Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The end is nigh….

Do you remember our EVS volunteer in Romania? Catch up on her story below...


I write this blog entry just as I am about to leave for my last travels around Romania, across the country to explore the Danube Delta and (finally) its capital Bucharest.
All project activities with the kids came to a close at the end of last week. The final two weeks of the summer camps were devoted to primary school aged children in the villages. For the most part, it was a lot of fun-particularly the first week, where we were in sole charge of the kids.
The first week and into the second we prepared (quite last minute but thankfully successfully) activities with the theme ‘Discover Europe’, with the aim to introduce the children to the culture, history, geography and language (a little) of different European countries. The first day was focused on Romania and we then branched out to present our own countries and others.  I was in charge of British and Romanian culture, as well as preparing French activities-for the Romanian activities we decorated clothing patterns, made bookmarks and vampire masks amongst other things, and in the British activities included split-pin soldiers (thanks Mihai for finding them!) and loo-roll bagpipers. In the afternoons we played fun games outside and in with the kids.
The second week was slightly disappointing in comparison as we were slightly usurped by another lady running a camp-to her credit she managed to hold the attention of 60 kids with her voice, however a little less shouting at the youngest kids wouldn’t have gone amiss. Despite only assisting for some of the week, we still had fun being with the children, accompanying them on walks around the village and teaching them English and German songs.
The rest of our time in the week was filled with cleaning the flat before the imminent departure of two of the long termers the beginning of this week-(cleaning a kitchen thoroughly takes a long time but I was successful at getting the grime off the oven) as well as recording and filming for our end-of project music video to present in the closing event. With ingenious lyrics by our resident song-writer Mathias, improved singing to last time and an easier rhythm, as well as some fun scenes to accompany the music, I think it fair to say, it was a success and our audience were thoroughly entertained!
The week culminated in the closing event in which we presented on our EVS experiences and a meal followed at the weekend by a full-blown trip of Maramures all together featuring a chance to try on traditional Romanian clothes, a horse and carriage ride and hike to the Horses Waterfall in Borsa as well as a delicious meal in a shepherd’s hut in the mountains.
Thanks for organising AIST staff-was a lovely way to spend our last few days together as a full team

Monday, September 19, 2016

Group Volunteer leader in Italy

This summer I volunteered to lead a group of 12 Girl Guides from Staffordshire, England, who worked together to complete a project in the local community of Poggio Mirteto, Italy. 


My role as the overseas volunteer leader was to represent Concordia through coordination the project, to lend pastoral care to the group throughout their trip, and to liaise between the local coordinators and the group to ensure that everyone benefits optimally from the project. The group worked together to renovate the picnic benches and tables, finishing them off by painting them with their own creative designs. These will benefit local groups, hikers and other international volunteers who work at the farm throughout the years. We then renovated and waterproofed the wooden window frames of the barn, to keep them in good condition throughout the winter. This work taught us many practical, hands on renovation skills (such as sanding, natural wood filling, paining, tool work) that may not have had the chance to develop otherwise; as well as an essential opportunity to develop important life skills such as working as part of a team, communication, planning and design.

Our wonderful hosts also made sure that the whole group benefited fully from our trip, and planned numerous trips and cultural activities for us. Our day trips into Rome were amazing and we got to see a lot of the famous landmarks such as the Colosseum, the Forum, the Piazza Venizia, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Our knowledgeable hosts also suggested less “touristy” areas, including the beautiful Villa Borghese Park and the historic Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica outside of the city. We also had the opportunity to explore the inspiring medieval village of Casperia, through doing an entertaining scavenger hunt in small groups, which encouraged the young people to interact with the local people. Of course in Italy, food is incredibly important! As we were staying in an agricultural community, all the food we were eating was fresh and produced locally. Our hosts even taught us how to make traditional Italian meals and how to make our own cheese from locally sourced milk. We also took part in a language workshop, learning some basic words and phrase. We learned by going shopping in the local markets.

Our wonderful hosts also made sure that the whole group benefited fully from our trip, and planned numerous trips and cultural activities for us. Our day trips into Rome were amazing and we got to see a lot of the famous landmarks such as the Colosseum, the Forum, the Piazza Venizia, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Our knowledgeable hosts also suggested less “touristy” areas, including the beautiful Villa Borghese Park and the historic Parco Regionale dell'Appia Antica outside of the city. We also had the opportunity to explore the inspiring medieval village of Casperia, through doing an entertaining scavenger hunt in small groups, which encouraged the young people to interact with the local people. Of course in Italy, food is incredibly important! As we were staying in an agricultural community, all the food we were eating was fresh and produced locally. Our hosts even taught us how to make traditional Italian meals and how to make our own cheese from locally sourced milk. We also took part in a language workshop, learning some basic words and phrase. We learned by going shopping in the local markets.

For me as an overseas volunteer leader I got to continue to work with young people in a different environment, and supported them to have the opportunity to travel and go out of their comfort zones. Through doing our renovation work I was able to develop my team leadership skills, communication and organisational skills, as well as useful “DIY” skills. I’ve learned how to work with others who may be of different cultural backgrounds and working styles, to ensure the successful and mutually beneficial trip. I have also really enjoyed submersing myself in a different culture and feel that I have learned a lot through this truly unique voluntary work. 


Nia

Group Volunteer Leader 2016 - Italy

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

International Group Leading with Concordia International Volunteers



A question I get asked a lot by my friends these days is “where are you off to next then?”


I have developed the reputation for being the traveller of the group, the one who will only stay in the same place for a short amount of time. The one who always has the next destination booked, or the next adventure planned (Berlin, in case you were wondering!)

