Friday, November 16, 2007

Alex Kay's adventures in Mongolia

Alex Kay went to Mongolia with Concordia International Volunteers in August 2007

Kids Camp Mongolia

I spent the last two weeks of August volunteering at the Khangait summer camp for the orphans of Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia. I joined a truly international group, with volunteers hailing from South Korea, Holland, France, Spain, Singapore and the USA. We headed north out of Ulaanbaatar and into the surrounding countryside where the majority of homes are simple but practical ger tents. After a two hour drive we reached the summer camp. It consisted of several small wooden buildings which were set on the lower slopes of a beautiful forested valley, only now seeing the first signs of settlement around the dirt road that winds along the valley floor.

As soon as we assembled the group of volunteers got along very well everyone could speak some English and we were all in our early twenties, or at least behaved like it!

After drawing up a timetable of activities and projects on the first night we spent as much time with the orphans as our energy levels could cope with. Meanwhile, three less fortunate volunteers were the cooking and cleaning team for the day.

We organised a myriad of games and activities for the children. There were frequent games of football, volleyball and basketball, English and Korean lessons, art workshops, mini Olympics and even a disco one night.

Mongolian kids have this fantastic, insatiable competitive spirit and many of the best activities were those where the children were split into their four ‘house’ groups and competed for small prizes.

After our first week we had two days off and the in-country coordinator organised a trip for those interested, to journey into the vast, open expanses of Mongolia’s central aimags. Seven of us took up the opportunity while others went for some well earned rest back in the capital. We had a fantastic time staying with a nomadic family in their guest ger and whilst there we journeyed to the nearby ancient Mongolian capital Kharkorum and got to ride the family’s group of horses.

When we returned the blistering summer heat had contributed to an enormous forest fire which was gradually expanding down the slopes on the opposite side of the valley towards the summer camp. After an uneasy night where a watch was organised in case we had to evacuate, the rain came and extinguished the fires within 3km of our camp!

I felt our main goal was to make sure the kids had a fun, active and educational summer camp but other members were keen to improve the facilities at the camp and during our two weeks we built several benches from logs collected in the forest and concreted over a slope to improve drainage in order to protect against landslides around one of the accommodation blocks.

Most of us had brought art and craft supplies, sports equipment and clothes for the kids. We also pooled some money together to buy fresh fruit which we gave out most evenings. Several other groups who visited the camp for an afternoon or during our days off had brought sweets for the orphans which they enjoy, but receive so often that their teeth suffer.

During the second week my specialty became the construction of paper aeroplanes that the younger kids soon had me producing in every spare minute I had. Throughout the week the air was filled with squadrons of planes soaring around the camp! Fortunately, a few kids had learnt the folding technique in the final few days and I hope they will be able to enjoy creating planes for the rest of their childhoods!

I had a brilliant time volunteering and I would love to go back and help at the camp again, to check on the kid’s progress as they grow up and meet more volunteers from across the globe.

By Alex Kay

Click here for pictures of projects in Mongolia

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland part 2

Duncan is currently in Iceland on an EVS project:

My second project was in Flateyri, deep in the Westfjords. The Westfjords are the remotest part of Iceland, and can often be cut off in extreme weather conditions. Flateyri has just 300 people, 1/3 of which are Polish immigrants working in the fish processing plant. The villagers depend heavily on the fishing industry, and are concerned with the potential loss of the fish factory and the associated jobs. There are very few services in the village, limited to one shop, swimming pool, school and café.

The project had in total 11 participants from Lithuania (my co-leader), France, Switzerland, Holland, Spain (Basque Country and Catalonian), Ireland, South Korea, UK and Norway. A few days into the camp, the participant from Norway left the group as she was sick, and was replaced mid way through the camp by a girl from Serbia. Volunteers who leave the camp early or arrive late can have a detrimental effect on the group, however in this case there was no problem.

Our work on the project consisted of mainly cleaning up the coastline, and planting trees in a memory garden. In 1995, the Flateyri suffered a catastrophic avalanche, killing 13 people. As a response to this, an avalanche barrier was constructed above the village. They local people also created a garden in memory of those who died. Our task was to plant trees and improve the garden. It was great to undertake useful work and create something the local people could be proud of. I hope the trees will last through the winter, and that the locals look after the garden.

