Friday, November 12, 2010

Luke in Iceland on EVS - 2010

Six months down, only two to go! Time has passed so quickly on my EVS experience in Iceland. I have been leading workcamps throughout the summer season, which has now come to a close. It has been a wonderful experience, and I have met so many interesting and enthusiastic people I am left at a loss to describe what I have seen and done in words. Since my last entry, I have seen the summer through with four workcamps. With projects as varied as planting trees in the north of the country, helping to rebuild the ruins of an ancient monastery in the east, conducting two week photography workshops complete with our very own exhibition and helping Reykjavik’s International Film Festival run smoothly. I am also very happy to report that I realised a lifelong dream, I have seen the famous Northern Lights! They are even more beautiful than I imagined.

They were all great, and we had some fantastic volunteers staying with us, however, rebuilding the ruins in the east must be a highlight. We stayed in a remote valley where a huge lake meets Iceland’s wonderful Highlands. Working for a museum and culture house – home of the famous Icelandic Author Gunnar Gunnarson – we toiled with boulders and turf to enhance the site where archaeologists had been digging for 9 years. Each day we could see our work take shape from a hill above the site, the walls, the stone pathways and the turfed gardens. It was incredibly rewarding work, as tourists would view the site and, for the first time, get a good idea of where the old monastery actually sat. Of course, it wasn’t all hard work. Our host Skuli had prepared some special trips to the beautiful east fjords and their sea cliffs which are home to thousands of sea birds and up onto the vast and desolate (and very cold) highlands. Here, we saw a massive and controversial dam, which, when it was built in 2006, created a 50km glacial lake stretching all the way to Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajokull. We also had the amazing experience of bathing in a hot waterfall. At just the right temperature too! We relaxed in its pool, then ran for the freezing cold river into which it drained. Truly an experience to remember!

Now winter is well and truly on its way in the North Atlantic. At the beginning of November, the sun rises after 9am and sets before 5pm. It is confusing for the body clock to say the least, but I have plenty to be getting on with preparing the Seed’s housing for next year’s volunteers! Over the past month we have prepared our vegetable gardens for the harsh winter, having dug new vegetable patches and enclosed them with the traditional Icelandic turf walls. We are also building recycling bins to manage with all waste our 3 houses and one office produces (we recycle everything from old batteries to normal plastic packaging, taking one van load to the recycling centre almost every two weeks). We have also begun repairing our bikes – a mammoth task considering we have around twenty old second hand bikes. We have stripped and painted the windows of our main house, and the improvement is visible. It is good motivation to think we are working so hard to make the experience better for the volunteers of next year.

Even though the season is over, I feel I still have a lot to look forward to and we have certainly been kept busy. Not only do we have four more workcamps from the 21st November right up until Christmas Eve, we have also been planning events for Seed’s 5th Anniversary. Over the course of a week from the 11th of this month, we will be host to long term volunteers from Seed’s past years. With several events planned, it will culminate in a conference on the environment where several guest speakers will give talks in their field. I am very excited to meet previous volunteers, to share experiences with them and to have a good time.

The past week has been spent organising and preparing for the annual Akranes Day of Nations organised by the New Icelanders Foundation. It was fantastic to see the cultural diversity of a population as small as Iceland’s, and to taste the foods from as far afield as India, Hungary, Nigeria and Palestine. The event was a great success. We represented Seeds with information on our work through the summer, and with foods from our countries. I chose to hold a vote with the visiting public to see whether Icelanders loved or hated Marmite. Served with a bit of bread and cheese, it was great to interact with the locals and see the faces of those who clearly hated it! Though I am happy to say, Iceland officially loves Marmite!

Despite all the fun I have had over the past month, it has to be said that it has been a difficult month of goodbyes. Much of the team of leaders have now left, and it has been difficult to say goodbye to so many with whom I felt so close. Our house doesn’t quite feel the same without them. Still, I am happy to have met such wonderful and inspiring people. Though it is sad to say goodbye, I feel I have learnt a great deal from working with them and now I can honestly say I have friends in nearly every European country! So it will be a bitter sweet final two months. I am very much looking forward to the shortest day of the year, the snow and the renowned Christmas and New Year celebrations here in Reykjavik. I intend to make the most of every minute!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adrian in Spain on EVS - 2010


Half-way through my EVS in Asturias, Northern Spain, at Libelula Huerta (dragonfly market garden). It´s a community-supported agriculture project that grows vegetables for 22 families on the outskirts of Avilés, a small industrial port with about 80,000 inhabitants. Most of our work is in the garden, tending to the vegetables, harvesting and managing the soil. In the process we are learning all about agro-ecology (small scale, locally produced organics) and the need to re-skill a new generation in how to grow good nutritious food sustainably. We have also done a number of workshops with kids, sometimes in schools and sometimes in the garden - taking them round and showing them what a tomato plant looks, smells and feels like. I am also just about to embark upon giving a series of workshops on organic gardening, with the aim of creating a ´forest garden´in the centre of the city with a piece of land that the local council have granted us. Nervous doesnt even come close. I have no idea how it will turn out, nor if the trees will even survive the first winter!
I am here with another EVS volunteer from Italy, Arianna and another volunteer from England who has stuck around in Asturias and still helps out in the garden. Has been a great summer, with trips to the beach after work, hikes up into the stunning mountains to the south and long drawn out lunches (we always eat at the garden, cooking together after we finish at 1230). For the colder months I have just taken up a woodcarving course and have been to visit a baker in the mountains who has shown me all about artesanal breadmaking.
Would recommend highly this project. The values it promotes are focussed on a very practical aspect of social change: that of changing our diets and system of food production, and of becoming more politically aware of the implications of our choices and the way we organise society for what will become of our future.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Joe in Austria on EVS - 2010

So that's it - an entire year in Austria finished. It's hard to believe how quickly the time has flown by! My last week in Austria was fairly frenetic, spent as it was running my final project - an international youth exchange with 35 participants from 5 different countries. I don't think I've worked harder in a single week before, having to be on call and ready for any questions or problems from breakfast until bedtime; nor do I think I've ever enjoyed myself at work so much before! The young people taking part were absolutely brilliant, always ready to get fully involved in all the workshops and activities, and I made some really good new friends among the participants, colleagues and youth leaders. It was an absolute blast and the perfect way to mark the end of my time in Klagenfurt. I've attached a few pictures to give a flavour of the week.


