Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The First Three Days in Morocco- Summer 2001

I was about to leave for a year in Russia. I’d been there before, and had memories of endless blocks of concrete boxes, gruff people and knotted bureaucracy at every step. I wanted some sun before I left. I wanted mountains and blue skies, a complete change of scenery and culture, something exciting before the slog! In fact, I got far more than I’d bargained for.

I picked a workcamp in Morocco. It wasn’t my first choice, which was in an isolated village in the Atlas Mountains, but in Chefchaouen, a touristy town in the “Spanish” north where we would be renovating the Casbah. I got hold of guidebooks – and panicked!! The Rough Guide leads the way in painting a terrifying picture of Moroccans and their country. I was expecting constant hassle from taxi drivers, gangs of street-children, shop keepers, men, pick pockets – everybody, in fact! I dug out old baggy clothes that covered me from the neck down, and scarves for my hair just in case. It’s impossible to buy Moroccan dirhams outside the country, and the guidebooks assured me that airport currency exchanges were bound to be shut. My flight would arrive early evening, and I had visions of finding myself in Tangiers (according to the guidebook, the worst introduction to the country), penniless and with nowhere to sleep.

My heart sank as the flight was delayed – we were now due to arrive at midnight. The heat was still radiating from the runaway as we walked to visa control. The queues stretched out of the building, and, sitting on my rucksack during the hour-long wait, I started talking to a young couple who were also heading for Chefchaouen. The boy had been once before, but the town is famous for its hash, and he wanted to show his girlfirend. We got a taxi (later I realised what a luxury it was, only 3 people in one taxi!) and, at 4 o’clock in the morning stopped to ask some men smoking by a fountain for a hotel. Half asleep we followed one of them into the maze of streets of the Medina, or old town, and found ourselves a space on the roof of a tiny hotel. It wasn’t long before I was woken by the call to prayer, and soon the sun was too hot to sleep any longer.

My first glimpse of Morocco was staggering. Somehow, during the night I had been transported from a Gatwick departure lounge to this rooftop-terrace. The town was white – chalky white-washed walls against the folds of stony white hills. The sky was the bright summer blue that we so rarely get in Britain, and the walls were painted to waist-height in the same colour. Looking down I could only see one narrow path – the houses were so close together as to obscure all the rest. There was a sense of calm, and peace and the sounds of a market in the distance. Two women came by, in colourful skirts and red and white head-scarves. It all looked so beautiful that I couldn’t believe this was the same country that the guidebooks were so scathing about!

I wandered down tiny cobbled lanes in the shade of the blue and white houses. They all led down to a wide, open square, with the Casbah on one side, and a row of cafes on the other. In the corner was a mosque, and a woman was white-washing the walls with a brush tied onto a long stick. The couple and I ordered glasses of tea, which came in tall glasses encrusted with sugar and crammed with a handful of mint. I left to explore the market, a bustling crush of people inspecting mounds of vegetables, chickens squawking in coops, baskets piled with spices, pots, clothes and things I could only guess the use of. Every-one was far too busy to pay the slightest attention to me, and I soon completely forgot the warnings of the guidebooks.

The camp wasn’t due to start until the next day, but I decided to go and see if anyone had already arrived at the Casbah. I found an old man poking at rows of beautiful flowerbeds with a hoe. He led me up the sandy steps to the director’s office, where I explained that I was looking for a group of volunteers who would be working with him. He listened politely, and told me it would be very kind of me to come and work. In fact, it would be a very good idea to organise the sort of thing I was talking about, but he would have to speak to his boss to see if it was possible. He had obviously heard nothing at all about the project so, somewhat confused but not unduly worried, I set off to the school where we would be staying.

The school was locked for the summer. The old women sitting in the playground looked at me suspiciously, and definitely hadn’t seen anything resembling a workcamp. I set off to call the emergency number. It was an answer-phone. Still, I wasn’t too worried, as I had all the following day to find the camp. I didn’t find it. The answer-phone was still on. After having searched all the schools I could find, traipsed to the bus station and the taxi halt, and still no hint of a workcamp I decided that, if I couldn’t find it tomorrow, I would ignore the guidebook’s warnings and leave Chefchaouen to explore the rest of the country. If it was anything like this town, it would be a fantastic journey.