We also cleaned up the coastline. The coast near Flateyri has a landfill site next to it. The rubbish is carried to the coast via small streams and the wind. Hence, the coast was very dirty. The people of Flateyri have been fighting against the landfill site for many years, without success. We found many large pieces of metal, fish boxes and fishing nets on the beach. Even though we spent three days cleaning, there was still a large amount of rubbish left. We attempted to take this away, with the help from the local search and rescue team. They tried to use their boat to tow the larger pieces of garbage back to the harbour, however it failed. We had an enjoyable and thrilling evening, in their speed boat though!

Our local contact was called Gu
đrun, and she provided us with many excursions in our free time. Her business is fishing, and more specifically, selling dried fish. Dried fish is an Icelandic specialty; the fish is hung out to dry after it has been caught, and is then filleted. The group was able to go fishing on her boat, and I managed to catch my first fish. We also went kayaking in the fjord and visited Guđrun's summerhouse, complete with outdoor hotpot.

The final weekend of the project was spent hiking with some locals. We went up the highest mountain in the Westfjords, which is approximately 1000m. It was here that tragedy struck. One of the guides, and elderly man from Flateyri, had a fatal heart attack half way up. The hike was delayed by 3 hours as a rescue helicopter arrived, however it was too late. This man, we found out later was a local M.P. for the Westfjords.

Overall, the project was a success. Everybody enjoyed the work, and it felt more useful than in Neskaupsta
đur. The people in Flateyri were happy with the camp, and hope to have another one next year. Although we had little contact with the locals, except when some volunteers 'gatecrashed' a wedding party, they were talking about us after we left and asking who we were. As a follow up the camp, I was able to write a press release to a North American newspaper, serving Icelanders in the US and Canada, mentioning the troubles we encountered cleaning up the coastline. It was also possible to design a poster explaining the work completed during the camp and explaining where the volunteers came from. Hopefully, this will be put up in Flateyri so the local people can see it.

Now that the camp is over, I have 14 days until my final one, in Eskifjordur. Toti gave me the challenge of leading a camp in Vogar, on the Reykaennes peninsular.

Click here for pictures of projects in Iceland

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Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland

Duncan is currently in Iceland on a EVS project - this is his latest update:

My first project is over and I am now back in Reykjavik. My first task is to say goodbye to my participants. I found this very hard, due to the excellent group spirit in the camp. I will have many more good-byes to say before I leave Iceland.

The 17th June is Icelandic National Independence day, when Iceland was made independent from Denmark in 1944. It is a day of celebrations, and Reykjavik is always full of people. There was a battle reenactment, with the actors dressed as Vikings and fair maidens. What followed was a bloody battle, leaving only the shortest, and in my opinion, the fattest Viking still alive. The day ended with concerts on a main stage near the harbour, and the music varied from rock to heavy metal. By far the best band was Ampop, a local Icelandic group. Parties in Iceland generally happen after midnight, and at 3am, Reykjavik was full of excited, intoxicated people!

The next day, I begun work at the 41st International Children’s Games. The games are similar to the Olympic Games, but for children aged between 10 and 14. Every year the games are held in a different city, and this year is the turn of Reykjavik. Our job on the first day was to look after the VIPs at the opening ceremony. Afterwards, we had to assist in the schools where the children stayed.

This day was also the longest day, June 21st. I celebrated this with the other EVS by attending a concert by Amminar, the band who usually support Sigur Ros. They played many different types of instruments, including glasses and saws. In complete contrast to the UK, celebrities in Iceland don’t get any hassle from the media, and it has been known to bump into Bjork in downtown Reykjavik!

The beginning of June saw many more hours of daylight than before. At first, it seemed strange to have ‘white nights’, but after a while I got used to it. In some cases, it was an advantage having 24 hours of daylight.
In total, this summer, I am supposed to lead three workcamps, and have 14 days of free time between each one. During this time, I am allowed to help out in other camps and travel a little. I took advantage of a project in Hveragdi and joined the group for a few days. Hverargdi is where Icelanders grow their fruits and vegetables, and is famous for its greenhouses. Also, there are many hot springs in the area, as the town lies directly on the volcanic belt. We hiked into the interior and found a hot spring where you could take a dip. As well as hiking with the group, I joined them on their first days work, clearing dead wood and rubbish from a forest area. Immediately, I saw there was a great group spirit, as the participants formed a human chain to transport the larger pieces of wood down the hillside. A great example of teamwork indeed!

