Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A group coordinator's story: Kiranpreet Sira at the Manjusrhi Buddhist Centre

Volunteers working on their statues
Coordinating the Manjushri project with Concordia was truly a special and unforgettable experience. Manjushri itself is a beautiful and peaceful place to be, with the beach just 5 minutes away and beautiful scenery. We attended all meditation classes, which was a great opportunity to learn more about you and experience a peaceful mind. Our work consisted of preparing statues ready to be painted, as a team we managed to complete the preparation of a full set of statues. We had the evenings and weekends free to explore! As well as socializing with our own group there were many other volunteers. We all went to Karaoke night on Thursdays, which was great fun! All in all it was a great experience and I would love to go back. From this experience I have taken away with me many good memories, life long friends and an understanding of how to always remain positive (Kiranpreet Sira, Coordinator at Manjushri 2, 2017).

Are you interested in becoming a Group Coordinator for Concordia? Read here about how to apply.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Group Coordinator's story: Zsolt Kulcsar - Madhurst Festival 2017

Zsolt, first right, and the team of volunteers, building the Clown for the festival
Madhurst volunteer project – August 2017

The Madhurst project was the fourth volunteer project that I have co-ordinated in the UK and I can certainly say that it was one of the most unique projects I have seen so far. Madhurst is a project for those who have a creative mind and love to create something unforgettable.

Madhurst is a festival which lasts for almost two weeks and takes place every year in August. It is based half an hour away from Chichester in lovely historical village called Midhurst. Every year the international volunteers have to create a float for the final day of this festival. Besides the creation of the float they also help with various tasks like setting up venue for the visitors of the festival.

During the first two days the volunteers had to help with a conservation project in the South Downs national park. Due to this the first two days were quite physical and tiring, however it was the perfect team building exercise as we all got to know each other pretty well before we began working on the float together. As we were so close to the nature we also went on some long walks in the area which further helped the team to bond during the first couple of days of the project. Nevertheless, by the end of the conservation project the volunteers were fairly exhausted so this was the perfect time to have a day off.

After the initial conservation project (and the well deserved break) the volunteers began to build the float which was the main aim of this project and took almost a week to complete. It was amazing to see how invested the volunteers were in this task. On the first day after we went back to the accommodation they spent at least another hour brainstorming their ideas about the float. They liked this part of the project to the extent that they even stayed longer every day in order to work-out every little detail on the clown perfectly. The fact that the host was very flexible on the working hours made it even easier for the team to work on their own speed.

Concordia Volunteers parading with the amazing Clown they designed and built

It was also lovely to see how well the volunteers got along with the locals. It was clear to the volunteers that their work was appreciated by the people of Midhurst. Although we did get quite exhausted by the end of the two weeks, I really enjoyed co-ordinating this group and I think it was a good decision to come back and co-ordinate another project for Concordia this year. What made this project so perfect was the fact that every volunteer was able to contribute towards the float by bringing their own ideas and sharing it with the team. This also reflected in the free time that we spent together which made the project even better.

(Zsolt Kulcsar, Concordia Group Coordinator, Madhurst, Summer 2018)

A Group Coordinator's story: School and Eco Festival project - Ed Steele 2017

Ed with his first international volunteer group in Cornwall (Trythall School Project)
During this summer I co-ordinated 2 Concordia projects. These were small groups of around 7-8 volunteers from around the world, we lived and worked together for around 2 weeks. Bonding with a group of strangers who became friends and working together to do really valuable work for communities was a fantastic experience a one I cannot undersell, if you are at all curious about co-ordinating I highly recommend trying it.

The first was in Cornwall improving a school that prioritized outdoor education and creative learning. Discovering the beautiful countryside around Penzance including its coves, beaches and ancient Celtic standing stones was unforgettable. The work included building a rabbit proof fence to defend the school’s poly-tunnel, clearing out weeds and replanting some exotic plants. The school had a friendly collection of animals including Lambs, Hens and a somewhat disheveled cockerel. One of the highlights was appearing as a giant Kraken carnival float in the school’s end of year play, and enjoying a rural Fayre.    

