Friday, August 26, 2011

Hannah in Latvia on EVS - 2011

"...I will remember this year for a long time."

One year ago I had no idea that I would be about to spend a year in Latvia, now I I can’t believe that in a matter of days it will be over.

The office where I have been volunteering is nothing like I imagined it would be before I arrived, however despite there being things I would change I’m grateful for the experience that I’ve had.

Work in the “World at Our Home” office can often be sporadic, as was the case for a few weeks at the start of the summer, but in the last month it has become crazy again as we plan for a seminar and a youth exchange both of which will take place during October. As well as this, at the moment we are also writing applications for seminars and an exchange that will hopefully take place next year and also looking for the new generation of volunteers for the centre to host and coordinate.

Looking back on my time I’ve been here I realise just how much I was able to see and do and even if there were moments when I wanted to give up (and very nearly did) I will remember this year for a long time.

Before I came Latvia wasn't a country I was interested to visit, but I’m glad I did because I would never have been able to experience what I have; from swimming in a lake to finding that travelling four hours+ to get to Riga or Lithuania really isn’t so bad after all and seeing more countries in the last few months than I ever expected, to making friends with people from France and Spain to Italy and Romania and surviving a winter with temperatures of -30°c.

My bags are packed and soon I will be embarking on the four hour journey to Riga. The thought of four hours on a coach or train used to worry me but now the thought that it’ll be the last time I do this journey is strange to comprehend.

But with every end, there is a beginning and I’m looking forward to future challenges. Thank you to everyone who made this possible.

EVS is a fully funded volunteer scheme. Email to find out more.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Barney Smith's Project in France

Monsoon in France

This article is dedicated to my parents whose lives were cut short by cancer – my mother in 2008 and my father last year - but who inspire me every day.

I must admit, it took me a while to find Giat on the map. I was sitting in my classroom in Kuwait one sweltering June afternoon long after the students had gone home, and I’d just had email confirmation of my acceptance on a project in the Auvergne region in central France. One of the benefits of international volunteer projects is the opportunity to visit places far off the beaten track and meet people from a wide variety of cultures, nationalities and backgrounds.

Volunteers and Leaders from Giat with Volunteers and Leaders from Chantelle

The leaders and other volunteers came from the north to the south, from the east to the west: Eda and Gizem from Turkey, Amaya and Miren from Spain,
Kristýna from the Czech Republic and Fabien and Patrick from France. Our leaders were François, a teacher, and Fred, a stonecutter, who together made a fantastic team. The three weeks were a very special and happy experience thanks to everybody, both leaders and volunteers.

This was my sixteenth international volunteer project (my earlier projects were in Russia, Germany, Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Serbia and Romania) but my first in France and my first camping project. The work focused on three places near the campsite along the shore of la Ramade, the nearby lake: rebuilding a footbridge across a marshy area, rebuilding a footbridge to the lake’s bird observatory, and clearing the lakeside path. Volunteers also worked to clean the observatory and signpost the area with information on local wildlife.

Volunteers and Leaders meeting the Mayor of Giat

The local community in Giat, a village of some 900 people, were very welcoming; there were regular visits from the mayor and his deputies, often bringing a very welcome snack, to see how we were getting on and to raise our spirits. If ever we needed our spirits raised it was because of the weather: it rained... and it rained... and it rained. This wasn’t just drizzle of the kind you get used to if you grow up in Britain, as I did: it was downpour... after downpour... after downpour. It rained almost every day, often most of the day. I think Kristýna timed the longest downpour as lasting eighteen hours! The weather inevitably had an effect on our schedule. The first working day it rained we were given the day off. It soon became clear however that if this continued we would get no work done! So we either braved the elements with waterproof clothes or did work which could easily be done inside, such as painting and varnishing signs for the footpath.

Conversations ranged widely, from the way of life in each other’s countries to politics, from music to sport, from past international volunteer projects to family and friends. In many cases we did our best to learn each other’s languages, did the occasional crossword or Sudoku together, and read newspapers and books. There were many games and sports too, from card games to guessing games, from football to Frisbee. And inevitably – we were in France after all – there was pétanque, which I played for the first time (with mixed results I should add!). The rural lakeside setting was ideal for outdoor activities like jogging and swimming (until, even for the most hardened swimmers, the lake became too cold!).

Volunteers and Leaders in Giat

There were also many excursions: to the region’s largest city, Clermont-Ferrand, to the Museum of Radio in Saint-Avit, to the beautiful village of Crocq, to the medieval festival and to the market in Giat, watching the Tour de France as helicopters buzzed overhead, hiking in the mountains, buying cheese at Châteaubrun, enjoying a lavish Bastille Day breakfast and guided tour (and even trying out the hose!) at the local fire station, riding on an aerial runway and watching two spectacular firework displays. We also spent a few days at a nearby project in the village of Chantelle where work was progressing on renovations to the abbey, and from where we attended the Festival of World Cultures in Gannat and visited the picturesque village of Charroux.

As I return to Kuwait for the new school year I know that I will miss this summer’s international volunteer project in Giat – the place, the surroundings, but most of all the people on my project. My new surroundings are a world away from rural France, but the memories of this summer are still here and will be with me forever.

Barney Smith, volunteer in France, 2011