After that, all that remained was to say goodbye and get on my plane back to London. What comes next? I hear you cry. Well, my plans are currently very open but I know one thing for sure - this definitely won't be my last international experience if I can help it. EVS has been a great opportunity to get a taste of life abroad, to learn new skills, meet new people and see new places. It's been an amazing learning experience and I can't wait to get out and explore even further!

Dana in France on EVS - 2010

Hello from La Rochelle! I’ve been here for 5 months now and the time has just flown by! I’m here volunteering for a community centre called ‘Le Pertuis’ in a quartier sensible [sensitive district] in La Rochelle. The people that live here are quite disadvantaged, and there are a lot of associations in the area that work with different parts of the community – children, adults, the elderly. My work at ‘Le Pertuis’ is quite varied, but I mostly work in their Social Café in the mornings and in their Children’s Centre in the afternoons. The Social Café is a little house in the local park that welcomes all members of the community for hot and cold (non-alcoholic) drinks during the day and late into the evening. As well as being a nice little place to drink coffee with friends, the café serves as the reception of the community centre, so visitors can become members of the centre and take part in activities and events organised by the centre. The Children’s Centre is a place for young people aged 11-17 to come to after school to play with friends, take part in activity clubs, get help with homework and to enjoy an afternoon snack. Last month I spent 11 days on a camp, organised by the Children’s Centre, with 22 children. The camp encouraged children to live with others in an environment of mutual respect, where each person participated in the different tasks (setting up and upkeep of the camp, cooking, cleaning etc.) that took place in the daily life of the camp.


Alongside this, the children took part in a number of activities. The camp was on a nearby island called île d’Oléron, which had stunning beaches. There, the children could try out surfing, catamaran sailing and land sailing. It was so great to see the children having so much fun, especially as many of them wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to try out activities like these – even a night out bowling was new to most of them.


The camp also gave me the opportunity to get to know the children a bit better, and for me that was really important.
Both the café and children’s centre help to bring members of the community together, and it’s this that I really like about being here. I live in the district where I work, and I love walking around and knowing so many people in the community because I’ve served them a cup of coffee or because they’ve come by to the children’s centre for help with their English homework. ‘Le Pertuis’ also works with a number of other organisations in the area and I’ve met so many people from these organisations whilst working on joint projects. So, although not without its problems, the centre really does serve the community and being around French people all the time has definitely been a great help to me language-wise. Being in La Rochelle itself has also been great. When I got accepted onto the EVS project here I had no idea where La Rochelle was, and discovering that it’s a beautiful seaport with an annual average of sunlight hours that’s on a par with the Côte d’Azur has not been a disappointment!! Being from Birmingham, I’m in no way used to a beach lifestyle, but here the beach is like a second home! My actual home is a cosy apartment, where I currently live with a Polish EVS volunteer. When I first arrived there were 5 of us on EVS in La Rochelle (there are 3 of us now), and so it was really easy to meet people at beach picnics and cliff-diving contests! All the EVS volunteers here are also given bicycles by the host organisations, so it’s very easy to make the 10-minute journey into the centre to socialise or to just hang out on a bench and read.


Last week a group of us even cycled to île di Ré – another nearby island – cycling over the longest bridge in France! I really feel so lucky to be in such a beautiful place, working on a worthwhile project, and I can’t believe I’m already almost halfway through my EVS...


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Jeannine on her project in Kenya in 2009


After a few days sleeping in airports and countless bus journeys down sandy, rock filled roads (the term road is used loosely here) we finally arrived at our village, only to be met by the most amazing singing and dancing from the village elders as they welcomed us from all corners of the globe. We were shown the mud houses where we would stay, the place from which we should draw water and the showers which consisted of a bowl of water (if the well was not dry), some banana leaves and an empty sack!

When night fell, the sky was breath taking. It was as though I could see every individual star as it twinkled in the pitch black sky. When night falls in a place with no electricity, the stars look like diamonds, and you should really not forget your torch. Unfortunately I had, and would spend the next two weeks stumbling around in blackness gaining lots of bruises.

After boiled yams and sugary tea for breakfast we began our first day at work. We were working with the locals to build a dam. The rains in Kenya have failed for the last two years and people are desperate. Everyone is crying for water, with no water there are no crops, no crops means no food, without food there is no life. When the rains eventually came (which they didn’t this year either) we were building a dam to collect the rain water for the villagers. We dug all morning, tools were scarce, the local kids dug with their bare hands, making leaf baskets to use as buckets, the strength of five year olds putting me to shame!

Afternoons were put aside for house visits. Every afternoon after lunch we visited the local people to hear about their lives and their problems. The people were so open with us, often sharing things with us that broke our hearts. The lack of water seemed to be effecting every area of peoples’ lives. A common question was how far did I have to go to get water in my country. It was incredibly humbling to explain that I had things called taps inside my house, that not only delivered water, but hot water too. I was ashamed to say that I was not 100% sure where it came from. In a life of plenty most things are taken fore granted.

