Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Co-ordinating Pestalozzi- Summer 2003

On arrival at Pestalozzi International Student Village, I was given a tour of the site, set in acres of lush green countryside and woodland. As I was shown to my room, I was delighted to see a freshly-made bed and when we reached the dining room, where I was informed that three cooked meals would be served each day, without us lifting a finger, I was sure I’d chosen the right project! The food proved to be tasty and plentiful. We had our own lounge and the long-term volunteers welcomed us to use their kitchen (on the floor below us). This enabled us to sample French specialities created by volunteers Emilie and Emmanuel, and we also took advantage of their offer of internet access.

So, once we had settled in, two hot sunny weeks in June were spent staking out walkways, strimming grass verges, moving furniture, putting up fencing and erecting marquees. Whilst inside, signs were produced, curtains were hemmed and animal sculptures were created, all in preparation for the all-important “Pestalozzi Festival”, which promised to be bigger and better than ever before!

Although some volunteers proved difficult to motivate when there was heavier work to be done, generally preferring to sunbathe during the long sunny days, everyone agreed the end result was worth the effort. Over the festival weekend, volunteers worked on the gate selling tickets, served behind the bar, did face painting and acted as marquee stewards and stagehands, still leaving plenty of free-time to enjoy the music, acrobatics and story-telling, sample African and Asian cuisine, browse the craft stalls and mingle with the stars!

The site also hosts PGL Adventure Holidays for children. The hard-worked, but permanently hyperactive staff, were easily coaxed into providing us with a few evenings of entertainment. Firstly they took us to the “trapeze” in the woods, which involved climbing a wobbly 30ft pole to leap from a tiny platform to a swinging trapeze! By the time I reached the top the pole was violently shaking due to my knocking knees (bearing in mind that small children do this daily). Although I was petrified by this, there was worse to come when volunteers dragged me across the fields and back into the woods at midnight “just for fun”. Noises in the darkness left us clinging to each other, followed by a hasty retreat!

More warm summer evenings were spent playing football, basketball, card games and scrabble, singing and playing guitar (kindly lent by our hosts). Although by 10pm each night the lure of the local pub always got the better of some! When PGL staff invited us to their campfire in the woods, Mirco, our ‘guitar star’, and PGL’s Chris, made beautiful music and everyone sang along. The children’s song “How Funky is your Chicken?”, with actions, was also taught to the group and heavily practised all week!

Our first Saturday was spent in Brighton, with artists “Maambena”, who were singing, drumming and performing acrobatics in the city centre to promote the festival. Whilst handing out flyers, we managed to visit Brighton Pavilion and take a stroll along the prom. During the project we also visited the local towns of Eastbourne, Hastings and Battle. Our journey by open-top bus, along Eastbourne sea front and up to Beachy Head, seemed to be a highlight for the volunteers (despite it blowing a gale up there) and “How Funky is your Chicken?” was performed, yet again, in public!

The genuine gratitude from our hosts and the whole festival experience made this a rewarding experience for all of us. Although I found myself facing new challenges each day, having the opportunity to lead this diverse group was an invaluable and enriching experience. For most of the group, this was their first project and first time in England, and to be part of that experience, in such a beautiful setting, was a privilege.

Helen Janes, UK

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