The second project was working at an environmental festival in Worcestershire, mainly deconstructing the marquees that constituted the site. The festival itself was staffed by some dozens of young volunteers who (alongside the Concrodia volunteers) made the festival a really fun place. Before deconstruction we worked at a animal themed fancy dress wedding, and joined in the festivities along with a guests- a memorable experience for sure! Other highlights were the wonderful healthy organic (and often locally sourced) food, as well as the musical entertainments in the evenings and a lovely collaborative atmosphere on the camp.

Ed's second group at the eco-festival Green and Away

Aside from the work seeing different people all coming together to have fun and learn about each other’s culture is one of the best things about co-ordinating. This was a fantastic learning experience that can translate to so many other aspects of life. In addition seeing your own country through new eyes is a surprisingly interesting, as is learning about what people from other countries are really like. Without Concordia there are so many countries that I would know no-one from, and this bringing together of people is one of the most best things about Concordia.

Volunteers enjoying Green and Away eco-festival

(Ed Steele, Concordia Group Coordinator, Trythall School and Green and Away, Summer 2018)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Preparing Youth Exchange - Susie's story

The camp was really easy to get to, with at least one train each hour from Fiumicino airport train station. The train cost €11 and took about 1.5hours. It is a nice journey through the centre of Rome and they are large trains so there is no problem with getting a seat.

The camp is about 20 minutes’ walk from the station, most of which is off of the main road so it is a pleasant walk. The camp is held in a farm which some of the buildings have been converted to accommodate activity camps. The accommodation is really comfortable with 4 main dorm rooms; two holding 4 people, and two larger dorm rooms holding 12 people.  There are 3 shower rooms and, although it wasn’t plentiful, there was usually hot water available.

The scenery is completely beautiful and it is easy to distance yourself from the rest of the world and just focus on camp living, particularly because there is no Wi-Fi available to participants, so it was easy to focus on just spending a week within the camp.

The other participants were lovely and everyone was enthusiastic throughout the camp. The trainers seemed to have endless energy and were really good trainers. The activities were a good mix of discussion based and activity/physical based and always had a debrief session so we were aware of the purpose behind the activity. The activities were designed to be varied and to take us steadily out of our comfort zone and we were frequently reminded that this camp was the time to try things with no fear of consequences. It did always feel a safe environment among like-minded people where we could try new things and test skills without fear of ridicule ‘doing something wrong’.

The exercises were based around teamwork on the first day and a half. We then moved onto discussions and group working based on the concept of gender, stereotypes and following onto prejudices. The third day explored more discussions on gender and then involved role plays on managing conflict. The fourth day centred on the team working, leadership and trust and then in the afternoon, we went into groups based on which camp we would be leading and found out more details about the teen camp plans and Erasmus +. On the fifth day, we were separated into groups of six people and were given the morning to start planning an hour-long activity. We had the morning to prepare this and then each group led their activity with the rest of the group. We led activities on the afternoon of the fifth and morning of the sixth day. We then had a debrief, evaluation and wrap-up session on the afternoon of the sixth day.

Overall, the exercises were varied and I believe that everyone learnt new skills and also learnt more about themselves. As we all lived together for a week with no contact with the outside world, we bonded as a group really well and part of the experience was the communal living. As is the nature of communal living, there were peaks and troughs in energy levels and there were times where some people were easier to work with than others. However, because we were all living in such close proximity, it was an excellent opportunity to work with different people and challenge our own beliefs and behaviours. Everyone on the camp was really lovely and we have kept in touch through Facebook since returning home.

One evening we had an international food night where we all made food from our countries. Adam and I made a chicken casserole and cheesecake – both which are easy dishes to make as the ingredients are easy to source. I just took over a Colman's chicken casserole sachet which was light and small to pack. The food at the camp was amazing and most days we were able to eat outside. Everyone was put into teams to do the mealtime prep and washing up, and general cleaning duties. There was also a bar where we were able to buy beer and wine. We were all over 18 and everyone drank in moderation (although the wine is homemade wine and deceptively strong!)

Overall, it was an excellent camp and I learned new skills, exercises and icebreakers. It was a challenging but thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable week. I look forward to returning in May.

Susie Death

PRISM - training the trainers on breaking down gender stereotypes

What a fantastic privilege to have joined a funded training course in Italy, meeting so many amazing people and having been supported by such a great training team.  The training was set up to support people’s learning around teenagers, gender stereotyping and group facilitation skills so that in the summer we might lead a group of international teenagers to complete their own international volunteering project around gender stereotyping.  