What did I learn from this experience? it is difficult to say. I learnt how to carry 70 litres of water in a day. I learnt how to hide a swollen hungry belly. I learnt about corruption, beatings, greed and apathy. I learnt the helplessness of aid agencies who try to help. I learnt to choose between using water to wash or drink – there is no choice. I learnt that I have more than I will ever need, that the abundance in my life is a result of being born in the affluent West. I learnt how to be joyful with what I have. On no other project have I been so integrated into the community and laughed, cried, and fully lived among the locals. Mostly my experience reinforced that what is needed education. What is needed is for people to get alongside the people in communities like this and work through their problems with them. Aid agencies can throw all the money they want at Africa, most of it won’t reach the people who need it. We need to empower individuals, support and education them to make the changes they know their country needs. And what am I going to do about it? Next summer I am taking 20 sixth form students out to Africa to get alongside the youth there, to encourage, to support, to inspire the next generation to do whatever it is they decide their countries needs.

Jeannine, Kenya 2009

Read more about volunteering with our North South Programme >>

Geraldine reports on her volunteer experience in Italy


Leg 75-09, Bosio (AL) Piemonte,

Hosted by Legambiante, Italy

17/08/2009 – 28/08/2009



(in the picture: Geraldine and one of the volunteers during a visit in Genova)


After working temporarily in the environment section of my local council, I decided to volunteer for a conservation project in the Italian mountains. I arrived at Campo Ligure railway station via plane, volabus and replacement bus on Monday 17th August at 6:30pm, our meeting point. I was greeted by Cristina Rossi and Gianni, leaders of the Capanne di Marcarolo Natural Park. Giovanni Vinciguerra was our camp leader and ticked our names off a list as we arrived. Our bags were put into the back of a truck and we were driven by car up a winding mountain road to our accommodation.



(In the picture: the accommodation)


The accommodation comprised of an old water mill, situated at the foot of Mount Tobbio. The building was now being used as a base for mountaineering groups who visited the area. At the accommodation we met the project coordinators, Lara and Massimo and their very young son Paollo. They led us up some outdoor stairs to a choice of three bedrooms. There was also a basic kitchen and a bathroom and an outdoor living area with seating and a camp fire.


On the first evening Lara and Massimo told us that the loft was inhabited with flying animals, they were difficult to describe due to the language barrier. These animals hung from the eaves of the house, upside down. I initially thought they were bats but eventually we discovered they were called dormice. The next morning Lara showed me a dormouse huddled up in a towel, it had fallen down the toilet in the night. I could just see its face, pink nose and big eyes. It was shivering and we hoped that it would survive.

It was extremely hot on our first day of work; we painted picnic benches and wooden fences with varnish. The area was situated in a valley with surrounding mountains, open spaces and blue skies. It was located at the southernmost tip of the province of Alessandria and only a few kilometres from the sea. We arrived and left the working sites in a minibus driven by Gianni; they were usually short drives away from the accommodation and involved driving up or down very narrow mountainous roads. Very often we passed cyclists in training and Italians driving their dogs around in small cars.


After work on the second day, we visited a lake at the foot of the mountains. I had anticipated that it would be deep enough to swim in, although when we arrived it was more like an English stream. It was however very lovely to sit in as it was so hot and the surrounding scenery was amazing. The water was very clear and you could see fish swimming past your legs in the water.


Our most difficult task for the two weeks was to climb Mount Tobbio. It was a very hot day and we stopped on the way up to drink water and eat apples. Occasionally we passed narrow paths with steep drops to the side of our feet, at which point Giovanni would shout ‘Be Careful’. At the top there was a small white church dedicated to “Our Lord of Caraggio”. Walking back down we carefully kicked large rocks out of the way and cut branches blocking paths; we also painted circular symbols onto rocks with bright yellow paint. This helped to clear the pathway for future climbers. Lunch was prepared daily by volunteers and served at 1pm, our afternoons and evenings were free.



(in the picture: cooking by the fire...)


The evenings were filled with guitar playing and singing, listening to Manu Chao, playing games and cooking potatoes, chicken and bread on the camp fire. We also drank grappa and occasionally went to the bar at the top of the hill for ice cream. Jesse, the dog from the bar often came down to visit us, particularly when we were cooking barbequed food. One evening Giovanni led us into the woods to try to hear and see wild animals. We sat in the dark listening for wolves, owls and any other animals that were nearby. We heard some scuffling but unfortunately we didn’t see anything.



(In the picture: volunteers enjoying their evenings together)


On the weekend we visited the local city called Genova, Italy’s largest port. We visited the house of Christopher Columbus and the main square called the Piazza De Ferrari. In contrast to the remote location we were living and working in there were Italian restaurants, tall buildings, washing lines hanging in between apartments, dusty roads, shops, sculptures and an aquarium, the Acquario di Genova.


Our last day of work involved varnishing wooden swing frames, see saws, benches and fences in a children’s playground. This was not the sort of playground you would find in England, as it was nestled amongst the eighty two hundred hectares of mountainous terrain in the Capanne Di Marcarolo Natural Park. Gianni’s family were natives to the area and we visited his museum. On display were photographs of his ancestors and many old tools that had been used over the years for farming and everyday living in the local area.


