help me and to answer any of my concerns. Spending a weekend with the organisers and other volunteers was particularly useful. I had the opportunity to talk to people and found that we all had the same concerns and excitement about planned projects. Learning about other projects on offer was very good also and being able to talk to host organisers gave me confidence to think of other countries that I had perhaps at first thought best to avoid. The weekend definitely gave me a taste of things to come (but can I stress only a taste as nothing can truly prepare you for the actual work experience).

Travelling alone at first seemed exciting but as the day approached I experienced waves of nervousness if not nausea! I did not really want to travel alone but when it came down to various people who wanted to come with me on the project but unfortunately did not end up committing in the end for various reasons: it was a case of ‘go on your own or not at all’. I am so glad now that I did this first project on my own as I believe this made the whole experience unique and I developed people skills that at my age I didn’t think I had!!!

The journey itself was long and tiring! I wish I could put into words how nervous I was the days leading up to my departure from the UK. The feeling of being many miles away from my family and friends and going to do something I had never done before was overwhelming. How many times I had gone over scenarios in my head typically starting with the words “what if”!!! Travelling on my own was a whole new experience to me also but to be honest I met so many people on my journey to and from Vietnam that I believe I wouldn’t have spoken to if I was travelling with others. I quickly discovered how many people actually travel alone and are eager to talk to you. The planning of my journey involved some form of ‘mental’ criteria being met and I was glad I planned well. For example I made sure I landed in Hanoi during the day and not at night. I had arranged with the host for collection from the airport and I felt reassured when I saw the taxi driver with my name on a card. Unfortunately when I arrived at the youth house there wasn’t anyone to meet me. I no this is a negative point to raise but is something that other volunteers from other organisations had experienced. A positive point was that we just got on with it and were fine. In fact that first night we sat eating scones, butter and jam that I had brought all the way from England (trust me it was a great ice breaker!!)

Being immersed in the true culture of Vietnam was out of this world. We see poverty portrayed in the media etc but to truly understand how this must feel is something else when you are actually living it. It was hard to get accustomed to such poverty but you would be surprised how quickly you adjust and definitely having a positive outlook on life and the experience helped. Also appreciating that our way of life is so different to other communities and not expecting too much of our very indulgent lifestyles to be upheld on our chosen ventures!! Days of no running water certainly makes you appreciate what we have here!!

My project was working with street children but I was fortunate enough to have met a Vietnamese teacher who took me to a Pagoda housing 55 orphans. This was great as any free time I had I went to do some work there too. Praying with Monks was something else and so many tiny babies to cuddle. The general organisation of my work load and timetable was structured by the host lead. It was reassuring that the teaching sessions and daily job allocation was written on a wall planner. This gave all the volunteers the chance plan ahead. Working with the children that involved cooking or teaching was so wonderful. The children were so great and accepted us into their lives. Emotionally it was exhausting and involved periods of tears falling and bursts of laughter but each night reflecting on a truly unique magical experience.

I thought I would end this paper by trying to reflect on a question that I have been asked so many times and am still struggling to answer. “Why volunteer in the first place” answers that I had read from other volunteers included “do good work”, “to be able to give something back”. For me I don’t know why I wanted to be part of this other than I wanted to do something useful…..even if it was for only a short period of time. I truly believe I contributed to something unique in this mad world. The emotional journey I went through in two weeks was extraordinary and I learnt so much about myself and other people. I now feel inspired to take on more projects and I am keen to involve my sons too.

For more information on our partner in Vietnam, click here.

Click here for a country profile of Vietnam

Barney Smith's volunteer experience in Macedonia and Greece

Picture: Barney and the other international volunteers in the monastery in Macedonia

A bus to a town distinctly off the beaten track, another bus to an even more remote town, a car ride to an extremely remote village and finally a steep climb by car along a winding road to an isolated monastery perched on the top of a mountain….. I began my international volunteer project in Macedonia, as with every volunteer project before, with the feeling that I was stepping into the unknown as I took on this new challenge. I looked forward to discovering a new culture and meeting so many different people; for me, this is what makes these volunteer projects so interesting and so enjoyable. As I walked through the gates of the Monastery of St. Jovan Pretaca, near the village of Slepce, this sense was as strong as ever. I knew that I would be living and working in a completely new environment with people as yet unknown to me. This, my twelfth international volunteer project, was also an intensely emotional experience for me personally. My last project - last August in Turkey - was interrupted by the devastating news that my mother had been rushed to hospital and was critically ill, an illness which would lead tragically to her death nine months later.