Icelandic swimming pools are a great way to relax. Most are outdoors and consist of a large pool for swimming, sauna and several hotpots (heiter pottur). The latter is a heated pool of water for bathing, typically geothermically heated. The temperatures vary from 36°C to 42°C – very hot indeed! During my stay in Iceland, I will be comparing the different hotpots I will visit, and will name the best in my final extract. Relaxing in the hotpots in Reykjavik allows me plenty of time to plan my second project, in Flateyri. Flateyri is in the Westfjords, and the camp begins on July 3rd. I am already looking forward to it!

Click here for pictures of projects in Iceland

Click here for a country profile of Iceland

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Concordia North South project in Kenya

Concordia North South project

Country and place: Ngumbulu, Kenya

Date: Summer 2007

Volunteer: Caroline Dudley

Writing a blog about my experience in Kenya has been no easy task. Having spent a month in Machakos, the Eastern region of Kenya, I have had so many amazing experiences that to pick a few key points is an extremely difficult thing to do. However, the fundamental point to convey is that, at the risk of sounding cheesy, choosing to volunteer in Kenya is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The work camp I was involved in set about repairing roads that had been damaged by water during the rainy season. Although this was the principle reason for being in the village of Ngumbulu it became increasingly apparent to me that the cultural exchange between myself, the international volunteer’s and the local community was worth just as much, if not more, than the physical work of repairing the road. Spending the afternoons on home visit or sitting round the camp fire after a hard days work, so many ideas, values and perspectives are exchanged which inevitably broaden your perspective. During my short time at Ngumbulu I, for example, learnt how to construct a fairly decent fire, sang local songs and pick up a little Kamba, the local dialect. In exchange I assisted in organising and orchestrating an English culture night, taught many a song to the local school children and swallowing my pride whenever I was laughed at playing volleyball (which was often).

Furthermore, being involved in a highly diverse group of international volunteers I was pleasantly surprised by how well we worked together as a team and how rewarding being a member of a team can be. All volunteers were involved in every aspect of domestic life whether it be cooking, collecting water or having the sometimes unappealing task of cleaning the toilets. Such responsibilities were conducted in accordance with local practices which allowed me to gain ever increasing respect for the local culture as well as an appreciation for what I have in my own life.

After spending a month in Kenya it is my belief that international volunteering can be a great way to immerse yourself in a culture, give something to community and learn a great deal about yourself and the world around you. It is an experience that I will not forget in a hurry and one, which even on my return, demands that I question and broaden my ideas and perspectives.

Click here for more pictures of projects in Kenya

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Janica Dennison's International volunteer project in Italy

Concordia short term international volunteer project in:

Milazzo on the island of Sicily in Italy

Project code: LEG34

Dates: 09/07-22/07/2007

Volunteer: Janica Dennison

Two weeks of building platforms and I think I could now start my own business, (if there is a market for beach platforms in the UK that is). Although I automatically think of platforms when I think of the work camp I just completed in Milazzo, Sicily, that is not all that camp was. What Legambiente, (the Italian environmental organisation) also shared with all us volunteers was a strong sense of community and gratitude towards us international volunteers for helping keep their environment safer and cleaner for everyone to use. We even had a few articles in local newspapers about what we were there for and of course the local mayor (who in Milazzo was rather dashing in his light weight denim) even came down to our work site to thank us.

However, as anyone who has been on a work camp will say, the work is only half the experience, as for me it was living within a tight knit community twenty-four seven with seven other volunteers, who every night also got bitten extensively by mosquitoes, that made my trip. Visiting an old military base, which was a perfect view of the sea between Sicily and Italy, or hiking up 400 metres above sea level during midday sun to see the most amazing crater on the Aeolian island of Vulcano, are memories shared with new friends I won’t soon forget. Although at times the scorching 45 degrees and 98% humidity left me wishing for a little British rain, once back in the UK you realise how amazing that heat swirled up with volunteers, laughter and a little hard work aid to restore a positive outlook on life (cheesy I know but true). The way I saw Sicily was a way a solo traveller would not have seen it.

Janica went on a Standard Project with Concordia

Janica and the other international volunteers in Sicily

Click here for a country profile of Italy

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Liz Underhill's EVS volunteering experiance in Belgium

Split in Croatia - its amazing where EVS can take you?

