09. September 2020

Environmental Work And Physical Distancing In Kell Am See

Our ESC volunteer Adam spent the first weeks of his 12 month stay in Germany in beautiful Kell am See, in one of the few workcamps IBG organized in 2020. For all those of you who are wondering what the workcamp experience during the Covid-19 pandemic looks like, Adam has written this report on the workcamp in the environmental education center of Kell am See:

"The main local partner we worked with was Helge. He was a very busy but incredibly friendly man.

He made sure we always were working, but was never too strict or unpleasant and was very lenient when we wanted to stop working slightly earlier to go and do another free time activity. On this workcamp our general work was to help maintain the area around the various facilities, including the sports pitches, as well as helping Helge, the local partner, to lay down new surfaces on one of the paths and the children’s play area. We also put up some new benches around the workshop, digging holes for them and mixing the cement to hold them in place. 

The area around the camp was lovely German countryside. There were a few small villages, including of course Kell am See, and the lake which is the namesake of Kell.

However, we unfortunately were not able to swim in this lake, as it is used as a drinking water reservoir. We slept in wooden huts towards the back of the Workshop and had close access to cleaning and cooking facilities. Whilst it could be cold at night, we had plenty of blankets to keep warm. The huts were also big enough for us to sleep quite far apart, which was particularly good during the time of Covid 19. We followed many common practices when trying to keep each other safe, such as social distancing when possible, avoiding unnecessary contact, wearing masks and gloves when cooking. The first few days we were able to spend a lot of time out outside, even when eating, which was particularly beneficial.

There were 8 of us in the group. Our 2 camp leaders were German, 2 participants also came from Germany but were Egyptian and Vietnamese, 1 was Italian, 1 was Spanish and 1 was from Belgium.

Whilst this number is quite small, it was helpful as it made social distancing much more manageable, and also made further trips at the weekend possible, as we had access to two cars.

We organised ourselves very quickly in the first few days. We had 2 kitchen team members, who would prepare lunch and dinner for the camp (breakfast was usually a self service affair, as some people didn’t eat much in the morning). We also had a disinfection team, who would ensure that the toilets and other communal services were disinfected regularly. In general, for free time during the week we let everyone get on with what they wanted to do.

We played card games as well as games like werewolf, which you can play inside when people are a bit tired. Our time at the weekends we agreed upon as a group. As I said, we were very lucky to have 2 cars available to us, which we used on both weekends. The cars allowed us to visit Trier, Saarburg and even Luxembourg. 

The group came together really well. It was difficult to begin with, as many of the usual ways people build trust is through games and physical contact. It feels a bit strange not being able to shake someone's hand or hug them.

However, despite the first few days being a bit strange, we managed to find common ground. We also ended up with some inside jokes which everyone was able to enjoy, getting us around the previous difficulty. We did have some disagreements, as any group does, but we found a common solution that everyone was happy with.

The primary way that we experienced each other's culture was through cooking. Each time a different team member was cooking, they did their best to make something from their home country.

We had Maultaschen, spanish omelette, spaghetti carbonara, “bangers and mash”, summer rolls and a variety of other amazing meals which people worked really hard to make. We also spent a lot of time talking about each other’s experiences in their lives. However, I feel this was overshadowed by everyone's collective experience of recent quarantine and lockdowns due to the Corona Crisis.

I learnt a lot of new skills in the camp, especially greater understanding of more manual labour and building site skills, such as mixing cement, dealing with rock when digging through soil etc.

I came to appreciate how difficult it can be to maintain a place like the workshop. I also realised that I can cook, I just lack the confidence to do it. The camp helped me build this confidence and allowed me to try cooking new and interesting foods as well, some of which I hadn’t even heard of before the camp. 

The highlight of the camp most certainly was the trip to Luxembourg. The city was amazing and we all had a great time together. One of the participants and I had a competition to see who could come up with the silliest “fact” about Luxembourg. This was met with much laughter as we came up with more and more silly “facts”, and made the trip even more enjoyable. 

There were very few ways in which the camp could have improved. I think that the primary issue we had was a slow development of the group, which caused some minor conflicts, but this was simply due to the Covid measures in place. 

Most of the volunteers thoroughly enjoyed the workcamp, but some felt it was still affected by Covid 19. Some said that they felt like they were unsure of how to behave around other participants.

On the one hand we need to maintain some kind of social distance, on the other hand we are living together in quite close quarters for 14 days so it created quite a bit of uncertainty and tension which otherwise would not have been there. Covid 19 also created problems for travel. Some participants were not even able to travel to the camp and the ones that were able to travel still had some difficulties. 1 or 2 had to have tests before travelling, and some had flights cancelled the day before they were travelling, making the experience more complicated and stressful. 

Despite these problems, the other participants and I still had a wonderful time and a thoroughly enriching experience on the workcamp. I have stayed in contact with some of the other participants and we are even planning on meeting up in the future."