The ‘Paths of Life’ project in Styria, Austria, offered the chance to live and work with people from all over the world, including local youth and disadvantaged people, with the purpose of constructing hiking path stations. We were in charge of 2 stations; a small part of a large hiking path which was designed in the shape of a human figure. The main station formed the elbow section, and we had to dig a really big hole to stand a huge stone sculpture in.
The sculpture was designed as an outdoor water basin in which you could dip your elbows following a hard days hiking as it is supposed to be a good cure for headaches.
When we weren’t getting muddy, we were getting hot (the weather was lovely) and covered in paint, as we’d been asked to clean and paint the water hydrants in the local area. Consequently there are now some very fine efforts ranging from a variety of influences (postmodernism, free love and ‘Finding Nemo’) (!) to brightening up the village.
(Fay posing behind her piece of art!)
Although I grew quite fond of my spade and shovel, I found the work on the project was the least challenging or rewarding part of the experience. Far more important was being able to live and work together with 12 people from different countries who had never met before. Whilst the facilities in the hostel offered squash, tennis, internet access and a reliable source of ice cream, we slept on the floor in the old sauna with a small outside kitchen. Initially, it was quite a bizarre experience, with not much room for personal space. After a while I got into routine, and developed affection for the marathon snorer who I discover (thankfully) has other things to offer too.
As well as getting to know people individually I also had an education in culture and best of all, in foreign food. I can’t cook and I was put to shame by some of the delicious national dishes other volunteers made for the group to try. In our free time we swam in the local open-air swimming pool, visited the beautiful Styrian capital Graz and were encouraged to get to know the picturesque region we were staying. I did this through working for the local people and exploring it by bike. The locals made us feel welcome and the Mayor baked us fresh bread every morning. I feel privileged to have been part of the mini-community of the Austrian work camp and have fond memories of work and leisure but especially of the lovely people who contributed to it.
(Fay Crowther, Austria 2005)
click here for pictures of projectsc Austria
click here for a country profile of Austria