As I tried to deal with grief and bereavement for the first time in my life, the setting of this project seemed particularly fitting. Living and working in a monastery, high in the mountains, was for me an immensely therapeutic experience. The group, also comprising volunteers from Croatia, France, Hungary, Serbia and South Korea, was ably led by two Macedonians. Our work consisted of gardening in the monastery grounds, renovating a nearby picnic area, and clearing vegetation and litter from the side of the road leading up to the monastery. We made the most of our free time, with visits to a convent and to the Monastery of St. Naum, as well as guided tours in the towns of Krusevo, Bitola, where we also watched a rock concert, and Ohrid, where we also went swimming in the lake. We ate well: we cooked some of the meals ourselves, others were cooked by the monastery staff and sometimes we ate in restaurants. After all our hard work, we felt we deserved it!

Although Bitola, the nearest transport hub, is only a short drive from the Greek border, crossing into Greece was not as straightforward as I had imagined. Relations between the two countries are frosty: some Greeks object to the name Macedonia which they assert implies territorial claims on the region of Macedonia in northern Greece. The Macedonians understandably resent the suggestion that they should be bullied into changing the name of their country and ask how the Greeks could possibly feel threatened by their much smaller neighbour. Alluding to the Greek name for their country (Hellas), some Macedonians have gone so far as to dub the road from Bitola to Florina, the nearest Greek town, as "the Road to Hell"! I saw firsthand the inconvenience caused on a practical level by this political dispute. There was no public transport across the border, so my only option was to take a taxi to Florina. "The Road to Hell" was all but deserted and the border crossing almost eerily quiet. "We feel like Palestinians going through an Israeli checkpoint," whispered one of the Macedonians in the car with me, as we went through Greek passport control. "Only joking!" she added quickly.

Greece was the fifth country I was visiting for the first time this summer. During my trip I had flown from England to Croatia and travelled through Montenegro and Albania before crossing into Macedonia. Greece was the last country on my list, although I was not ready to go home yet: after visiting three Greek cities (Thessaloniki, Igoumenitsa and Ioannina) it was time for another project. From the relative comfort of a Ioannina hotel (albeit a cheap and very dirty one!), I was soon on another bus to another remote village, the location of my next volunteer project, Pentalofos.

I had already received from the excellent two Greek camp leaders a list of participants; this was my introduction to the other fifteen volunteers who came from a wide variety of countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea and Spain. The first part of our work consisted of uncovering a stone path dating from the 19th Century: we used tools to remove the earth and vegetation from the stones. Guided by a local specialist, we also built part of a new stone path. In our free time we went to festivals in Pentalofos and the surrounding villages, visited a local monastery, walked in the mountains and went swimming. After the strain put on my waistline in Macedonia, the exceptionally good Greek cuisine presented a new challenge: on this project we ate almost all our meals in restaurants and the food was superb. As a result we always started work feeling refreshed and knew we had a delicious meal waiting for us at the end! In every international volunteer project the hardest moment is always saying good-bye to the other participants, and this one was no different.

Now that I have arrived back in my adopted home, Kuwait, where I teach English in one of the British schools, I feel like I have stepped into another world. I often think back to my summer in Macedonia and Greece. I think with a smile of my attempts to learn a few phrases of the local languages, and how I did my best to help the other volunteers with their English. I think of how we lived together and worked together. I think of the new people I met and the good times that we shared. I cherish every moment and every new friendship made, and value my new skills and experience. Every volunteer project overseas is for me a life-changing experience, and no summer would be the same without it.

by Barney Smith

Picture: Barney and the international volunteers in Greece

MKYCCBT01-08 SLEPCE was hosted by YCCB Macedonia from 21/07/08 to 31/07/08.
CIA-03-08 PENTALOFOS was hosted b y CIA Greece from 04/08/08 to 20/08/08.

Click here for pictures of projects in Macedonia
Click here for pictures of projects in Greece

Click here for a country profile of Macedonia
Click here for a country profile of Greece

Laura Meadocroft's volunteer project in the USA

In the picture: Laura and the other international volunteers.

