One of the qualities that we recommend in volunteers is adaptability – on a project, there is
always the possibility that things could change or just not be what you expected and we hope that Concordia volunteers will rise to this challenge and see it as a part of the whole experience. Lynne Moore describes how her group did just that – and the expected benefits that it brought –
when her project was hit by the floods that swept across Europe last summer.
Sommieres was one of the towns badly hit by the floods in the South of France in September. Before the flooding and for the first week of our project, the work involved renovating a room in the grounds of Le Cart and tidying up all 8 levels of the garden the centre had. The group of volunteers included people from France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Turkey and Slovakia. The work in the garden was far more popular than the work in the room since the room was small, airless and dust filled. Still, we all pitched in and helped in both places by rotating positions.
For our first weekend, we organised a trip to nearby Nimes. All of us enjoyed seeing the city and experiencing all it had to offer. On the Sunday, our plan had been to go hiking in the Cevenne mountains which surrounded Sommieres. However, our plans were stopped when it proceeded to rain all day (I left the UK to escape that!). Instead, we spent the day playing cards, and having heated discussions about the way the group was working and about the actual work itself. That evening it was still raining and there was lots of thunder and lightening.
The next morning we awoke to find the rain had not stopped and that our leaders cars were already 1 metre underwater. We moved them to a ‘drier’ spot out of the rain. Then came the news that it would get worse as they would have to open the gates of a nearby dam. We went out quickly to try and get some provisions as our cupboards were bare. All shops were were closed and in a short space of time we found our route back to the centre was over one metre under water. We had to wade home.
By the time we came back the water was coming down the main road (right outside our front door) like a river. Over the next two or three hours it rapidly rose. By that time, the centre, and indeed the town, had no electricity. When we went to bed that evening, the water had reached its peak (over three metres) and was starting to go down.
On Tuesday morning, when we woke, we found the water gone, but an awful lot of water and mud and dirt in its place! The whole basement (several large rooms of the centre) were full of dirt and very wet. All of us helped to clear the mess and throw out everything as it was ruined. It was this day that we saw how badly damaged the once beautiful mediaeval town was. It seemed like nothing had escaped – shops, houses, and much more. The town was full of emergency services and provisions such as bread water and wine. With the Le Cart Centre being so well placed and having many bedrooms and a restaurant, it quickly became like a refugee centre. People whose houses had been damaged stayed there and even the police and firemen from outside the area had meals in the centre. It provided an excellent service to the people of the town.
The group helped the centre by clearing it from the mud and also by helping the kitchen and restaurant cater for over 200 people per meal. This work was both physically and emotionally demanding as we were helping people who had lost everything, and there had also been people killed. We tried not to consider this until ‘after’ as we all wanted to help in any way possible. After Le Cart was cleaned out, we went into the rest of the town to offer our services to the other people of the town.We worked like this for almost the rest of the two weeks, apart from the weekends when we organised trips to the beach, walks in the vineyards and a visit to the Pont du Gard. Never before had nine people been so glad to get to a beach! After having worked so closely with each other, and having experienced what we did together, we really helped each other out.. Working in with no electricity, water or communications was hard for us all but didn’t particularly bother us. In fact, it was character building for all of us and helped us to appreciate things we had taken for granted at home and in the first week, as well as helping us to group together and get to know one another. Even the way things turned out with the floods, I would do the whole thing over again in a shot.