The third day. I decided to go to the town hall – somebody must know about this workcamp! An usher in polished uniform led me past queues of men in their long djellabas and yellow pointed-toed babouches. I sat on an ancient carved bench in an upstairs balcony, watching the men milling around the tiled courtyard below. The mayor called me in to his office, - a beautiful, stately traditional room filled with more men in djellabas. They looked at me curiously as I again explained what I was looking for – and suddenly some-one knew where it was! At last – the workcamp was found!

The usher hand-delivered me to a school – 32 people rushing about preparing dinner and playing cards and banging derbouka drums and talking and lying in the sun – this was definitely a workcamp! I leant my rucksack up against the wall, added my shoes to the pile at the edge of the carpet and went to say hello to the nearest person.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but the very first person I met at that camp, I would meet at a camp the following year, and the year after that – and now, I see him every day. We were married in Morocco last October, so it was a good thing I put all that effort into finding the camp!

Click here for a country profile of Morocco

From Russia, With Love - Summer 2001

When I applied last summer for a placement in Russia, the advice given was to be flexible and be prepared for basic living conditions. This was to be my fifth visit to Russia, and my fourth volunteer project, so even before I was on the train to Heathrow in mid-July I knew this to be good advice. After a short stopover in Moscow, I soon found myself with a Dutch and a Swiss volunteer on an overnight train to Ioshkar-Ola, capital of the remote Republic of Marii El, about halfway between Moscow and the Urals. On arrival we met up with our Russian counterparts and together boarded a bus bound for Elektron, a camp hosting up to around 200 children aged 8 to 15. There was no forgetting its past as a Soviet pioneer camp: the children were grouped into detachments and bedtime was known as 'retreat'. Each detachment consisted of up to forty children and was supervised by several counsellors, of which I was one. The 'pioneers' were lined up and almost marched from activity to activity, while those who lagged behind were reprimanded.

For a Western European volunteer, such discipline took some getting used to. Brought up to believe it to be polite to take time over meals, I now found myself in a country where the opposite seemed to be the case, at least as far as camp life was concerned. I had to explain to my Russian friends that in this situation, as in many others, children in our two countries were brought up in different ways. What was acceptable in one country was often unacceptable in the other. I always found it paid off to take the time to explain these differences. Nobody I met at Elektron had ever been to the West, many had never spoken to a foreigner before, so my friends realised that a British perspective would often be very different from a Russian one!

Given the poverty of the region - Marii El is one of Russia's poorest - I never ceased to admire the way in which, with so few resources, children in Elektron were looked after, entertained, and kept busy from morning to night. There were games, sports, competitions, music, drama, stage productions and, for the first week or so, swimming in the beautiful neighbouring Tair Lake. Then of course there was the weekly banya - a kind of glorified sauna - which more than made up for the lack of showers and became one of the many highlights of my stay. Two misfortunes interrupted the swimming. The first was the end of the sweltering temperatures towards the end of July. The second was the outbreak of a dysentery epidemic, caused by polluted lake water. Over several days, convoys of ambulances and medical staff arrived and took around a third of the camp's children to hospital. There was even talk of Elektron being closed, but fortunately outside polluters, not the camp, were proved to be at fault, and those of us still in good health were able to stay. Despite all that had happened, the surprises were not over yet. Within days of the dysentery outbreak, one afternoon a hurricane struck. It may only have lasted about half an hour, but it brought with it hailstones the size of golf balls, and its force tore down power cables and trees. For several hours the camp was plunged into darkness, but when power supplies were finally restored we were just relieved that no-one was hurt. By the end of that season (project), I was the only foreigner left, and was excited at the prospect of staying for the final season which, by comparison, was uneventful!