The Hilton-Winn Farm, Maine, USA – July 2008

Three South Koreans, two Japanese, two French, one Swiss, one Swede and a Brit. Location: two weeks on a rural farm in Southern Maine, USA in July 2008. One rainy day in February I decided to sign up for a Concordia project, thinking that it would be a good way to spend time in the USA and help out in a local community. However, at that time I didn’t realise quite how much I would learn from this project, not only about the USA, but also about other global cultures and about myself.

The Hilton-Winn Farm Youth Enrichment Center is located in a beautiful area of Maine, near the towns of Ogunquit and Kennebunkport. The main goal of the farm is ‘to provide a country farm experience to enrich the hearts, minds and spirits of children’ and the restoration and maintenance of the farm is carried out by volunteers. The farm welcomes many school groups, including children from inner-city areas who may have very little, if any, experience of a rural environment. During the summer months, weekly activity projects also provide an opportunity for younger children to experience the farm during their summer vacation.

For myself and the other 9 volunteers our main tasks over the two weeks were to help maintain the farm and we completed a number of projects, including helping to build a chicken coop, clearing a large area of brush to enable building work to take place and general upkeep of the garden area. There was a strong sense of team spirit amongst the volunteers and a definite feeling of accomplishment as we worked together to finish projects. Aside from this we also joined in with some of the children’s activities which included going on hikes, picking wild fruit, arts and crafts activities and attending presentations by representatives from a local wildlife sanctuary. As someone who has lived largely in a city environment, I never thought I would be willing to touch snakes and turtles!

During the two weeks we were really made to feel at home at the farm and the kindness of the project leader Nancy and her friends and family helped to make our time so memorable. In addition to working we took part in various social activities in the evenings and at weekends. Highly competitive international games of football, volleyball and badminton took place on a regular basis, as well as camp fires and trips to the beach. In the second week there was also a Community Barbeque, which provided a great opportunity for volunteers to interact and socialise with members of the local community.

For me, one of the best things about taking part in this volunteering project was definitely the relationships that developed between the volunteers. Despite coming from a variety of different backgrounds and cultures everyone came together and was always willing to learn from one other. From learning how to count up to 10 in Swedish or how to make an origami dragon, to sampling a Korean omelette, the level of cultural exchange was fantastic.

When the two weeks were over, everyone was reluctant to part, but I know that we will all stay in touch. I think that the Hilton-Winn Farm is an amazing place for children to come and experience the natural environment. My time there made me realise the importance of taking time to learn about wildlife and our environment, especially in a world which is today so dominated by materialism and technology. I will definitely never forget the first two weeks that I spent in the USA and the people that I met here. To anyone considering taking part in a volunteering project abroad I would recommend it one hundred percent!

Laura Meadowcroft

More information on Concordia's overseas parnter in the USA here

Click here for pictures of projects in the USA

Click here for a country profile of the USA

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Fairthorne Young Carers Festival, Southampton, July 2008

Concordia volunteers helping at the festival

Monica Burns is a MTV (medium term volunteer) based at the YMCA's Fairthorne Manor, Southampton. She is looking after Concordia international volunteers at the festival.

Ten volunteers arrived at the YMCA Fairthorne Manor to assist with setting up, running, and taking down the 9th annual Young Carers Festival. Five guys and five girls came from the US, UK, Costa Rica, France, Ghana, Serbia, and Korea for two weeks of hard work. Their efforts supported the festival for kids who care for a brother, sister, father, mother or other family member with illness or disability. For some kids, the festival is the only chance they have to be a kid, while in their everyday lives they are primary caregivers who provide income, pay bills, cook dinner, and care for a sick family member.

We camped out in a small tent village behind the sports hall for about a week. Our host was able to get us accommodation in a building for the following week, provided that we vacate the following Monday for the next lot of school groups to move in for the week.

We had absolutely wonderful weather for the festival- a far cry from last year's festival where they experienced horrible rains. One of the major tasks of the project was to erect and pack away roughly 500 pop-up tents for the festival attendees to call home for the long and eventful three-day weekend. Ask any volunteer from this project about this experience, they'll tell you they'd never want to see another pop-up tent again! This especially since after having spent all day putting up tents, we were told the next day we had to take them all up and reorganize them! Say what!?!?! We weren't very happy, but I think by now we can find some humor in this experience, maybe...

