Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Volunteer and Co-ordinator Story: Barney

Volunteering, Coordinating, Leadership
My International Volunteer Projects 2017

Barney at Manjushri project as coordinator
This summer’s volunteering began by the sometimes rainy Cumbrian mudflats and ended in the heat of southern France. After these latest projects, which bring my total to twenty-seven (four as coordinator), I take the opportunity to reflect on how volunteering and coordinating have helped me to develop my leadership and organisational skills.

As coordinator of one of the summer projects at Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre (MKMC) near Ulverston, I was privileged to work with a small but enthusiastic group of international volunteers: Barbora from Slovakia, Eliška from the Czech Republic, Florent from Belgium and Julie from France. Our work consisted of housework and gardening, as well as helping in the art studio and café. We also enjoyed two days out walking in and around Ulverston, as well as a trip to Coniston where we made good use of the leisure budget by treating ourselves to coffee followed by hiring a rowing boat. While the work of our group, together with that of the other volunteers, was directed by Steve and his team at MKMC, I was the first port of call if any of the Concordia volunteers had any issues which needed resolving, whether relating to work, accommodation or free time. I made sure there was a leisure activity available in the evenings and on days off, when I also organised packed lunches for the volunteers.

Barney and Manjushri Volunteers on a day trip in Ulverston, Cumbria

After a gap of a couple of weeks I was one of a group of international volunteers to renovate the Réals mill near Cessenon-sur-Orb, a village not far from the southern French city of Béziers. With the guidance of the local organiser Rodolophe, the aim was to remove excess vegetation and to rebuild the parts of the mill which had fallen into disrepair, so as to make the mill a more attractive place for visitors as well as habitable for bats. 

Barney and his fellow volunteers at the work site in France

The group also consisted of our two French coordinators Emelyne and Alexandre, as well as Marlene and Mariame from the Dominican Republic; Adèle, Florian and Toine from France; Nebojša from Serbia; and Maria and Sophia from South Korea. While not a coordinator on this project, I found the leadership and organisational skills which I had learnt on UK projects to be useful when (while careful not to be a “backseat driver”!) I was occasionally asked my thoughts on group matters. As an English native speaker and who has studied French as my second language, I was sometimes asked to interpret, although I have to admit that after putting into English as well as I could a talk on bats I decided I might benefit from brushing up my natural history vocabulary in both languages! Free time activities included trips to the seaside, nearby tourist sights and mountains, an outdoor concert, dinner at a nearby village, canoeing and bowling.
Barney on his second project as a volunteer in France
Having seen my own leadership and organisational skills develop from volunteering, I would definitely encourage others to coordinate and participate in projects. These are important skills in many careers and walks of life including in my own career of teaching. Both as coordinator and volunteer I have been on a constant learning curve and I look forward to continuing to develop my skills in the future. 

Barney Smith, Summer 2017

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