My first three weeks at Elektron had not exactly gone smoothly, but I was fascinated and full of admiration at how my Russian friends had coped with the adversity. I was convinced that if the same had happened in many other countries, there would have been a knee-jerk response and the camp would have been forced to close. This being Russia, however, only when the causes of the epidemic were fully known was a decision taken on whether the final season should go ahead. What struck me most was the maturity of the children throughout the crisis. They did not understand any more than we did what had caused their friends to be taken to hospital, but knew that life went on and kept themselves busy by playing cards, reading and often talking to me about life in the West.

My first season also included an English summer school, so many of our discussions took place in informal English lessons, where the children also played games and were shown postcards and photographs from my native United Kingdom. Many Russian children do not distinguish between different Western countries, and when occasionally I was introduced as an American, I would point out that Marii El was far closer geographically than the United States to the UK and that these Russians were no less European than I. Their culture is rich, their hospitality unrivalled by any other nationality I have encountered, and their humour and endurance in the face of discomfort and hardship humbling to the outside world. With state salaries and pensions at such a low level, those many Russians who survive only by growing fruit and vegetables in their back gardens would put many Westerners to shame.

I for one would have no hesitation in applying to a Russian volunteer project again. A sense of adventure, a fascination and tolerance of other cultures, and a knowledge of the language are all you need. If that sounds like you, then go for it. Barney Smith, barney.smith@gmx.at Û

Click here for photos of projects in Russia

Click here for a country profile of Russia

Partying in Denmark! - Summer 2001

I chose to do a workcamp in Denmark last summer as the year before I had worked in Finland and I instantly fell in love with Scandinavia! However, working in Copenhagen was slightly different to living the rural, permanently daylight experience in most northern Lapland.

The workcamp in Denmark was organised by MS, a Danish organisation for international co-operation, and we were to take part in the “Solidarity 2000” week of lectures, seminars, conferences and, of course, parties. We stayed in a converted church in central Copen-hagen, five minute’s walk from the train station, shops, and plenty of pubs and cafes. After the Solidarity 2000 week, we had to prepare for the MS tent at the Roskilde festival. At the festival, we were allocated shifts which comprised giving out flyers and promoting MS, and putting on activities in the tent, but most of the time we were free to go and see the bands.

The whole three weeks were extraordinary. I met some of the best people I have ever met and the memories will stay with me forever. Although it was perhaps untypical in the way that there really wasn’t much work to do (and we spent most of the time partying), the learning experience for me was living and spending time with so many international people, along with all of the Danes involved with Solidarity 2000.

A complete diary of the time we had on the workcamp, written by all of the volunteers (and pictures too!) can be found at:


Click here for a country profile of Denmark

A bit of Information about Slovakia - Summer 2002

My name is Petya and I'm from Bulgaria. I came to the UK to work at Concordia as a medium term volunteer for six months. I also participated in one of the UK projects in Seaford as a co-ordinator and I will participate in one more, which is in Brighton. I've had a great time here in the UK and for me this kind of work is very interesting and gives you opportunities to learn more about different cultures, to travel, to know how to deal with different situations and people.

In my country we also organise a lot of interesting projects, so if you want to have an exciting holiday and in the same time to do something useful you should think about Bulgaria. It is a very beautiful country with a lot of mountains, which offer excellent skiing terrain, and a big part of the Black Sea coasts if you like hot weather and lovely golden sands.

The geographical situation is very interesting; the country is like a crossroad for the Balkan Peninsula. Serbia lies to the West and Macedonia to the Southwest. Greece and Turkey share the southern border, Black Sea is at the East and river Danube is the natural border with Romania on the North.

The country has a Mediterranean climate and the weather is warm for most of the year, but it also can be very cold in the winter especially in the mountains.

Bulgaria has a very old history; it is more of an ancient Slavic nation than Russia. The country was something like a cradle of civilisation and it is national pride that the Cyrillic alphabet which Bulgarian people use has its origins in Bulgaria and should have been exported to Russia and Ukraine.