Liz Underhill is an EVS volunteer in Brussels, Belgium for JRS

I arrived in Brussels on 1st March 2007, not at all sure what to expect from my experience. I would be living in Brussels for one year, working with the Jesuit Refugee Service Europe (JRS) as a Media Officer. JRS is an international organisation with offices all round the world. The JRS Europe office (where I am based) is the head office for Europe. This means the office coordinates the work of offices and contact people in over 20 countries. These offices are responsible for visiting asylum seekers in detention centres, providing legal advice, food and shelter and generally raising awareness about the situation of refugees and asylum seekers.

My own personal role with JRS is as the Media Officer. This means producing a monthly update for all staff, a bi-monthly newsletter, updating the website and assisting with arranging events. As this role suggests, any week can be quite varied and mixed.

I currently live in Brussels in shared accommodation for about 40 people. A few other EVS people live there but it is mainly home to stagières and interns from around the world. It is a very vibrant place to live as it is home to such a mix of nationalities. At any one time you could be sat with Americans, Germans, people from Finland or the Ukraine. However, being based in Brussels does mean you don’t really learn much French or Flemish! The majority of people speak English and are very happy to do so!

Brussels is a great place to live because it is made up of so many different quarters and areas. The European part is a very important part of the Brussels landscape but there is much more to Brussels than the EU.

Belgium is also very central so it means you can visit other European countries such as France, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg very easily.

I am now 5 months into my EVS placement of 1 year. I am really enjoying the experience of living in another country and meeting people from around Europe and the world. My role as Media Officer means I undertake a mix of different activities and tasks.

I recently spent a week in Croatia with the Slovakian winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007, a refugee awareness award run through schools and organised by JRS. The 16 year old winners designed a DVD about the lives of refugees and together we visited refugee projects and organisations working with refugees in Croatia. This was a truly amazing experience, particularly as the students were so passionate about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. After learning about the legacy of displaced people in Croatia, the students were shown the current situation for new asylum seekers seeking refugee status from outside Croatia. We met representatives from the UNHCR and the Croatian Law Centre and were given a tour of a reception centre for asylum seekers in Kutina, near Zagreb. We were also given the opportunity to visit the cities of Split and Zagreb. We spent some time on the coast at the resort of Opatija and on the island of Lošinj, experiencing traditional Croatian food and culture.

I’m looking forward to seeing what projects I will be involved in over the coming weeks and months and hopefully will enjoy the remainder of my time in Brussels.

Liz and the winners of the Pedro Arrupe Award 2007

Click here for more pictures of projects in Belgium

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

EVS Iceland: the latest edition - June 07


Duncan's 3rd Iceland update:

In late May, I moved to the East of Iceland with the other EVS for a simulated workcamp. During this period, I was able to practice my leadership abilities; each of us took it in turns to lead 1 day of the workcamp. Our location was in Neskaupstadur, or North Fjord. Neskaupstadur is the largest town in the East Fjords, with a population of 1,500, and is only reachable through a tunnel under the mountains. Because of this, the town is self sufficient, with its own supermarket, bar, swimming pool, chemist and post office.

The work during the day varied, from raking stones close to the swimming pool to cleaning up the coastline. Perhaps the most interesting work was painting the harbour in preparation for the Fisherman’s Festival. The team of EVS painted the dock yellow, after painting themselves of course!

The training camp was hard work, but we still found time to have fun. My most memorable moment was a hike around the fjord into Hellisfjordur and back, a total distance of 25km. This was a challenging hike because there was no marked path – in fact we wanted to cross the mountain, but could not find a suitable path.

In reflection, I learnt a lot in the east, including many icebreaking games and how to evaluate a workcamp. But the most important lesson was about food. When cooking on a camp, always cook for 40 people, not 15. Too much food is never a problem; too little food means people complain.

The end of May also means the EVS split up and go in different directions. We will not be together again until September as we all have different schedules, although we can always call each other on our mobiles.

So I am now ready for my first proper workcamp…in Neskaupstadur! I am lucky in that WF01, or the first workcamp of 2007 is in Neskaupstadur. There were 4 participants and 3 leaders taking part from France, Denmark, UK, Czech Republic and Lithuania. I had a good feeling that this camp would be perfect, even though the participants were very quiet.