This is in no small part due to my volunteering with Concordia International Volunteers. I’ve volunteered with this organisation since 2009, and they still manage to find me new adventures to go on! I have participated in a Spanish work camp, attended workshops and seminars across Europe, helped to deliver training weekends in the UK, co-ordinated UK volunteer projects, contributed to the writing of educational resources, and most recently, visited Asia twice to lead on their group volunteering programme.

The group volunteering programme sends groups from the UK to participate on international volunteer projects. I travelled to Vietnam in 2015 and South Korea in 2016, both times with groups of Girl Guides from London and the South East Region.

To say that these trips were challenging is putting it mildly! From non-stop rain for most of our time in Vietnam and living in leaky rooms, to finding a variety of gluten free food in Korea (difficult to find much that wasn’t rice and plain steamed vegetables!). From lost luggage in Hanoi, to an (almost!) lost passport in Busan. Hospital trips, cactus stings, sore hips and knees. Bad stomachs and squat toilets! Early mornings, late nights, hot sun, crowded bedrooms. Eating rice three times a day...

But for every challenge, there was a reward. Moments such as early morning Tai Chi on our junk boat in Halong Bay, or even earlier morning meditation with a Korean monk at a templestay. Finally seeing blue sky after 10 days of rain in Vietnam! Meeting local residents in Busan and being given free ice cream while we painted steps in 35 degree heat. Watching friendships develop between UK and Korean teenagers, who may live 5000 miles apart but share the same appreciation for the High School Musical soundtrack and photos of Zac Efron!

Then there is the personal growth. Sitting in a rooftop restaurant and listening to the youngest member of your group describe so eloquently how the trip has changed how she views the world is a moment that has stuck with me, and is my reason for forgetting all the difficulties and hard times and coming back to Concordia for more.


Nicola 

Eternal part of the Concordia Family

Volunteering in Iceland 2016


In July, 19 students and two members of staff, embarked on an amazing trip to Iceland as part of the Volunteer Abroad extension study. The trip was the culmination of 9 months of hard work, with students having to fundraise to pay for the trip throughout the year.

Students travelled to the remote East of Iceland and volunteered in a beautiful village located in a fjord. The students worked extremely hard and undertook 5 days of environmental volunteer work.  This included removing Alaskan lupins which are an invasive plant species, clearing up the local coastline and digging the foundations of a traditional Icelandic greenhouse.

The group also took in the amazing and beautiful sites that Iceland has to offer, visiting waterfalls, glaciers and geysers.

All of the students who took part in the trip were a credit to the College and should be really proud of what they achieved.


Concordia have organised four fantastic trips for our students over the last few years, with destinations as diverse as India, Vietnam and Iceland. I continue to be impressed with the dedication and organisation of Concordia. They have a genuine commitment to ensuring that students have a unique volunteering experience and undertake meaningful work.

For example, in India our students lived in a rural village alongside the local community and volunteered at a local school. The local community were so welcoming and we had the privilege of eating in villagers houses and learning first-hand about Indian culture. Our students had also fundraised in order to buy the Indian primary school children a pair of shoes, pens and school books.  Our students gained an enormous amount from the trip and not only learnt about a new culture, but also developed leadership and team working skills.

On all of the trips and projects that we have worked with Concordia, their support prior, and also during the trip, has been outstanding.  The leaders that Concordia sends to accompany the group have been excellent, and any issues have been dealt with swiftly and professionally. 

Michelle McGrath,

Teacher, Esher College

Thursday, August 18, 2016

MTV on the island of Tokushima

To start with a cliché,  has it really been just one week?  

Thanks to the amazing people I have met, there have been so many wonderful experiences and these unique insights into life in Japan are exactly why I wanted to spend so long volunteering in this fascinating country.  The landmarks of Hanna Road are slowly becoming more familiar, although I would be lost without Shinri-san, Yani and Natalia to guide me.  The blazing sunshine makes the water we supply even more essential and it is particularly rewarding to see a dusty corner return to life, such as the site of the recent car accident.  Hopefully we won’t see any more of those!

As we go around the city it is impossible to ignore the preparations for the festival and the sense of excitement is infectious.  Right now, I cannot imagine the one million visitors we will be welcoming and I know being involved will be both a privilege and a real highlight of my time here.

We have also been watching the teams practice, setting a very high standard for us to imitate as part of the international group joining the main parade on Sunday.  What an honour!  This also means we will soon be joined by another Workcamp, which will include two friends from the orientation weekend which seems so distant now.  It was sad to bid farewell to the other group, although they truly inspired me with their enthusiasm and dedication to mastering the Japanese language. 
My own attempts to improve have begun with three lesson at Topia. These classes have definitely stretched me, but my desire to communicate to the wonderful people around me is providing good motivation.

To me, this is also about learning more than just the language.  There is an entire culture to fathom out and I am extremely grateful to my patient guides.  Food is an endless voyage of discovery, not just because of all the new things I am trying, but I have quickly realised that our regular breakfast stop is the social hub of our little corner of Tokushima and I love meeting familiar faces there most mornings.


My taste buds have been left in no doubt about the quality of Japanese produce as our talented cooks create masterpieces that are breathtaking in both presentation and simplicity.  I think I will be on a constant mission in the UK to try and recreate my favourites.  Cooking itself is also great fun for me, whether it is watching experts at work, or frantically learning etiquette from the locals around me.  I just hope I don’t offend any of them with my frequent errors!


So, it is soon to be all hands to the deck for the festival ... and we can’t wait for the fun and games to begin.

Follow the rest of the adventures of Keira, our MTV volunteer in Japan, through her blog:
http://bizandaigaku.jugem.jp/?cid=10