We were also in charge of running some hired inflatables for the kids play on. It was a great time out in the sun, interacting with the kids, and bouncing around. We attended the massive campfire and disco as well as 'the Big Bash' hosted Saturday night by Grant Francis. Express FM was broadcasting the entire festival from the Y, and the BBC showed up Sunday to do a spot on the Politics Show. About 1500 people were in attendance for the weekend.

On the last day of the project, we had to move out of our comfy digs and back into tents for one night. Not normally a huge problem since we were anticipating camping for the entire project, but that day we had absolutely torrential rains. The lovely head of housekeeping said she had some spare rooms in another building, keeping us out of our now very damp tents. Yay!

We worked a bit in the morning of the 2nd to last day of the project, prepping the tent accommodations for the incoming school groups staying for the week. Our host suprised us with lunch and drinks at the Golf Club. We had the rest of the afternoon off, thankfully! The rains were tremendous!

In our spare time, we visited the pub and checked out Southampton and Portsmouth. Our host arranged activity sessions on the aerial runway, towers climb, and towers for us. We had a bit of rain during our towers session that scared off half the group, but the rest of us had a soaking wet good time.

The time the volunteers spent here provided a fascinating look into the lives of kids who are more than just students and youth in their communities. We understood the difficulties they face regularly and how such a festival provides a chance to have fun and meet others with similar circumstances.

Camping at the festival Volunteers

Olivia Van Den Bergen - EVS in Belgium

My name is Olivia and I am 22 years old. I am here in Marche-en-Famenne a medium size town in Belgium for seven months.

My EVS project involves helping "Compagnons Bâtisseurs" organise their international workcamps

To read more about Olivia's EVS in Belgium please go to

Click here for pictures of projects in Belgium

Click here for a country profile of Belgium

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Linden Farrer - EVS update from Romania

Linden is in Romania for one year on an EVS project, this is his second update:

We are now just over half way through the archaeological project. The weather here is baking most days, and I have had the chance to meet loads of people from all over Europe. In addition I have been helping out with archaeological work which I enjoy a lot, and have made some great friends. My Romanian is still at a basic level, but I can get by well enough with what I know.

The city now feels like home, having visited most nearby cities and checked out almost all of the restaurants and bars that the city offers. It is a nice place to live, generally quite relaxed, though there are definitely some things that I miss from the UK: live music (bands), club nights that don't play Phil Collins, Indian food, and my bike!

The main project, Citadora, has been a great experience for most of us and in particular the short term volunteers who come for a month. Many of them are in in tears at the prospect of leaving Oradea. But for us long-term volunteers who are co-ordinating the activities it has also been very challenging.

Apart from the long hours (that we usually make up by taking mornings off work), there is also the relentless pace of meeting new people, getting to know them, and then saying goodbye to them with almost no break before the next camp begins. So we get to make some great friends, on an almost monthly basis, and then say goodbye to them. In a way it is the year of
goodbyes: firstly saying goodbye to the people in England, and then saying goodbye to people all summer long!

Some of our team found that they didn't like the experience of living in Romania and felt homesick and longed for family and friends. Others have found the work too stressful. So our team of co-ordinators has gone from eight to four in just one month, which has been a bit of a shock.

The four of us who are left though work really well together though. And now that we have completed two workcamps we know exactly what it is that we need to do. In fact the pace of work has slowed to a much more pleasant pace, and we're able to cut our hours down. Later next month we are going to a festival in nearby Hungary, and I am planning a trip through the Balkans in September, partly with friends from England, and possibly partly on my own. This should be really exciting because all of the people I have met from the Balkan region have been great fun and it is an area that I have never been to before.