Bulgarian people are famous with their incredible sense of humour and hospitality. Even in tourist areas curiosity about foreigners is considerable.

Bulgaria has many different and very interesting folk music and customs. In the Rodopi Mountains you can see people playing on pipe as they do it in Scotland and it is very typical for this region. In the middle part of the country, where Sredna Gora is situated there is very interesting custom to dance over embers. It is very beautiful and picturesque to see.

In March there is one special tradition in Bulgaria – all over the country people make a kind of ornaments from white and red strings - a man figure (in white) and woman figure (in red). They are called Pijo and Penda and the whole ornament is called 'martenitca', which comes from Mart - the Bulgarian word for March. It brings health and happiness and people give them to their friends and family.

Curious to know is that Bulgarian people has opposite way for head movements for yes and no, they move their heads from side to side to signify ‘yes’ and up and down for ‘no’.

Bulgaria is moving fast from the previous communist politic situation to a new democratic future. Soon the country will be a member of The European Community and will continue developing easier and faster.

Viktor, a volunteer from INEX Slovakia, who has also co-ordinated our Peak National Park project this year, explains why Slovakia is an appealing destination for all bear - or maybe beer(!) - lovers

First of all, please, forget Yugoslavia!!! Although Slovenia sounds similar, it’s not what I am writing about. Slovakia (or Slovak Republic) is a former sister country of the Czech Republic and those two countries are still very close to each other: common history, similar languages (in Slovakia you might get by with your Czech...) and the love for the beer (where else can you buy a pint for 20 p???)

Slovakia is very favourable for hikers and “nature-lovers" as there are all kinds of landscape ranging from green plains near the river Danube to the exposed peaks of 2500 metres high Tatra mountains. INEX Slovakia is running more than 20 workcamps all around the country, so everybody can find a niche for him/herself. If you do like wine, there is a workcamp in a small village in the middle of the vineyards near the Hungarian boarders, but in case you prefer more action, you might come across a bear (and plenty of beer too....) in the surroundings of the Lom/ Cierny Balog workcamp campsite in mountainous Central Slovakia. Last year I was co-ordinating the latter project and it was a really extraordinary event for everybody. Imagine being daily driven to the worksite by a small forest railway, taking a bath in a fresh stream or cooking in an old military field kitchen....just amazing.

If you feel more like being “urban-type“ you should definitely come and see Bratislava , the capital, where the INEX ‘s office is based ( sorry , but no workcamps run here....). Visiting its two castles, historic centre and experiencing the pedestrian zone atmosphere with plenty of cafes and beer cellars is what you shouldn’ t miss. Besides calling in our office, of course....

Click here for a country profile on Slovakia

Changing Rooms - Summer 2002

This was the first time I had ever really travelled anywhere new on my own and I was so nervous. Emma from the same camp was travelling on the second leg of my flight with me so we were able to meet up for a while. We had to meet in the train station the next day and with both of us staying in different places we split up and met the next morning. The station was like a cattle market with people heading off all over the country on different camps. We were herded into the main square where we met our group leader Povilas and the rest of the people on the camp. I remember realising just how far people had come from to be there, I was one of the closest! Ulrich, from Germany, asked me if I spoke any German and I replied yes, to which he babbled on in German and I panicked thinking what on earth is this bloke talking about!

We travelled about two and a half hours out of the capital Riga to our home for two weeks; the 'Pargauja' orphanage in Valmiera. We were greeted by the adults and children from the orphanage and spent the evening together playing cards and trying to organise ourselves. At that point I remember thinking some of the group were much more confident than I was.

Povilas has asked us to bring photos of home and family to share with each other which was a great start to getting to know one another.

We soon became more involved in the daily running of the orphanage and gradually became experts at mixing paint, painting bedrooms, stripping wallpaper, putting up wallpaper and then catching wallpaper as it fell down! The children helped as we worked in the bedrooms. We totally changed the feel of some of them which was brilliant, all we needed was Carol Smiley and we would have had it all! We managed to find a local hardware shop to buy more things for us to use and by the end we had decorated three bedrooms, the kitchen and done other things like mended tables, fences and cleaned floors in preparation for a party!

