International Volunteer Projects 2014
Of all the summers I’ve spent participating in international volunteer projects, this was one of the most memorable. This was the summer I became a project coordinator. This was the summer I had one of my best - and healthiest - projects abroad in what is surely one of the world’s most beautiful countries, Iceland.
The story begins in Brighton, at the William Clarke Park, known affectionately to its local residents at the Patch. The other volunteers were Marketa from the Czech Republic, Raphaël and Ronan from France, Andrea from Italy, Irene from Spain, and Eleanor and Shannon from the UK. Our work initially involved setting up marquees, gazebos and stages in the park for the annual Patchfest, a community festival, an event which included music, food and drink sales, and a market. On a day of gloriously sunny weather we marshalled, served food and drink, and helped to organize the recycling at the end. When we woke the next day to pouring rain, we realized just how lucky we had been with the weather, as we prepared to take down the equipment. We slept in tents during our project and cooked in our kitchen tent. Our free time activities included pub visits, games, a social event with volunteers from another project and exploring Brighton, surely one of the must-see British towns. We also watched Germany defeat Argentina in the World Cup final on a big screen on the beach.
In the days before my flight from Manchester, I took the opportunity to visit two parts of England recommended by my Lonely Planet guidebook: Warwick, with its impressive castle, and the Peak District, where I enjoyed beautiful walks and visits to the elegant town of Buxton. On arrival in Reykjavik I put up my tent at the city campsite before doing a whirlwind tour of Iceland’s capital. The next day I boarded a bus to the Hveragerði, famous for its thermal energy and NLFÍ Health and Rehabilitation Clinic, the site of our project. The other volunteers were our coordinators Karina from Russia and Joanna from France, as well as Ella from Israel, Fredrik from Finland, Daisy from South Korea, Lara and Laura from Spain, Cindy and Dory from Taiwan, and Emma from the United States. Our work consisted of harvesting tea and tomatoes, weeding and helping in the kitchen. In our free time we visited the town’s thermal springs and bathed in the nearby hot stream, as well as visiting the town’s art gallery. We also joined other volunteers from nearby projects for a two-day visit to the south coast and a day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. During what may well have been the healthiest two weeks of my life, we ate from the glorious vegetarian buffet, much of it organic and grown in the grounds of the clinic. There was also a heated indoor and outdoor swimming pool, with jacuzzis, a sauna and steam-room. Before you get too envious, I should add that, with the extra fee charged by the volunteer organization in Iceland, this was my most expensive project to date.
After a flight back to Manchester and a train journey to the Surrey town of Haslemere, I was ready to be a coordinator again, this time at the annual MADhurst festival in Sussex, the site of my twenty-second international volunteer project. The other volunteers were Charlotte from Belgium, Ema from the Czech Republic, Tom from France, Carolina from Germany, Paolo from Italy, Daniel from Spain and Ayşe from Turkey. Our work included putting up and taking down marquees, gazebos and fences, serving drinks, waitressing, picking up litter, selling tickets and taking part in the Big Make, which involved preparing a display on the theme of the Rio Carnival to be carried through Midhurst on the main festival day. We slept in a hall above a local café and cooked in the adjoining kitchen. As well as working, we were given every opportunity to enjoy the festival events, each distinctive and memorable in its own way. There were two sumptuous barbecues laid on by the MADhurst committee; a classical church concert with beautiful music and wonderful acoustics; a jazz concert, memorable not just for the music but for the imaginative and humorous way it was introduced to the audience; the film Walk the Line; a cookie-making workshop; visits to art exhibitions and the town’s museum, described on its website as “probably the smallest museum in the World”; a lively church service held in a marquee next to Cowdray Ruins; a tour of Cowdray Ruins itself, followed by an outdoor concert and picnic … oh, and I nearly forgot, even a burlesque evening, where, I have to admit, I did my best to keep a low profile whenever the microphone came close! On our free days we went on a day trip to Brighton and did a circular walk in the beautiful Sussex countryside.
Thank you very much to our wonderful hosts, Duncan at Patchfest, and Trina and David at MADhust, whose energy, enthusiasm, generosity, humour and patience knew no bounds; to Fran, for helping prepare me for my first summer as project coordinator and for visiting us at MADhurst; to Fiona and her family for all their help during Patchfest (not to mention the hot showers and breakfast!), and for hosting me overnight after the project; and to the other volunteers for sharing this special time with me. As project coordinator I was on a steep learning curve last summer, and I am grateful to all of you for helping me on that journey.