Linden at work

Click here for a country profile of Romania

Thursday, May 15, 2008

MTV at Fairthorne Wood, Southampton, UK

Monica Burns is from the USA and is an MTV (Medium Term Volunteer) on Concordia's UK programme. She is volunteering at the YMCA's Fairthorne Wood project in Southampton and is co-ordinating 4 projects during the summer. Here is her account of the first project at Fairthrone wood:

CONCUK02 Fairthorne Wood project

This is my first time ever volunteering abroad, and to be coordinating not one, but four projects over the next 5 months seems quite a daunting task. But, for my first project at the YMCA Fairthorne Manor, I am so happy to have had the opportunity to work alongside some great volunteers. The group of seven ladies and one gent were very hard workers and crossed the cultural barriers to get to know each other a little better. They came from Germany, Mexico, Switzerland, Korea, and Russia. Many questions were asked, many foods shared, many new games learned, and many, many laughs were laughed.

Our environmental project involved clearing a bit of overgrown land to create a woodland garden for the children to romp through. Take a look at our before and after pics.

We completed this garden a bit faster than anticipated, so we were given another task. We built wigwam for the nursery children to have class in when the weather was a bit damp. Check out the pics from the volunteers!

I've got three more projects this summer at the YMCA. I can't wait for the next group of volunteers to come!

~Monica : )

Click here for pictures of the Fairthrone Wood project

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

EVS in Romania

Linden Farrer is in Romania on an EVS project. He is going to be there for 12 months. This is his first account of life as an EVS volunteer in Romania:

I've been in Romania now for just over a month – and I can't believe how much I have done already. It's May the 1st – a national holiday here – and I now have some time to write something.

The project I am volunteering for is based in the city of Oradea. It's a city on the border of Hungary, a couple of hours drive from Transyvania plus the cities of Sibiu, and Cluj Napoca. Although it's about the same size as Brighton, it has a completely different feel – far less nightlife, but a really good public transport system, lots of parks, and quite a relaxed and laid-back feel to it. I already feel I know my way confidently around the city, and am looking forward to discovering some of the more hidden away places that I have heard about, and see some local bands.

I am working with a team of volunteers from quite a range of countries: Georgia, Albania, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. Because I am staying for a year, I am involved in more than one project, but the main one that I am working with the others on is quite enough as it is. In just less than a week about 18 other volunteers arrive from all over Europe to begin archaeological digging at the local 'citadel' (fortress) for a month; they will be followed by three other groups of the same size, with the last digging volunteers going home at the end of August. Our longer-term team has to coordinate activities for them, and make sure that they have everything they need to survive for their month's stay.

In between planning sessions, and securing accommodation, we have been organising visas, debates in schools about the citadel, a sports day, and a whole range of other activities that are supposed to attract the attention of a total of 20,000 people. It seems ambitious at the moment, but at least we are busy. On top of this we have Romanian language lessons out of work time plus the homework. Although most of us like the challenge of learning a new language – and Romanians are really understanding of mistakes – it would be nicer to be able to get by on a survival basis from the start because it is harder to meet people when you cannot speak a word. Nevertheless, it's a personal challenge to see how far I can go (from zero knowledge) in one year!

In addition to settling into life here, our team visited the region of Maramureş which borders the Ukraine in the north of the country. Here we got the chance to see some spectacular scenery, stay at a local guesthouse and eat a farmers breakfast and dinner (accompanied, as all meals are there, with the locally distilled palinka), and visit monasteries and the harrowing prison at Sighet where opponents of the communist regime were kept out of public sight. I've also had the opportunity to travel to Craiova in the south of the country to visit some people I met last year while on holiday, and as a group we plan more visits to other nearby cities in the next couple of months.

With our main project hitting the ground (running or not) in less than a week I think the next month will bring lots more experiences and be lots more fun. I'll try and write more then.

Click here for a country profile of Romania

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Emma McGuire reports on her project in Zimbabwe in 2007

How should I organise this report? Chronologically, or by theme? Is it a story, a list, a lesson, a philosophical treatise? If I can make it interesting, hopefully that will be enough. It shouldn’t be hard.

I arrived in Harare International Airport very early on the morning of Sunday 15 July, and almost the first thing I remember noticing was the gilt-framed portrait of Robert Mugabe over the door I was passing through. His was a face that proved difficult to get away from. There were no portraits in our camp by the Zambezi, but the face still made itself felt. If fireside discussion veered into the realm of politics, the camp leader shifted it away. Politics is not for the common man to discuss in Zimbabwe. They proclaim their lack of involvement, lack of knowledge, lack of responsibility: we leave that to the politicians, they say. That is what they are there for. And in a large group, there is always a danger in mentioning certain issues, certain names. Reference to ‘the Government’, a suitably broad and relatively safe terminology, effected a shadow of the feeling that ‘You-Know-Who’ creates in the fictional world. Even in Victoria Falls, far from the centre of politics, I was self-conscious in my photography and cautious in my diary. Emails were self-censored. There was no danger, once such basic steps of caution were taken. Tourists are welcome, sought-after. But I am not used to feeling a face peering over my shoulder.