Gianni visited us on our last evening and played the accordion very well, he also brought alcohol and cakes as thank you gifts. It was a worthwhile experience visiting Italy and experiencing life in the mountains. I met lots of lovely people and would now like to learn more about the nature and culture of different areas of the world by attending more international work projects.


Geraldine, Italy Summer 2009


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Volunteering at the Social Centre outside Hanoi, Vietnam - March 2009

As this volunteer placement was only two weeks I was unsure how much I was going to out of the experience in such a short time compared to what I had done previously.

My concerns proved to be unfounded as I had a wonderful time with my fellow volunteers and the children at the centre were adorable. I had been told I was going to an orphanage, which was a reasonable description but I found out it was in fact a social centre. Most of the chilren weren't actually orphans, only about 40 of the 500 or so (the centre has previously had up to 1000) live there full time, most return to either their parents or family members who are now responsible for them during the weekend. This doesn't apply to babies, of which there are probably another 40 or so and who have mostly been abandoned.

The reason most of the children are there is due to learning difficulties; some of the kids are deaf/mute so the centre teaches them sign language and education comes through that. They were really bright and beautiful and the only frustration I felt was when my limited sign language meant that we could only communicate a little. Most common question was "what is you name?" and "how old are you?" which we all managed to master answering eventually!

We were split into 3 groups of 3 with a timetable that was set out from the beginning: 8-11am was the first task and then another in the afternoon 2-4.30pm. The job was either taking care of the babies, painting two rooms (a task that we completed during our two weeks) or teaching. This was in some ways the hardest job because of language barrier. We all had a Vietnamese speaker in our group which meant the class was kept busy but I did struggle to feel useful sometimes. We did plan our lessons to a degree which was done equally between the three of us but because I couldn't talk to the children directly I found it a little frustrating. We stuck to basic things, playing games, drawing our countries flags, basic origami and playing with a world map, all of which the children responded well to.

The other children had various mental disabilities and were really sweet and good natured. The obvious Vietnamese language barrier meant only Mai and Huong, the Vietnamese volunteers could really talk to them but they did their best to help the rest of us understand what the children wanted to say. All of the kids mostly just appreciated the attention and affection which we were happy to give them. In the evening when the day was finished we had the option to go into the yard and play with the children which was really fun (if exhausting!).

The babies were adorable and due to no communication problems, being with them was in some ways the easiest job. Usually we just sat cuddling them and sang to them if they cried or fed them from a bottle of watery rice mixture, as milk is too expensive. When I found this out I was a little concerned as I was unsure if it gave the babies sufficient nutrion. The budgest for caring for them is only approximately 400,000 dong a month per baby, which just doesn't go very far. This was a hard fact to swallow but the reality is the babies are being cared for better at the social centre than they would be elsewhere so you have to appreciate the context. This was also hard when I quickly realised that the babies are not provided with nappies, meaning that if you're holding a baby and it pees, that's right, you get wet! This happened to nearly everyone at least once in the two weeks and while having to go and change your trousers is annoying (particularly if you foolishly wore jeans) it's even nastier for the babies; as they are left with extremely red bottoms which looked very painful in most cases.

Once I realised our main job was just make sure the the children had fun I found the project much more satisfying. They really did enjoy the novelty of us being there and they were such a joy to spend time with that we all gained from the experience. I was the only Westerner in the group, everyone else being Vietnamese, Korean or Japanse. I was slightly concerned about this beforehand, wondering if I would be treated as something of an outsider, but all the other volunteers were wonderful and we all got along really well. There were two other volunteers from Germany, Martel and Heshar. They were on a longer term project, several months but they were still friendly and happy to talk to us even though they worked seperately to us and had seen short term volunteers come and go before.

The close friendship I found in such a short time both surprised and delighted me. The language barrier was an issue when some volunteers didn't have fantastic English but it really wasn't a problem, it just meant talking a bit more slowly.

Only Shiwon and I stayed for a few weeks following the completion of the project. Huong let us stay with her which provided a really intersting opportunity seeing how Vietnamese students live. She was a wonderful hostess who cooked for us and took us all over Hanoi on her motorbike to see all the sites. She genuinely couldn't have done more for us and I am forever in her debt. We also went to Sapa with Mai where we spent a night doing homestay with some of the local tribal people and it was lovely to spend some time with her too. I'm still in touch with a lot of the people I volunteered with via facebook and email and I really hope one day we will see each other again.


Katherine Blacklaws, Vietnam March 2009


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Linda's volunteer experience in Tanzania

Report: Tanzania Host Community: Mwika, Kilimanjaro Host Organization: Uvikiuta Dates: First Camp (24th of Jan-6th of Feb 2010), Second Camp(14th of Feb-27th of Feb 2010)



Sweat, cockroaches and crazy bus drivers….Welcome to Africa!!!!!!!
My adventure began on a Friday the 22nd of January 2010, when I said goodbye to my friends in the Parisian metro. On the way to the airport I began to feel a little nervous, since it was the first time for me to go to Africa. After a very relaxing flight with Emirates via Dubai and unfortunately 2 hours delay I arrived safely at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. Luckily Uvikiuta’s driver Edison was still waiting patiently and when I saw the sign with my name on it, a wave of relief overcame me. I met the first member of my team from South Korea, who had actually been sitting on the same plane as me since Dubai. Together we were taken to Uvikiuta centre at the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. The accommodation for the first few nights was a simple room, two loft beds, and an outside toilet, which served at the same time as a home for cockroaches of all kind. Although we had been prepared by our sending organizations about the living conditions in our host country, it took definitely some time to get used to. Especially to the heat, the insects and the monkeys running and jumping on our tin roof all night. After a few days of acclimatizing, visiting Uivikiuta centre and of course Dar es Salaam, the third member of our group, also from South Korea, arrived and we were ready to start the journey to our host community in Mwika, Kilimanjaro. Of course we were all quite surprised realizing that we were only three international volunteers, two from South Korea and me, who would be joined by three local volunteers from Mwika. At four in the morning our trip began, when Bovin, a Tanzanian volunteer from Uivikiuta accompanied us to Ubungo bus station from where we took the bus to Mwika.