Looking back now I can't believe how close we all grew over the two weeks we were there, from not knowing each other at all to being able to insult each other and joke around and we have stayed in contact since the camp. Since coming back from Latvia, I have recommended camps like this to so many people who I think get fed up with me talking about it. I can remember hearing people talk about the travel they had done, the people they had met and the things they had seen. I can also remember not taking much notice - until now! When I am the one talking and doing the convincing! I can't believe what an amazing time we had; I look forward to seeing everyone again!

Matthew Perret

Ecuador - Summer 2002

This project, run by the Fundación Chiriboga, is split into two different sections. The first couple of weeks, we were involved in reforestation work, planting trees in an area damaged by fire, and also creating an orchid garden. We were based in a place called Chiriboga, which is two hours south of Quito and really is in the middle of nowhere. However, the surroundings are absolutely beautiful and it is very peaceful. We were in shared rooms for four people and all our meals were taken in the main house. One person from the group helped in the kitchen to prepare the meals every day but this mainly involved peeling vegetables and washing up as the cooking was all done for us.

We got up early every day but there was no lack of sleep, as the electricity was only on for two hours every evening and it was turned off at nine o’clock. We worked in the morning, stopped for lunch and then worked again before we were then given culture and history classes about Ecuador and there were also Spanish lessons for those that needed them.

During the second part of the project, we were based in a town called Jipijapa, nine hours away from Quito and near the coast. We were teaching English in one of the poorer schools there that had virtually no resources and underprivileged children. I found this part of the project to be incredibly rewarding, although it was certainly a challenge keeping the children entertained!!! After my first day, I didn’t know how I was going to manage there for two weeks; however, at the end I really didn’t want to leave. The children were absolutely adorable and certainly made an impression on me. The work was interesting and trying to find new ways of teaching them was an interesting task in itself, although I think that we found the key with the idea of teaching them the song words to The Beatles!!!

Two sisters, who are the kindest people you could possibly hope to meet, run Proyecto Chiriboga. They were so welcoming to all the volunteers. I arrived in Quito a couple of days before the project started and was given an incredibly warm welcome. I had told them when I would be arriving and they had organised a taxi to pick me up from the airport and were waiting outside for me when I got there, despite the fact that it was absolutely freezing and the middle of the night! I stayed in their family home before the project started and was told when I left that I could go back and stay there whenever I wanted to. They organised trips for us at the weekends, such as taking us to Otavalo market and the centre of the world, and were more than prepared to answer questions about absolutely anything and provide information. They keep an eye on their volunteers even after they have left. I, personally, went travelling after the project and even then they stayed in touch with me over email to check that I was safe and not having any difficulties.

The people that I met on the project were also fantastic. There were eleven of us altogether, English, French, German, Belgian, Australian and Mexican and we all got on very well together. I certainly made friends there that I think I will probably stay in touch with for the rest of my life and I will be making a few trips abroad to go and visit them in their home countries.

In short, all I could say to anyone considering doing this project is “do it!”, I had an amazing time and loved every minute of it. It is a great experience and Ecuador is a fantastic country and I am sure that if you decide to get involved with Proyecto Chiriboga then you won’t regret it for a minute.

Changing Perceptions- Summer 2002

As much as the actual practical work itself, cultural learning is what international volunteer projects have always been about. Part of that entails changing our own perceptions and challenging the stereotypes – be they positive or negative - that we too hold. Here, Emma Cowlard describes how a project working alongside Bulgarian Gypsies did that in more ways than one…

Two Bulgarian girls at a disco in their orphanage, Gutzal 2002.