A beautiful week’s weather (even though in February) twinned with an amazing setting saw our group spend lots of time outdoors.  A mix of fun icebreakers, energisers and team building games were coupled with some time to discuss issues around gender and theory to do with non-formal education processes.  As mentioned, the training team were extremely knowledgeable and various facilitation methods meant that we quickly got to performing as a group.

The dormitories were in nice buildings but with 10 to a room and a couple of strong snorers involved it is fair to say that I’ve had better sleep…  But when you wake up to this, you’re not so fussed (see picture above). The food was supreme! I was stuffed each day and still lost weight!  Evening entertainment was a real laugh and an on-site bar seemed to help things along ;-)

So looking forward to seeing everyone again this summer and a huge thank you to Lunaria in Italy for hosting and to Concordia here in the UK for co-ordinating on our end!

Adam Muirhead


Monday, March 13, 2017

Being a volunteer with Concordia

Trying to put into words how much enjoyment I get from volunteering with Concordia is hard, but I'll try…so here goes!

I’ve been volunteering with Concordia for over 5 years now. I started out by wanting to do an extended trip overseas and to see more than the backpacker trail. I was lucky enough to spend three years living overseas in my 20’s on various working holiday visas so 10 years on from these adventures I found myself wanting to have a trip where I would feel like I had lived and experienced a different culture even though I just had the gift of being able to take 6 weeks off work. I came across Concordia on an internet search and then went on the North-South training in Brighton. The training was great and I met like-minded people who wanted to visit and experience different cultures too which just made me more excited about my upcoming trip. For my first volunteering trip, I went to Nepal and lived in an orphanage at the foot of the Himalayas for 2 weeks. Sounds all very rustic and romantic right? Rustic, beautiful, and amazing it was but not sure that romantic can be a description particularly when our ‘shower’ was using the only communal tap for over a mile and had chickens around our feet! I shared the camp with 5 other volunteers from Japan, Hong Kong and France and can honestly say that it was some of the most incredible weeks of my life. On the project we mainly did manual labour such as building a dam for the flood season, creating a vegetable garden and creating a new room by using pickaxes against a cliff face. We also spent our evenings playing with the children and teaching them English. Our hosts were amazing and took us to lots of different places including a local viewpoint to watch the sunrise over the Annapurna range and to local shops and coffee shops. Following the workcamp, I spent about 3 weeks backpacking which was also incredible, but also made me realise that the two weeks I had spent volunteering gave me a rare insight into the ‘real Nepal’ which you rarely get backpacking.

When I got back to the UK I started helping with the overseas volunteer training as a volunteer and then came across the opportunity to be a coordinator for overseas volunteers coming to the UK to do a project. Again, I went on the weekend training for this and met more like minded fabulous people, many of which I am still friends with. So, in 2013 I was one of two coordinators for a project in East Sussex to renovate a school for children from developing countries to come to the UK and do their baccalaureate through winning scholarships. I was joined by fabulous volunteers from all over the world; Taiwan, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland and Germany. We spent two weeks renovating the school; painting, gardening, demolishing walls and sheds and building furniture and in our spare time ate amazing food and visited various places in the local area. It was my first experience of leading a group and was quite nervous beforehand but being able to share the leaders’ responsibilities with another UK volunteer helped and all the training and support that Concordia gave us meant that we never felt on our own.

After that project, I started assisting with the coordinator training as well as the overseas volunteer training. Through Concordia’s partnership with Girlguiding, I have been a Concordia leader in two-week trips to the Republic of Korea in 2015 and Vietnam in 2016 with Girlguiding groups. Acting as a Concordia leader is both rewarding and challenging and on both trips, I have seen fellow volunteers grow in confidence and blossom as a result.

This year I have participated in a turtle conservation project on the west coast of Mexico and also just got back from a week long Erasmus funded project in Italy where along with fellow volunteers from all over Europe we are going to lead an activity camp for teenagers in the summer which will also encourage discussion and debate on gender stereotypes.

Volunteering is now a major part of my life and makes me feel alive, proud and happy to be me! I can’t recommend it enough!