Since we were all trying to be patient, flexible and adapting to the “African” lifestyle, whatever this might be, and therefore sure that the bus would at least leave one hour late, we were quite surprised when with a lot of beeping, shouting and some very dangerous maneuvers our bus driver jiggled us on to the jammed streets of Dar es Salaam, direction North. After an 8 hour-drive and with the hope that we were finally there, a sudden stop of the bus pulled us out of our dozing and dreaming. I opened my eyes and the motor which was right in front of my seat was smoking and spying extremely hot water. We all jumped of the bus and after a one hour break, in which all passengers helped to fetch cold water from a nearby well, we reached our final destination, as we thought, after a 10 hour journey. When we got of the bus we were welcomed by our camp leader Robert and the village chairman, Mr Mringo. Soon we
realized that we were not there yet and that what was going to come was even worse than a ten hour ride on a cramped and hot bus with a crazy driver. We were put into one of the so-called dalla-dalla’s , a public bus, which was going to bring us up the hill into our camp. It was ten times worse than a roller-coaster and after 30 minutes of bumping our heads and knees involuntarily on the tin car interior lining to the rhythms of a Congolese Ndombolo song blasting out of the radio, we were more than happy to see our new home for the next two weeks. The first few days of my second work camp were quite similar to the above description, unless this time I started my journey from Dar Es Salaam to Mwika with 9 Japanese people. In the end we were a group of 14 volunteers, 9 Japanese, 4 Tanzanians and me. Both times we were surprised about the good conditions of the residential community houses where we lived. We shared a room with two or three people, had one inside and one outside toilet/shower room, an outside fire place, which served as the kitchen and one dining/community room, where we spent most of our time when not at work. In every camp we had kitchen supervisors, Mama Dinna and Dada Dinna, who were supported by one of us as part of the kitchen team every day. Although the drinking water was boiled over the fire and the food always cooked, some people had to fight with diarrhea and sometimes stomachaches. Nonetheless, we always looked forward to eating chapati, bananas, chips, vegetables and of course the famous “Kitimoto”(porc).


Volunteering under the Roof of Africa…



(in the picture: walking with the other volunteers to get to the project site)

Both work camps had the theme of Forestry and Environment, but as was indicated by our sending organizations, the work could change, depending on what the host community needed at that point in time. During the first work camp our workday started with a 30-minute hike to Marimeni Primary School, during which we could normally get a glance of the otherwise so “shy” mountain, the Kilimanjaro. After a few days we got to know some of the children, started to remember their faces and names and were really quite sad when we had to leave. During the first week we were instructed to plant trees at the tree nursery of the primary school. We normally worked for 4 to 5 hours with a short tea-break in between. After finishing the tree nurseries, we were instructed to help renovating the primary school, which first of all meant painting the rooms. This was quite hard work, since we had to get off the layers of old paint with sandpaper. We however managed to paint three classrooms in 5 days and were quite proud of our small team of only six volunteers. During the second work camp we were located within the same community but worked in a different primary school. Once again we were involved in establishing tree nurseries and planting trees and coffee plants. During the second week our work existed in establishing a record of all the trees that had already been planted by other volunteers. This involved a hike of 1- 2 hours every morning to get to the forest from where we then separated to mark and count the trees. In both work camps it was important to be flexible and very patient. Sometimes our schedule changed from one day to the next or we arrived at work and had to wait two hours to get instructions and actually work. Nonetheless, in the first camp we managed to establish 3 tree nurseries with 600 trees and paint three classrooms. In the second camp we established 1 tree nursery with 500 plants, planted 900 coffee plants and counted over 10 000 trees.




(In the picture, volunteers working in the tree nursery)

“Haraka Haraka”(quickly) or “Pole Pole”(slowly) in the afternoons: Sports with the children and more…
During both work camps the afternoon activities were quite similar. Twice a week it was sports time and after some planning in the camp we made our way to the local primary schools to teach some sports. Easier said than done! Used to the German school system, where at a maximum a class exists of25 pupils, you are quite shocked when nearly a hundred screaming kids run towards you and you are told that this is your class for today. With a little Swahili, some words of the local Chagga-language and a lot of patience we managed to explain them our games. After this hassle, it was always extremely rewarding to see their big smiles, hear their laughter and see the excitement in their eyes when even playing the simplest games.