I spent my first day in Zimbabwe resting – apart from a two hour trip to the internet and the local supermarket. The shelves were not looking healthy, and the queue lasted half an hour or so. I saw bread, but did not queue for it. I knew already of the food crisis. With somewhat naïve nobility, I did not want to take bread out of the mouths of the locals. This was a delicacy that I lost before the end of my three weeks.

I was to be collected at 8.30 am the following morning to join the others for the trip north and west to Victoria Falls. At shortly after 10, Innocent arrived for me. This, my first experience of Zimbabwean timekeeping, strained my nerves severely. At home, the only explanation for such a delay would have been miscommunication or accident. In Zim, it is of course perfectly normal.

The journey to Victoria Falls was without doubt the most uncomfortable day of my life.

Workcamp membership consisted of 14 Zimbabweans, including the camp ranger and driver, and 3 Europeans. We stayed in shared tents (old and draughty) in a basic campsite beside the river Zambezi. There was a store hut, a fireplace and stone table, and a non-functional toilet and shower. Washing took place with buckets; the toilet was dug new every few days, and that not so often as might have been ideal.

Our work technically took place between 8 and 12 in the morning, Monday to Friday. In practice the hours were often shorter than that, as we were so often late. We never worked beyond 12, although we were very frequently waiting for over an hour to be collected from our work.

The primary job was to cut back vegetation on a trail running alongside the Zambezi, so that it could be used by the National Parks Association for walking safaris for tourists. Victoria Falls National Park has been in danger, through neglect, of losing its World Heritage Site status, and work such as this went a little way to preserving that status. We also spent two mornings working in nutrition gardens in which fruit, vegetables and herbs were being grown for the benefit of Aids sufferers.

The work on the trail itself was very difficult, at least as far as I was concerned. We were using machetes, axes and mattocks. They were heavy and blunt. The only tool I could use was a machete, and of those there was only one with a grip narrow enough to be moderately comfortable for me to hold. My aim was poor, and my strength insufficient for the job. While both of these improved significantly even over the very short period of the workcamp, they still couldn’t be compared to the abilities of the locals. There was the added difficulty of the heat – although it was winter, we hit 30+ by 11 a.m. or so, and my strength (such as it was) simply drained away if I tried to work in direct sunlight. I carried water with me everywhere, for my own benefit and that of Marcel, a north German, and to the mildly scornful bemusement of my Zimbabwean friends. They did not understand why we needed to drink ‘so much’ water; in fact I am fairly sure they just thought we were wimps. But that couldn’t be helped.

Anyway, given all that, I can’t honestly feel that I was of any real assistance on the trail. They would have finished just as fast without me, even though I tried my best. In the gardens, working with tools I was used to on jobs that didn’t require so much strength, I made more of an impact. Financially, I know that my fee paid for the food of far more people than just myself, which is probably the biggest practical impact I made. And in terms of cultural exchange, the project was very definitely worthwhile, I think from both points of view.

There were so few ‘westerners’ on the project that the balance of cultural exchange was very intense. Much of the conversation was in Ndebele and Shona, despite a camp rule that all group conversation be in English, as the only language that all there had some grasp of. This felt at times quite isolating, and the presence of two languages made getting any handle on even basic phrases more confusing: no one could be persuaded to teach me just one phrase, or one language, at a time; with the result that I couldn’t keep anything much in my head following the intense and convoluted lessons. My only word in Ndebele is ‘Kiwa’ or ‘White’. Wherever we went in the township (suburb), and in the ranger village, the children shouted and followed us. Gertie, one of the girls in the camp, persisted in pointing me out and calling ‘Kiwa’ on these occasions, just in case any children had managed to miss me. I began to feel rather like a travelling elephant; a simile that was rather inappropriate in that location, where elephants did not occasion nearly so much comment.

