Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"My International Volunteer Projects 2013" By Barney Smith

Summer Rain

My International Volunteer Projects 2013

It was what every camper dreads: waking up to the sound of the patter of rain on the tent. The time was early July. The place was the francophone Belgian town of Marche-en-Famenne, the meeting place for my eighteenth international volunteer project. By the time I packed up my camping gear and lifted my rucksack, the rain had cleared, and I headed down to the station to meet the other volunteers from my project and the other Campagnons Bâtisseurs projects which were about to begin.

At the overnight stop - a hostel in the town centre - we got to know each other and completed a variety of activities and games. The leaders of my project were Arnaud from France and Noémie from Belgium, and the other volunteers Onur and Cansu from Turkey, Maria and Ana from Spain, Alice from South Korea, Damien from France and Mike from Belgium.

There followed two weeks of fun, laughter, games, sports, music, eating … and a lot of hard work too! Our project was to renovate a country mansion and its grounds, the site of a residential home for children from disadvantaged families. We trimmed trees and hedges, weeded the gardens, cleared branches from paths, unblocked the gutters, removed leaves from the ponds, swept the tennis court, cleaned statues and painted fences. Our excursions on our days off also gave us a chance to bond with each other; there was sightseeing in Brussels, as well as cycling, and a visit to the evocatively-named Festival of the Hoof (the name sounds rather more poetic in French, by the way!) in the nearby village of Porcheresse. We also organised some activities, including games and painting, for the children. We were skilfully guided in our work by Arnaud and Noémie, as well as by Daniel, a former railwayman and expert technical leader. Daniel and his wife showed great warmth and kindness to us throughout our project.

When the two weeks were over there was genuine sadness among all the volunteers (not least among those who had found love!), and there were even tears when the time came to say good-bye. My own farewell came when I changed trains in Dinant, where I was to camp before continuing my journey to Brussels. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning, and after the two weeks which had come before I felt an acute sense of solitude as I walked along the river bank and watched the passing barges on my way to my campsite. After a night’s camping beside the River Meuse, on the day King Philippe was enthroned I headed for my next overnight stay – this time at a hostel in the Belgian capital - before beginning an overnight coach journey to the Estonian town of Pärnu, where I was to camp before the start of my next project.

I had been to the Baltic states once before, but my last visit was in the days of passport stamping and customs checks. This time the coach swept past abandoned border posts, as we crossed easily from country to country. In Pärnu I spent three days of quiet reflection (as much as this was possible in a slightly overcrowded campsite full of excited holiday-makers). The vast windswept beach and beautiful compact old town were a revelation and just what I needed to gather my thoughts.

It was soon time for project number nineteen; I was to spend two weeks as a volunteer at the Downtown Language School in Tallinn. I found myself in a diverse group of volunteers: Deyanira and Lorenzo from Mexico, Nives from Slovenia, Arturo and Nuria from Spain, Ege from Turkey, Liena from Ukraine and Hien from Vietnam. There were also longer-term volunteers - Cadence and Carrie from Hong Kong and Alex from Germany – as well as our Russian camp leader Maria. We worked with a group of teenagers from Estonia and around the world. During that time the teenagers worked on projects and carried out activities aimed at giving them a greater insight into the differences and similarities between various nationalities and cultures. These included daily country presentations, interviews, energisers, sports, competitions and games which took place in the school, as well as in the city and local area. Perhaps the highlight for me was the visit by boat to nearby Prangli, where we had a campfire, as well as a swim in the sea. We were taken on the back of a pick-up truck around this island where we saw the church and museum. Prangli has no bank and no law enforcement of its own, but the police fly in by helicopter from Estonia’s capital if needed. Does that happen often, I wondered? “Every weekend,” came the reply from the museum curator, with a wry smile. On our day off, while one group went on a day trip to Helsinki, another went on guided walking tour of Tallinn. We were also kept busy in our free time by football, volleyball and jogging.

And so my projects ended as they had started a little over a month earlier – in the pouring rain. As I headed, laden with my trusty rucksack, out of Tallinn’s exquisite old town, a UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site, to catch my morning ferry to Helsinki for my first visit to Finland, I felt exhausted but also lucky to have met wonderful people, happy at my new experiences and ready for whatever challenges lay ahead. 