(in the picture: playing games with the children at school)

Other afternoons we made excursions to traditional worship places or visited emerging microfinance networks, such as VIKOBA, the village community bank. We also visited the local market, learned about traditional coffee processing and participated in the rehearsal of the local youth choir. The evenings were the time for cultural nights, as well as debates and discussions about climate change and environmental issues.
Being a “Mzungu” or a “Mchagga” at the Weekends?
The weekends meant free time for all of us. During both work camps we were given to go to the national parks of North Tanzania to do a Safari, of course at our own expense.
During the first work camp I decided to remain in the camp with the three local volunteers, while the South Koreans went on Safari. This was definitely a good decision to make, since for the first time I was the only Mzungu (White person) in the community. Although at the first thought it was strange, I quickly realized that this was the best way to learn more about my host community. On the first day we
visited the family of one of the volunteers and I was given such a warm welcome that I nearly felt at home in the small stone house, which only had one chair, which of course was given to me. When we left I was given a sugar cane and a whole bowl of avocados. In the afternoon we made a trip to the nearby Marangu Water Falls, a place where locals come to relax and swim. When we arrived several boarding school classes were enjoying the cold water. Some of them had very old cameras and as soon as they saw me started screaming “Mzungu,Mzungu” and ask to take pictures with me and of me. Suddenly the tables turned, they were acting like tourist, me being their attraction. This was a very strange, but at the same time good feeling. Times change!!!!
The next day the local volunteers took me to church, which was once again a very intense experience. Although I certainly believe, I usually never go to church in Europe. But on that day, in the bare brickwork of the yet unfinished church, under the hot morning sun, I could feel for the first time that people really believed in to something. An honest and intense believe. After accompanying my new friends, the children and youths of the community to the front of the altar to get a special blessing, a women sitting next to me shook my hand and said “Wewe ni MChagga sasa.” (You are a Chagga now.)
Safari to the land of grasshoppers, lions and wet tents…



(in the picture: visiting the local market)

During the second workcamp I decided to accompany my new Japanese friends on Safari, which was certainly a completely different experience to my first weekend in Mwika. When we arrived on the campsite near the national parks, after a 5 hour ride on the dalla-dalla, it started raining. A few hours in the night we realized that our tent was not as waterproof as we had hoped. The water did not only come from above, but also from below, since rain in Tanzania means actually a flood. Somehow we survived the night, with occasional visits from frogs and 10cm long grasshoppers and we were all quite relieved when the alarm rang at 5 am in the morning. The days, in which we saw incredible landscapes and untouched nature, as well as all kinds of wild animals, made up for the wet nights in the camp. It was definitely an adventure and with the right touch of Japanese humor a certainly unforgettable experience.
Time to say goodbye…
Unfortunately the days passed too quickly and on Saturday, the 27th of February, my second workcamp was coming to an end. With our backpacks shouldered we hiked down the hill in darkness at 5 am to catch the bus to Dar Es Salaam. We were wrong to think that the biggest adventures were already over. After maybe two hours on the bus, we were stopped at a police station. Stupid enough to believe that the control had nothing to do with us, since we are white, we were quite shocked when two police men instructed us to get off the bus. Fortunately, a volunteer from Dar es Salaam was travelling with us, who enquired straight away about the reason for our stop. We were told that each one of us had to pay 100 US Dollars if we wanted to continue our journey. The reason? No real reason, “a contribution to the government”! When they told us to get our bags off the bus and instructed the bus driver to move on, the situation changed from being exciting to very scary. The police station was in the middle of nowhere, our bus was the only one going to Dar es Salaam on that day and none of us had a 100 dollars. Finally, we managed to call Uvikiuta and after a 1 hour discussion between Uivikiuta’s chairman and the police, we were let back into the still waiting bus. We were all extremely relieved to arrive in Dar es Salaam that night to spend our last few days in the capital…

Linda, Tanzania 2010



(in the picture: group photo with the other volunteers)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hannah in Moldova on EVS - 2010

After a day of travelling I sighed a breath of relief as I met my mentor at Chisinau airport. We jumped into a taxi, not a seatbelt in sight, and one of my very first impressions of Moldova was the roads, or in places the lack of. Pot holes were swerved round on the lane-less roads as we drove up the wide highway and entered the capital through the ‘Gates of Chisinau’; two vast apartment blocks on either side of the road reminiscent of the USSR era. Yet, these were exactly the stereotypes of Moldova that I had heard back home; poor infrastructure and vast concrete blocks left behind from the Soviet times.


However, I was soon to discover that Chisinau, and Moldova as a whole, has far more to offer than what fits into these stereotypes. One of my favourite things about the city is its greenness. Vast parks are found in every district and tall trees line the majority of the streets. Another favourite is all the markets selling fresh produce from the countryside, second-hand clothes at bargain prices and flowers in all the colours under the sun.

I am living with a host, an elderly lady called Lydia, together with another volunteer. We have our own bedrooms and the flat is fully functional and clean. Living with a host provides a great insight into the Moldovan way of life, as well as helping with learning the local language. The latter has been a great challenge, especially as there are two languages spoken here. At first it was difficult to decipher which language was being spoken, let alone understand what was being said. I hope, however, that with continued language lessons this will change. The hosting project of ADVIT Moldova that I am working at is the ‘Aids Foundation East-West’. It is a small office with only three permanent staff, of which only my boss speaks English, which is a challenge. So far I have been involved with preparing for and participating in the Aids Memorial Day, which took place on the 16th May and was a great success. I am the only and first EVS volunteer with this organisation. Due to the on-arrival training and intense language lessons I haven’t been to my project much yet. However, I am really looking forward to getting stuck in and involved with the work that they do.

I have got to know fellow EVS volunteers and there is a great volunteer community in Chisinau. There are always things going on in and around town, which is the benefit of being in a capital city. The transport has taken a while to figure out and I’m still not quite sure which number bus goes where, but I hop on and hope for the best.

It is difficult to answer the question ‘What are your first impressions of Moldova?’ It is simultaneously everything and nothing that I expected it to be, if that is possible. I like the pace of life here, taking things day by day rather than continuously planning ahead. To be a capital city, Chisinau is very relaxed. I am still discovering new things every day and look forward to continuing doing so throughout my stay here.

