Friday, July 9, 2010

Luke in Iceland on EVS - 2010

I have been in Iceland now for two months of an eight month stay. It is a truly unique country and it takes my breath away almost every day. It is an island half the size of Great Britain, but with a population of only three hundred thousand people, it feels much bigger. If you like vast and empty panoramas, countless waterfalls, a huge sense of freedom and a small town spirit in a capital city, then Iceland is definitely for you. Provided you don’t mind the bad weather of course.

I am working, through EVS, for an organisation called SEEDS ( Based in Reykjavik, they aim to promote understanding and environmental awareness by offering environmental/community project camps which usually last for two weeks. Short term volunteers come from all over the world to take part, and it is my role, along with a family of around 25 other long term volunteers, to organise and lead these camps. To date I have been involved in three camps, and I am currently leading a fourth. I have shovelled volcanic ash in Þórsmörk, just a few kilometres from the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano and learning how to pronounce it as I did so. I have cleaned beaches and collected Eider down with local farmers in the remote Arneshreppur area, worked in an abandoned Herring factory made famous by Sigur Ros’ video ‘Heima and I have pulled up countless Alaskan Lupins (an invasive species) at Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. I have met many great friends along the way.

At the moment I am leading a workcamp in the small town of Hólmavík in the Westfjords region of Iceland. The past week has been really great. Working with 5 other volunteers from Russia, South Korea, Italy and the U.S, we have been helping the town prepare for its annual ‘Happiness Festival’. We were given free rein to devise some street theatre, and decided upon the theme of magic and sorcery according to the subject of Hólmavík’s famous museum. Dressed up rather ridiculously we cast spells of happiness on tourists and locals alike, in a town which was once voted Iceland’s happiest town. Next week the team and I will work on the hiking trails in the area, making sure they are properly marked and mapped. On almost every workcamp I have had the opportunity to mix with Icelanders, and I have had some great experiences as a result. I have just returned from a fishing trip out in the fjord, and a wonderful ride into the mountains with the unique Icelandic horse breed. It really feels as if I am getting a real taste of life here in Iceland, and it is great to share that with the volunteers on my camps.

Being a camp leader is difficult but immensely rewarding. We are expected to take care of everything from travel, accommodation and food, work on the project, organising environmental activities and finding things to do in the free time. You can imagine that making sure a group of people from all over the world are fed and motivated to work is hard enough, let alone making sure they take something valuable away from the camp. It is also difficult because as a leader it is your job to balance the requirements and expectations of your volunteers, your host in the local community and your boss. Having said all that, it is great fun. I have learned a lot about myself and I how I see my own place within it, and I have become a lot better at communication, especially with people whose first language is not English. It is great to be given the opportunity to learn from so many people, too, and I have been doing my best to make the most of it! I have rarely been busier in my life, but meeting a new group of people every two weeks, getting to know them, sharing ideas and values and being responsible for a group of strangers becoming lifelong friends is truly rewarding. On top of that, the work we are doing feels truly appreciated and worthwhile, and it is fantastic to get such positive feedback from all sides.. My biggest problem lately has only been saying goodbye to so many lovely people.

When I am not on a work camp I am based in Reykjavik, living in a house shared by many of the long term volunteers. They are a really great bunch of people, mostly from Europe, but also further afield. We have become a real family, and it is great to have a home to return to after 2 weeks on a workcamp. Reykjavik is a great place to live, and there is always something happening. When I am there I normally have a day off and a day in the office or helping with logistics before I start another workcamp and the cycle begins again. In a week or so I will begin another workcamp, the SEEDS ‘Photo Marathon’. Over twenty volunteers are coming to receive professional photography tuition and create an exhibition of their own work around a social or environmental issue here in Iceland. I am very excited to see the results!

All in all, every day I get the feeling that EVS was definitely the right thing for me to be doing right now, and Iceland is the place to do it. Thanks to EVS, the people I have met and the organisations with which I am involved, I have great expectations for the next 6 months! All the best from the land of fire and ice!

Luke is spending 8 months on a European Voluntary Service (EVS) project in Iceland. If you are aged 18-30 and would like to spend 6-12 months volunteering in Europe see: to find out more.

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