Our local contact was a lady called Jorfridur, a crazy (she likes heavy metal) biker chick who somehow managed to do everything for us during the 2 weeks. Our work for the camp was not quiet what we expected, but we all showed as much enthusiasm as possible. There was more painting in the harbour, lots of raking stones and sweeping docks, in the next fjord, Reybarfjordur. The most enjoyable work involved pulling out some pretty blue flowers. These are called Arctic Lupin, and are seen as a weed in Iceland. They are tall flowers, similar to Bluebells, which prevent other flowers from growing by blocking out the sunlight. We spent two very enjoyable days on the cliffs working with these flowers, but we felt like such vandals!

Part of the role of the local contact in a workcamp is to provide the group with an excursion or two. Jorfridur organised a boat trip for us (on two occasions), and we were able to go fishing and exploring the fjords. On one occasion, we visited a rescue house, which according to local legend is haunted. The story goes that a local man took a photo of a window in the house, and there was a face of a man in the picture. This man had been dead for 100 years. I also took a picture of the same window, however there is no man, or is there…

We also participated in the Fisherman’s Festival – there was a trip round the fjords on the big fishing boats, a BBQ, and a tug of war competition, where the losers had to jump in the fjord.

Finally, we found time to hike round the fjord, and this time, I cross the mountain range! I really enjoyed my first workcamp and am looking forward to my next in Flateyri in July. - Duncan

Ghost House

For more pictures of projects in Iceland click here

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland continues...

2nd update from Duncan's EVS adventures in Iceland

It is now May and this is the second month of my stay in Iceland. So far it has been really hectic! The whole month is dedicated to training the EVS, who have come from all over Europe: Slovenia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, France, Scotland and Greece.

I finished April by taking part in a seminar based around immigration issues. Veraldavinir´s job was to organise this and make the participants feel welcome. Some lively discussions were created, but the group was able to have fun as well. Part of the seminar involved cleaning up the coastline next to the House of the President of Iceland (He wasn´t in!). We also involved some children from immigrant families and carried out an activity where they had to construct garbage animals.

A debate in Reykjavik City Hall was also part of the seminar. There were elections in Iceland on the 12th May and immigrantion is a big topic. Iceland has some of the toughest immigrantion laws in the world and so far only one person has claimed asylum in Iceland. It was very interesting to hear from organisations such as the Icelandic Red Cross and the international centre as well.

The begining of May started with meeting the new EVS and awaiting to move to Keflavik, to live on the ex NATO base. During this period, we are based in Gunnersholmie. Gunnarsholmie is a “busy” town with 4 houses and lots of sheep. Also, it has Gunnar, the manakin in the shower room!

The training began with an introduction to Iceland and the organisation. Icelandic naming is very confusing. Each person has a first name, and there surname is their father´s name, with son or dottir at the end. So Gunnar Gunnarson means Gunnar is the son of Gunnar. In addition, there was a day devoted to the clean up the coastline project. I ran two activities – a word association game related to the environment and a beach walk, where the participants had to note down the positive things on the coastline. Both activities were a success, despite the second activity not taking place near the sea. I discovered very quickly the coastline near Gunnersholmie is like a desert, complete with sandunes. Next time i will find the sea!


The second week of training involved working in the Botanical Gardens of Reykjavik. We were introduced to Icelandic flora and fauna (or the lack of!), and in the afternoon helped out in the gardens. I was in the vegetable patch (thinking of food again) and helped to add new soil. They grow most vegetables there including potatoes, onions, asparagus and carrots. For lunch, we were treated to tradditional blood and liver sausgage.

At last, we move to Keflavik! Living on the NATO airbase is strange. Its like a ghost town. Everything is in American, complete with Subway Sandwich. We spent a day moving furniture into the apartment. Those Americans had big ass TVs! From now on, my American name is Jack Calvin!

I am also learning Icelandic. This must be the hardest language in the world! They have words begining with Hv, which sounds like kf. So i can say:

Ég heite Duncan – my name is Duncan

Ég frá Brettlandi – I am from England

Ég erg tuttago oir tvegga aira – I am 22 years old

Einn Björ takk – one beer please

Hvað heite þu? – what is your name?

The training continues with a short seminar on leadership and conflict resolution. During this, we learned what a group is and how to communicate effectively, mainly through being blindfolded! I am still not sure how to resolve a conflict though; I just know what one is.

Click here for pictures of projects in Iceland

Click here for a country profile of Iceland

Friday, May 11, 2007

Claire is currently on an EVS project in Germany. She is volunteering for a European music organisation for young people in Munich. Claire has also taken part on other Concordia short term international projects in France, Croatia and the Czech Republic. She also co-ordinated a project in Iceland last year.