Hannah's stars on Youth Networks see: http://blog.youthnetworks.eu/2010/07/my-first-impressions-of-moldova/

Hannah is spending 6 months on a European Voluntary Service (EVS) project in Moldova. If you are aged 18-30 and would like to spend 6-12 months volunteering in Europe see: http://www.concordiavolunteers.org.uk/volunteering-overseas/european-voluntary-service/how-to-apply/ to find out more.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Luke in Iceland on EVS - 2010


I have been in Iceland now for two months of an eight month stay. It is a truly unique country and it takes my breath away almost every day. It is an island half the size of Great Britain, but with a population of only three hundred thousand people, it feels much bigger. If you like vast and empty panoramas, countless waterfalls, a huge sense of freedom and a small town spirit in a capital city, then Iceland is definitely for you. Provided you don’t mind the bad weather of course.

I am working, through EVS, for an organisation called SEEDS (www.seedsiceland.org). Based in Reykjavik, they aim to promote understanding and environmental awareness by offering environmental/community project camps which usually last for two weeks. Short term volunteers come from all over the world to take part, and it is my role, along with a family of around 25 other long term volunteers, to organise and lead these camps. To date I have been involved in three camps, and I am currently leading a fourth. I have shovelled volcanic ash in Þórsmörk, just a few kilometres from the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano and learning how to pronounce it as I did so. I have cleaned beaches and collected Eider down with local farmers in the remote Arneshreppur area, worked in an abandoned Herring factory made famous by Sigur Ros’ video ‘Heima and I have pulled up countless Alaskan Lupins (an invasive species) at Europe’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. I have met many great friends along the way.

At the moment I am leading a workcamp in the small town of Hólmavík in the Westfjords region of Iceland. The past week has been really great. Working with 5 other volunteers from Russia, South Korea, Italy and the U.S, we have been helping the town prepare for its annual ‘Happiness Festival’. We were given free rein to devise some street theatre, and decided upon the theme of magic and sorcery according to the subject of Hólmavík’s famous museum. Dressed up rather ridiculously we cast spells of happiness on tourists and locals alike, in a town which was once voted Iceland’s happiest town. Next week the team and I will work on the hiking trails in the area, making sure they are properly marked and mapped. On almost every workcamp I have had the opportunity to mix with Icelanders, and I have had some great experiences as a result. I have just returned from a fishing trip out in the fjord, and a wonderful ride into the mountains with the unique Icelandic horse breed. It really feels as if I am getting a real taste of life here in Iceland, and it is great to share that with the volunteers on my camps.

Being a camp leader is difficult but immensely rewarding. We are expected to take care of everything from travel, accommodation and food, work on the project, organising environmental activities and finding things to do in the free time. You can imagine that making sure a group of people from all over the world are fed and motivated to work is hard enough, let alone making sure they take something valuable away from the camp. It is also difficult because as a leader it is your job to balance the requirements and expectations of your volunteers, your host in the local community and your boss. Having said all that, it is great fun. I have learned a lot about myself and I how I see my own place within it, and I have become a lot better at communication, especially with people whose first language is not English. It is great to be given the opportunity to learn from so many people, too, and I have been doing my best to make the most of it! I have rarely been busier in my life, but meeting a new group of people every two weeks, getting to know them, sharing ideas and values and being responsible for a group of strangers becoming lifelong friends is truly rewarding. On top of that, the work we are doing feels truly appreciated and worthwhile, and it is fantastic to get such positive feedback from all sides.. My biggest problem lately has only been saying goodbye to so many lovely people.

When I am not on a work camp I am based in Reykjavik, living in a house shared by many of the long term volunteers. They are a really great bunch of people, mostly from Europe, but also further afield. We have become a real family, and it is great to have a home to return to after 2 weeks on a workcamp. Reykjavik is a great place to live, and there is always something happening. When I am there I normally have a day off and a day in the office or helping with logistics before I start another workcamp and the cycle begins again. In a week or so I will begin another workcamp, the SEEDS ‘Photo Marathon’. Over twenty volunteers are coming to receive professional photography tuition and create an exhibition of their own work around a social or environmental issue here in Iceland. I am very excited to see the results!

All in all, every day I get the feeling that EVS was definitely the right thing for me to be doing right now, and Iceland is the place to do it. Thanks to EVS, the people I have met and the organisations with which I am involved, I have great expectations for the next 6 months! All the best from the land of fire and ice!

Luke is spending 8 months on a European Voluntary Service (EVS) project in Iceland. If you are aged 18-30 and would like to spend 6-12 months volunteering in Europe see: http://www.concordiavolunteers.org.uk/volunteering-overseas/european-voluntary-service/how-to-apply/ to find out more.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Joe in Austria on EVS - 2010

A little over three months from my last update, and I'm now on the home stretch of my EVS. The major item to report since then is that the application for the youth exchange that I described in my last post was accepted by the Austrian National Agency for Youth in Action and will definitely be going ahead. We'll be working with partner organisations in Spain, Italy, Slovenia and Hungary and will be hosting 35 participants in total, so it's going to be a big project. In fact it's only now that I've really sat down and considered what needs to be done that I'm able to appreciate just how big! It's daunting, but I'm excited about the challenge too. The fact that it will be taking place in my very last week in Klagenfurt means my EVS will be finishing with a bang.


