Hello from La Rochelle! I’ve been here for 5 months now and the time has just flown by! I’m here volunteering for a community centre called ‘Le Pertuis’ in a quartier sensible [sensitive district] in La Rochelle. The people that live here are quite disadvantaged, and there are a lot of associations in the area that work with different parts of the community – children, adults, the elderly. My work at ‘Le Pertuis’ is quite varied, but I mostly work in their Social Café in the mornings and in their Children’s Centre in the afternoons. The Social Café is a little house in the local park that welcomes all members of the community for hot and cold (non-alcoholic) drinks during the day and late into the evening. As well as being a nice little place to drink coffee with friends, the café serves as the reception of the community centre, so visitors can become members of the centre and take part in activities and events organised by the centre. The Children’s Centre is a place for young people aged 11-17 to come to after school to play with friends, take part in activity clubs, get help with homework and to enjoy an afternoon snack. Last month I spent 11 days on a camp, organised by the Children’s Centre, with 22 children. The camp encouraged children to live with others in an environment of mutual respect, where each person participated in the different tasks (setting up and upkeep of the camp, cooking, cleaning etc.) that took place in the daily life of the camp.
Alongside this, the children took part in a number of activities. The camp was on a nearby island called île d’Oléron, which had stunning beaches. There, the children could try out surfing, catamaran sailing and land sailing. It was so great to see the children having so much fun, especially as many of them wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to try out activities like these – even a night out bowling was new to most of them.
The camp also gave me the opportunity to get to know the children a bit better, and for me that was really important. Both the café and children’s centre help to bring members of the community together, and it’s this that I really like about being here. I live in the district where I work, and I love walking around and knowing so many people in the community because I’ve served them a cup of coffee or because they’ve come by to the children’s centre for help with their English homework. ‘Le Pertuis’ also works with a number of other organisations in the area and I’ve met so many people from these organisations whilst working on joint projects. So, although not without its problems, the centre really does serve the community and being around French people all the time has definitely been a great help to me language-wise. Being in La Rochelle itself has also been great. When I got accepted onto the EVS project here I had no idea where La Rochelle was, and discovering that it’s a beautiful seaport with an annual average of sunlight hours that’s on a par with the Côte d’Azur has not been a disappointment!! Being from Birmingham, I’m in no way used to a beach lifestyle, but here the beach is like a second home! My actual home is a cosy apartment, where I currently live with a Polish EVS volunteer. When I first arrived there were 5 of us on EVS in La Rochelle (there are 3 of us now), and so it was really easy to meet people at beach picnics and cliff-diving contests! All the EVS volunteers here are also given bicycles by the host organisations, so it’s very easy to make the 10-minute journey into the centre to socialise or to just hang out on a bench and read.
Last week a group of us even cycled to île di Ré – another nearby island – cycling over the longest bridge in France! I really feel so lucky to be in such a beautiful place, working on a worthwhile project, and I can’t believe I’m already almost halfway through my EVS...