What comes to mind when you think of Bulgaria? An ex Soviet-bloc with a fairly unstable economic and political climate, probably rather backward and little to offer? Well at least this was my perception before I spent two amazing weeks this summer taking part in a volunteer project in the small town of Rakitovo. Although Bulgaria is evidently not stuck in the Stone Age, equally it is not as developed as the more westernised countries of Europe. In small towns and villages the traditional horse and cart is a common sight, as are huge piles of logs outside people’s homes, since central heating has yet to reach most of the country. However, this all contributes to the Bulgarian charm; although it by no means escapes the glare of western commercialisation, with our favourite Coca Cola logo on almost every shop front, the country remains relatively untouched by tourism, maintaining an almost fairytale allure of untouched beauty.

Since this summer I decided to attempt something a little more adventurous and a lot less superficial than your typical beach holiday in Corfu, I decided to participate in a volunteer project. This meant that I could fuse an exploration of the breathtaking Rhodopi Mountains and forests with a deeply rewarding community project, working alongside Gypsies in the thick of real Bulgarian life. Like every town and city across the world, whether it is in the United States of America or West Africa there are always areas of poverty and where I was working was one such area. Imagine walking through a Gypsy quarter at eleven o’ clock at night, the roads are rubble and covered in mud, dogs run around barking, half built houses stand ominously in the unlit streets and then one by one people begin to line the roadside and fix their eyes upon you and the other volunteers as you walk past. What do you do? Panic? Squeeze tighter to your purse as your heart misses a beat? Certainly this was my initial reaction, but what I interpreted to be hostility, proved to be simply intrigue and enthusiasm. I found the gypsy quarter to be one of the warmest and most welcoming be simply intrigue and enthusiasm. I found the gypsy quarter to be one of the warmest and most welcoming places I have ever visited.

As a university student I am no stranger to night-clubs and bars, but no amount of hi-tech lighting, after shock and elaborate garage mixes can beat the Gypsy night-club. I may have exchanged the city lights for a square concrete room with a Ghetto Blaster in the corner, but it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. People could not do enough to please, one girl and her friends spent the entire evening attempting to teach me to dance and not ancient traditional steps, rather moves that could definitely teach Madonna a thing or two!

Yanko my group leader almost gave me his entire first aid when I sneezed,a girl from one of the Kindergartens we had been working on came and sang to us and an entire church congregation shook our hands whilst attending their Sunday service. Certainly, anyone who interacts with Bulgarian Gypsies will find themselves overwhelmed with generosity and hospitality.

Admittedly, a volunteer project in Bulgaria is not a typical holiday destination, but for me it was definitely a life time experience. Painting kindergartens with children running around with our home made paper hates on, long hikes in the mountains and dancing through the night are just some of the memories, which will stay with me forever!

Emma Cowlard

Click here for pictures of projects in Bulgaria

Click here for a country profile of Bulgaria

Volunteer project to help areas in France hit by floods- Summer 2002

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.

Lynne Moore

EVS in France- Summer 2002

For two years, Concordia has been working within a programme called the EVS short-term work-camp programme. European Voluntary Service is a volunteering programme developed and funded by the Directorate General Education and Culture of the European Commission. The programme is aimed toward young people undertaking a long term voluntary work experience. However, in order to encourage more young people to take that first step toward long term volunteering, the Commission agreed to the introduction of the EVS short term programme. As a way of increasing the accessibility o f volunteering, the EVS short term workcamp programme provides extra funding and support necessary for those individuals who for various reasons would be unable able to participate in international voluntary service otherwise. Since 2000, Concordia has sent three volunteers to participate in IVPs abroad under this scheme. Here, one of the volunteers talks about his experiences

My workcamp, La Petite Fosse is a small village in the Vosges mountains in France, tucked away somewhere between Nancy and Strasbourg. The aims of the camp were to clear a field, put up a fence and build a shelter for goats. On the camp there were ten volunteers and of course the two camp leaders. There were three English, (including myself) 3 Germans, 2 French, I Mexican and 1 from Japan, the camp leaders were both from France. The atmosphere in the camp was excellent, you couldn’t ask for a better bunch, everyone just seemed to click and get on with each other right from the start. The people who lived in the village where we worked made us feel welcome and we were invited to the town hall on our on our second night to meet the mayor and some of the locals. The only downfall was the almost constant downpour. I had never seen so much rain in my life. The only good days we had in which it didn’t rain were the first day, the last three days and the days when I cooked (typical) Luckily, someone had bought along a chess set so I spent most of my evenings playing, or teaching people how to play, chess. Overall it was a really good time and apart from the rain which I should be used to) I enjoyed myself and would recommend anyone to give a workcamp a try. My next aim is to do a long-term project and maybe go on to lead a camp as well. Thank you for reading and I hope you have a good time on your next camp.