In terms of what's been going on outside my project, by far the most interesting event was my television debut. The local TV station in Carinthia were filming an EU-themed quiz show and as part of this wanted to include a citizen from a different EU country on each participating team. They got in touch with my boss, who forwarded the email to me, and next thing I knew I was in front of the cameras answering questions with Irmgard and Max, a pair of medieval re-enactment enthusiasts whose team I'd been assigned to. The best part? We won! The prize was a holiday to Brussels, which I got back from last Saturday. That in itself was an interesting experience, in that I got a tour of the Parliament, sat in on a meeting and even got to meet an MEP. I appreciate this all sounds very far-fetched, but the attached picture will show that I'm not fibbing. The whole experience definitely has to rank as one of the most unusual and memorable things that has ever happened to me, and just goes to show that an EVS project is anything but predictable...


See Joe on TV again reporting on his trip to Brussels: http://kaernten.orf.at/magazin/studio/fernsehen/stories/453527/

Joe is spending 12 months on a European Voluntary Service (EVS) project in Austria. If you are aged 18-30 and would like to spend 6-12 months volunteering in Europe: http://www.concordiavolunteers.org.uk/volunteering-overseas/european-voluntary-service/how-to-apply/ to find out more.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Simon's report on his project in Kenya 2009


(In the picture: the volunteers and the members of the local community dancing together)



Ebusiralo, September 2009


Jambo. Welcome to my little review of the Ebusiralo workcamp, which I was fortunate enough to attend last year. The continent was Africa, the country was Kenya and this volunteer was more than a little nervous. However, remembering the maxim ‘be flexible’ I set off on what has been one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date.

Orientation in Nairobi from the Kenya Volunteer Development Association Director advised the gathered volunteers from many European countries and Japan that we would encounter cultural differences but essentially to go with the flow and if an doubt ask. We were also taken to Kibera to meet with the Kibera Youth Reform group. This is a self-started group, formed when the locally feared and armed young gangsters had lost many of their number due to violence. Their decision was to become a force for community support not severance. It is a remarkable story and the experience of Kibera showed those of us who have never experienced dire living conditions the worst we could expect.


Happily for us our project took place against the backdrop of beautiful hills and lush vegetation (despite much of Kenya being in the grip of an extended drought, you may remember the news footage?). However, the reason Western Kenya is relatively lush is that the seasons consist of short rains (about a 30-minute downpour most days) and long rains (which is what it says on the tin!). Don’t be put off by this, generally the rain is a temporary inconvenience, which does not get too much in the way of what you are doing and you learn to live with it. Our accommodation was a concrete house with a tin roof, set in a compound of about 5 other houses and we had access to a large communal rainwater tank.


Our project was about a 50/50 split of international volunteers and Kenyan volunteers. Despite the task essentially being advertised as construction it quickly turned out to be so much more (and far better for it). Remember the maxim? So I found my self one day digging trenches for a new teaching block, the next wheeling hardcore in a wheelbarrow for a mile time after time, the next helping to mix concrete, learning to lay bricks and so on. However, I also spent some time teaching English (being the only native English speaker in the camp) at the local primary school, other volunteers taught maths and science. Language in Kenya is very interesting. With English I did not really have a problem. However, as well as Swahili there are numerous regional dialects, which have commonalties but are not the same. Apparently using Swahili is equivalent to speaking very proper English in the UK, think of the 1940’s films!


(In the picture: volunteers at work)


The project subdivided the group into a series of committees for kitchen, health (cleaning and water), work and entertainment duties. This meant that the members of each committee would have to organise the entire work camp to ensure that the necessary tasks were performed. Undoubtedly the work committee enabled us to achieve the overall goal of the project (don’t expect a plan if you are starting from the beginning of a construction project!). However, the other committees were just as important in ensuring that we could survive (food and water) and had other activities to look forward to.


Having now carried buckets of water for drinking, cooking, washing and construction over what are laughably short distances by Kenyan standards I have a real respect for the value of water. And yes it is possible to have a perfectly good wash in half a litre of water. Our kitchen had no roof, which was ideal for letting out the smoke from the open fires over which we prepared all the meals but not so great at keeping out the rain! Preparing food for almost 30 people with three pans, three knives, some of the biggest wooden spoons I have ever seen (I kid you not, these were 3 foot beasts) and wood which gives off an aroma which had us shedding tears for every meal, is a significant challenge! And yet we did it with so much success that when I got home I felt like a child for the first day, marvelling at running water, gas and an oven. Did I really need those things?


(In the picture: Simon and the wooden spoon)


I quickly realised that the construction was a highly visible but ultimately not necessarily the greatest contribution we could make. It is the people that matter. Our interaction with the primary school, our chats to members of the polytechnic (‘A’ level years in England) and encounters with members of the community, enabled us to share our experiences and learn from one another. Money is not the only currency in the world. The community elders managed to procure an astonishing amount of materials from their community. Personally, I was deeply touched at the enormous kindness shown to me when I was sick in the first week of arrival (not food or water related I should add). Also our relationships with the Kenyan volunteers was (and still is) very important. We did everything together for three weeks and it was fascinating to swap tales of life experiences with them.

As for our leisure time, the entertainment committee did us proud! We visited numerous homes in the community and shared beautiful traditional Kenyan food with them, accompanied by storeys and sometimes music. We visited Lake Victoria, hiked to the equator (as you do) and visited a rain forest. Not bad for a construction project!


I needn’t have been nervous about going to Kenya as a volunteer (if heading out there keep mentioning you are a volunteer, there’s plenty of volunteer rates to be found!). The sheer kindness of people was amazing. Whilst there were challenges and some things could have gone differently I do not remember a day going by when were not laughing about something, it was a genuinely a happy experience. Many people have asked me if I would I do it again? My answer, when can I go?

If anyone wants to get in touch you can contact me by e-mail: simonbonsall@hotmail.com

Happy volunteering!



(In the picture: volunteers in a group photo)