The fact that my skin colour was so noticeable demonstrates clearly the segregation in Zimbabwean society. Those children all lived within 10 km of Victoria Falls. Despite the difficulties of recent years, this is still a constantly visited tourist attraction. On the main streets of Victoria Falls the town, I saw many foreign tourists, white, black and asian. Yet 2 km up the road in the township, the tourists almost never go. 6 km out of town in the ranger village, they are even rarer, although they pass close by on the safari trails. And white Zimbabweans are similarly not present in these areas. My being there, frequently garbed in the distinctive bright blue workcoat of the Zimbabwean manual labourer, was a very unusual thing. I was surprised by how intensely, instinctively uncomfortable I felt wearing that workcoat. It was a uniform, a symbol of an identity that I was borrowing, trying to learn about, but which was fundamentally strange to me. I didn’t like wearing it, even before I really knew why. As an experience, that made it all the more interesting.

In those preserves of the local Zimbabwean, I was greeted with great friendliness and warmth wherever we went. In the centre of town, I was greeted as a potential source of money, just like any other tourist. That is probably the biggest gift being on the workcamp gave me; the backstage pass. I missed it intensely when I went on safari for ten days following the workcamp, and was once again in a group of western tourists, being hustled on the street instead of greeted with instant affection.

Life in the camp itself was very structured. We were part of one ‘family’, and had to do things together or not at all. In practice it didn’t always work like that, but Mike, the camp leader, and Malven, a guy of somewhat preachy character, talked about it fairly constantly. Each night we had a meeting about how the day had gone, and everyone had to say what they thought. Some did, some didn’t. The standard statement of ‘For me the day was ok’ was an infectious one; quickly, I found myself adapting to the phrasing and language usages of those around me. There was a certain loss of individual identity, something which I resisted instinctively and intensely. Again, it surprised me how strongly I felt.

We spent our evenings around the campfire. I was on the entertainment committee, and we organised social debates and discussions, told stories, sang songs and played games. As a group we went on outings; to Victoria Falls, to a crocodile ranch, elephant riding and for football games. An extreme proportion of our time was spent sitting in or around the van waiting for Mike to finish business in the office or town centre. It was supposed to be a way of conserving the precious and expensive fuel that, absurdly, had to be fetched from Hwange, 100km away. But it wasn’t handled very efficiently, and often it seemed like efforts intended to save fuel were actually using more than would otherwise have been the case. Mike was a disorganised and defensive leader, who frequently lied rather than accept responsibility for something having gone wrong. He didn’t communicate well with his assistant leaders from Harare, nor they with him, with the result that we ran out of most food at the beginning of the third week, and subsisted on nothing but potatoes and rice for a couple of days.

Cooking took place on an ironwood fire in a stone cooking pit. We stirred sadza in a large cauldron with huge wooden beaters, to make enough for all of us. Sadza, or cornmeal porridge, may be the most filling food I have ever tasted. The portions were enormous and I could never finish what I was given, even after I started severely restricting what was put on my plate. The camp wasted quite a lot of food, just as petrol and time were so frequently wasted.

This may come across as rather a critical report. What I am trying to make sure it is is an honest one. There were many things that were uncomfortable either physically or socially, and some that upset me on a personal level. ‘Gender issues’ were a very current issue for most of the people on the camp, and were under constant discussion. The proportion of men to women was intimidating, and the other women were very unwilling to give their opinions in group debate or say what they really thought if they did speak. The men were equally unwilling to believe that there was a problem, and laughed at the women when they didn’t want to speak. I found it difficult to distinguish the line between culture and sexism, difficult to know which things it would be acceptable to take issue with and which I should just accept. That was probably the most difficult part of the workcamp, on a personal level.

Having said all that, it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had. In some ways I felt freer than I ever have before: free to just let things happen. I learned so much about people on an individual level and within the wider social and cultural context. Three weeks is the tip of the iceberg, of course. It was exciting, and fun, and fascinating, and the exhaustion and confusion and discomfort only added to that. I wouldn’t change anything, except perhaps to have taken a pair of seceters with me and have left them as a gift to Environment Africa. Then I might have made more of an impact on the actual task at hand!

Emma McGuire 2007

Click here for pictures of projects in Zimbabwe

Click here for a country profile of Zimbabwe