By Barney Smith

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Laura shares her experience as an MTV for Volunteers' Week 2014

Laura shares her experience in a Montessorri Kindergarten in Vienna from Feb-June 2013

 "I spent 5 months living and volunteering in Vienna, Austria in 2013. I worked in a kindergarten for children under 7 years. Although I had a lot of experience working with children beforehand, the experience really broadened my views. I had to quickly adapt my ways and teaching methods to suit Montessorri values. It was hard to take a step back and observe at first, but after a few weeks I was settled in and felt like part of the team. One of my main roles was to speak to the children in English at all times. This one was of the hardest challenges, as the more I learnt German myself, the more I wanted to practice it! At first, the children thought I was very strange, as to them I made no sense! But by the end of the project it was so rewarding to hear them speaking little phrases and responding to questions I asked them in english. I felt so valued to know this was all down to me and my perseverance! We went on regular trips to local parks, museums and even the zoo. This helped me to find my bearings around the city, and the more beautiful tourist attractions. 

I got to learn a new language for the first time, and met people from all over the world. I lived with Italian, German and Spanish students, and later shared a room with a Moldovan girl, whom I am still good friends with.

I am now applying to paid positions abroad, and feel my experience with Concordia and Grenzenlos has enhanced my CV, whilst giving me the courage and confidence to go anywhere in the world! In a few weeks I am off to stay with a friend in Berlin that I met whilst on the project. I spent new year in Wales with a Welsh friend I met in Vienna, and am hoping to re-visit the beautiful city in the autumn (before the snow starts!). Thanks to everyone at Concordia and Grenzenlos for giving me this life changing experience."

Laura 2014

Bethan shares her story for Volunteers' Week

"In June 2011, I went to a project in the Alpine region of northern Italy as part of my summer break from uni. For 2 weeks I lived on a mountain with 10 other volunteers, from countries including Turkey, Japan and South Korea. I was the only Brit and I loved it! I really got to know about what life is like in countries I’ve not yet been lucky enough to visit, and I made some friends for life. It was an exhausting two weeks – we were over 1000m above sea level, and cars could only get us up as far as 600m. But it was also really good fun - in the evenings we played games, cooked dinner together, and watched the stars. At the weekend we visited the local city, had a homemade Italian lunch, and went to a local festival.

The project involved monitoring the flora and fauna in the area. We took photos and made sketches of the flowers; caught butterflies in order to identify them before setting them free; and we set humane traps to see what mice are living on the mountain. That last one involved some very early mornings, and seeing the sunrise was wonderful. To be honest, it didn’t feel like work – we felt lucky to be in such a beautiful part of the world. It wasn’t a very long project but we knew we were making a difference – all that the Italian organisation needed was for a group of people to take some time to survey the mountainside, a task too big for the team of just 3 who work in the park. Our efforts made it into the local newspaper! It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I’m so pleased I was a part of it."

 Bethan 2014

Rich shares his story about his experience of EVS for Volunteers' Week 2014

"Volunteering has had a big effect on my life. After a couple of short workcamps in Slovakia and Iceland, I recently completed a year of EVS in France.
I am now able to speak another language well, and have made good friends with people I would otherwise have not been able to communicate with.
I urge anyone to at least consider the EVS scheme as a fantastic, funded way to discover another country and learn valuable skills for the future"
Rich 2014

Susie shares her story with us for Volunteers' Week 2014

"I came across Concordia in the summer of 2011 when looking for an overseas volunteering project in Nepal. From the moment of asking for more details to being in the orphanage Concordia staff could not have been more helpful, friendly and professional. The fact that I had to go on training before I could participate in a project gave me confidence of Concordia’s professional approach, and the training was FANTASTIC!! I met such great, like-minded people and the training was really thought provoking and helped me in my project.

Since 2011, I love every opportunity to be involved with Concordia; having participated in a project in Nepal (which was AMAZING!), assisted Concordia staff in conducting North-South training, been a volunteering coordinator on a UK  project in Sussex, and then assisted with the coordinator training. Ooh, and I also help with the project inputting every year. I always meet fabulous people every time I volunteer and cannot thank the Concordia staff enough for their welcoming and inclusive attitude to volunteering… they always make me feel like I belong there and even when we are busy, we have fun along the way!
Personally and professionally, getting involved with Concordia is one of the most rewarding things I have done and I can’t wait for the next training in June! GET INVOLVED – IT’S GREAT!!"
Susie 2014