My EVS Experience:

My EVS isn’t exactly a typical project, but then again, I’m not sure what is! I am spending a year working for a European music organisation for young people in Munich, Germany. Throughout my time at university I took part in many different short term volunteer projects in France to help my French studies, but also in Croatia, the Czech Republic, England and Iceland. I had some amazing experiences and wanted to have the chance to volunteer for a longer period of time when I had finished at university. At the same time, I wanted to get valuable work experience to kick start my career in European Cultural Management. There’s a huge variety of projects on the EVS database and I found a project which was exactly what I wanted!

I work in the office of the music organisation where I organise various projects. These include concerts and tours for young musicians and European conferences. So far, this has taken me to Russia, Poland and Liechtenstein and trips to Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria are lined up for the next few months! In St Petersburg I was helping to organise a European conference which was really interesting and brought me into contact with many people from all over Europe. And of course we all had some time to do some sightseeing!

In the office with me are 2 German volunteers and we also spend quite a lot of our free time together. I’ve been on 2 seminars for EVS volunteers in Germany which have been good fun and have enabled me to meet other volunteers and see new parts of Germany. There are quite a few European volunteers in Munich and we meet up quite often. My placement organised my accommodation for me: I have my own flat which is part of a beautiful big chalet owned by a friendly couple. It’s on the edge of the city centre and only 10 minutes walk to the office.

I love living in Munich: it’s a beautiful city and there’s so much going on. What’s more, it’s not far to the Alps and I can see them from my office window! At the weekends I meet up with friends, go to concerts and the cinema and generally explore the city. And I’ve been on quite a few day trips into the mountains and to towns nearby. Aside from work trips, I’ve also been on weekend trips to Salzburg and Bratislava and I’m planning to go to Italy and Slovenia in the summer – it’s great to live somewhere where you can just sit on a train for a few hours to go on holiday! - Claire

Click here for more pictures of projects in Germany

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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Besty's EVS journey to Russia

Besty Barkas started her EVS in January in Russia. She is based in Nizhny Novgorod which is 600km East from Moscow and is volunteering with NNVS. Her first blog is about her 'Green' journey to Russia from the UK by train.

My journey from London to Moscow was in three stages, London - Brussels, then Brussels - Cologne, then Cologne to Moscow. It took only an afternoon to get to Cologne by high speed Eurostar and Thalys train and was a very comfortable journey. It is also foreigner-friendly; in the station and on the train to Cologne the announcements were made in four languages. However, as soon as I stepped onto the train in Cologne, I felt as if I were in Russia already: all the passengers and attendants were Russian-speaking and all the signs were in Russian.

I had two nights on this train, and it was a good opportunity to practice my language - the sociable atmosphere on the train means it is easy to make friends. At one point, a few ill-placed comments by one of the attendants provoked the whole carriage into a heated debate on sexual equality - a great insight into social attitudes in Russia!

The time went surprisingly quickly as I had a ! good supply of the essentials - books, magazines and cup a soups. We stopped twice for border checks - glad I got a Belorussian transit visa before I left as I avoided being thrown off the train at the border. I arrived at the impressive Belorusskiy station in the morning, about 40 hours from when I'd set off. I think it's much nicer to arrive in a country at the train station - it always tells you so much more about the place, than airports, which are all the same.

From Moscow I got another train to Nizhny Novgorod, where I was met at the station, finally relieved of my heavy suitcase and taken to my new flat. I'm living with two other EVS volunteers - I think EVS volunteers are generally a pretty interesting group of people, most have probably done some voluntary work, abroad or in their own countries and so they have interesting experiences and perspectives to share.

I'm looking forward to my on-arrival training which starts tomorrow, which we new volunteers will do together.


2nd update - What volunteering Besty has been doing?

It seems like only yesterday I arrived here - the time has flown by! It's been alright, not too cold, although there is loooads of snow - I had to literally tunnel out of the flat this morning. In answer to the question everyone's been asking, I've not been drinking too much vodka actually - no-one here seems to have a taste for it - not like the hardened British student drinkers in Moscow!

After our on-arrival training I felt a bit lost and confused about what I was doing - as did the other volunteers. I've found it really useful to be living with other international volunteers to share experiences and support one another. Now, after a month I feel we're finally getting started with the projects, but I've realised how much time can go by before you can get stuck in - there are lots of people you need to meet and become acquainted with, and your course of language lessons to sort out, before you can work out a proper timetable.