Mark Brooks, Brighton.

Cierny Balog, Slovakia- Summer 2002

I fell in love last summer. With a small village in the middle of Slovakia. OK, there was a girl as well, but that's another story.

Washing in the river, hill walking, a very 'international' game of football, equally international food, very cheap beer, the cheapest ever haircut, singing round the campfire, sleeping under the stars, cycling up a never-ending hill, and most of all, making some great friends - choosing to do a project in Slovakia was one of the best things I ever did.

My first feeling on reaching Cierny Balog was of relief, at having found the place. It had taken several trains, a couple of buses and a plane, but the hot morning sun and beautiful scenery - the village sits in a valley of wooded hills with a river running through it - made it worthwhile.

The project was two weeks long and split into two parts. The first week we lived and worked at the village football ground. As this was my first volunteer project I was unsure what to expect, but we seemed to have things pretty good, with hot showers, proper beds, and even food laid on. Admittedly the food was of the school dinners variety, but with a Slovak twist, and was definitely edible.

We worked in the mornings, painting fences and doing other repairs at the football ground. Afternoons were free, and were spent walking, playing football and frisbee or just relaxing. Evenings were spent in the bar, where we all acquired a taste for the Czech beer (30p a pint anyone?) and something called Borovicka which some people won't forget.

But although great fun, the first week was just a warm- up for what was to come. We had been promised a 'back to nature' experience and we weren't disappointed. Our home was a beautiful campsite, bordered by a river on one side and a forest on the other. The bathroom was a mountain stream, and the camp had even its own cat.

Every day, dinner was cooked by two volunteers from a different country, with the Spanish omelette and Italian pasta proving very popular. These were of course eaten around the campfire. Accommodation was in a wooden cottage or, for the more adventurous, alfresco under the stars.

Our work for the second week involved various maintenance works on an historic narrow gauge railway. This was more strenuous than at the football ground, but again we only worked mornings, and due to the torrential rain that hit Central Europe over the summer we got a couple of days off.

Our wonderful leaders always kept us busy, organising day trips, as well as afternoon activities, and always had a game ready to fill five minutes or provide a break from working.

One of my personal highlights of the camp was a football match between our camp and another in the village. A pulled muscle (honest!) meant I was forced to play in goal, where I surprised everyone (myself included) with a virtuoso performance to keep the opposition's Italian striker at bay. We still lost but I was the toast of the project at dinner that night.

The best thing about the project though was definitely the friendship and banter between everyone. After two weeks it felt like I had known people for years and I still miss everyone.

Diego (Spain) and myself decided that the hot weather merited a drastic haircut, especially when Toms (Latvia) discovered it only cost 50p in the village. One of the Frenchmen, with the very un-French name of Wilson Dos Santos got Sachiko - from Japan - to teach him some 'useful' Japanese phrases. These were along the lines of 'Can you tickle my belly'. I then taught her some useful French; repeat after me,"Voulez vous couchez avec moi". Lidija (from Croatia)

decided I must be Scottish (I'm not) because I was mean to her, stealing her cigarettes. She changed her mind when I went to stay with her later in the summer though, in fact there must have been something in the water as we weren't the only couple to get together.

Slovakia may not sound the most glamorous or exotic destination, but with beautiful countryside, cheap beer and hot weather, it is one of Europe's hidden gems and a volunteer project is the perfect way to discover it. I regularly get emails from people wishing they were back in Cierny Balog instead of at home studying - guess I'm not the only one that's smitten.

Ian Anstey, Cierny Balog