I'm co-coordinating (!) a big event which happens every April. It's called the Little Prince and it lasts 2 weeks. It's an event for the children in the orphanages in the Nizhny Novgorod region (about 50 orphanages but probably they won't all take part).

Other than generally helping to coordinate our Russian volunteers and promoting the event in schools and orphanages, I myself, along with other international volunteers, am organising an international day within the two weeks with games, food and activities from other countries. This will be on the 1st of April. I

'm also organising English classes for some orphans and for my colleagues in the office. And having Russian lessons myself. But I've still found time to explore the town a little bit and get acquainted with some of the local bars and their devotees!

Click here for pictures of projects in Russia

Click here for a country profile of Russia

Duncan's EVS adventure in Iceland

Duncan Hammet is a Concordia volunteer currently in Iceland on a 7 month EVS project with WF Iceland. He started his EVS in April 2007.

The next diary extract.

I had a good day today in the Botanical gardens, helping to dig the vegetable patch. I've realised that as a British person, I am/feel closer to the Icelanders than people from
France and Germany. For example, the traditional Icelandic lamb is the same as English Sunday roast. Also, at weekends, Icelanders get very drunk, just like British people.

My first month in
Iceland is almost up and it has been interesting to say the least. After a few problems with baggage, or lack of it, upon my arrival, I have managed to settle in. I am currently living in a shared house close to Reykjavik city centre; however I will soon move to Keflavik, where the airport is. So far, I have met volunteers from Switzerland, Slovenia, Germany and Greece, and it has been interesting learning about the different countries in Europe. The one thing everyone noticed is the lack of trees here in Iceland – the soil has been eroded so much that trees don’t stand a chance of growing here.

During the Easter period, Icelanders take a long vacation (in fact I have spent more time resting than working). I hired a car with some other volunteers and travelled to the south, where we visited the Blue Lagoon (a large geothermal outdoor swimming pool), Gullfoss (a large waterfall) and Geysir (which erupts every 10mins).

The project I am working on is called Clean Up the Coastline, and involves organising cleaning up the beaches of
Iceland in 5 years, through 2 week work camps. In September, the aim is to visit schools and teach about recycling and conduct beach clean ups with the children. Finally, we hope to have a garbage art work exhibition somewhere in Reykjavik, also in September.

My role so far has been organising the project and creating marketing material – I took the good old Corel Draw with me. Also, I am in charge of the Clean Up the Coastline blog, which is supposed to be updated regularly.

The landscape is strange, like a desert, and reminds me of the surface of the Moon. The people are even stranger – a night out in
Reykjavik is something to be experienced. The locals dress in suits and ties and get completely plastered! One Icelander said beer is the devils drink – I think a reference to the price of beer, which is 600kr, equivalent to £6.00.

I went whale watching on the first day of summer, which is also a holiday. This isn’t all as its hyped up to be, as the whale sightings are random. I saw one come close to the boat, but wasn’t quick enough with the camera. The window for taking a photo is only 3 – 5 seconds as they come up to breathe. Most sightings were from a distance, although it was obvious when a whale was sighted as everyone on the boat rushed to one side, resulting in me being crushed!

The end of April saw Veraldavinir preparing for a seminar on immigration issues in
Iceland. This was held in the soon to be famous Gunnersholmie, in the south of Iceland. The day before the participants arrived, the WF volunteers were responsible for making beds and cleaning the community centre where the seminar would take place. The participants were from many countries in Europe, including France, Belgium, Estonia, Palestine' (from YAP) and Spain. The EVS were in charge of the cooking, but could also take part in discussions during the day. The first day was based around ‘what is immigration’? My small group discussed whether I was an immigrant in Iceland and it was decided that the word immigrant has negative meanings and implications. I also cooked a chicken curry for the seminar group.

The last weekend in April saw a clean up activity next to the house of the Icelandic President, conducted with children from immigrant families. The weather was very windy but a lot of rubbish was collected. Part of this activity was game where the children had to make animals from the garbage found on the beach. The following day saw a large debate on immigration in
Reykjavik City Hall, in preparation for the May elections. An interesting point was made in that all Icelanders are immigrants as they are descended from Danish settlers.

We are now preparing for the new EVS to arrive in May and hopefully move to a bigger house in


Rainbow at Skorgor Foss, Iceland

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