19. April 2023

Leading a Workcamp in the Forest School Indelhausen (Germany)

Jessi and Charlotte worked for a Voluntary Ecological Year (FÖJ) and Voluntary Social Year (FSJ) in the team at the Biosphere reserve 'Swabian Alb'. Part of their voluntary service was the coordination of the international Workcamp, which was organized in the Waldschulheim Indelhausen in March 2023. Tim studies conservation biology and sustainability management and is particularly interested in the topic of nature conservation in forests and moors. He supported Jessi and Charlotte as a camp leaders trainee. Here the three tell you about their experiences as camp leaders team:

"Our workcamp took place from March 11th to March 24th, 2023 in the Waldschulheim Indelhausen.

Indelhausen is a small village in south-east Baden-Württemberg, surrounded by the Swabian Jura and has emerged as a place where everyone knows each other. The Waldschulheim is on the outskirts of the village and offers a glimpse of the beautiful Lauter Valley with its numerous rocks and castles.

We were hardly in direct contact with the residents, but indirectly. Because the former elementary school and now forest school obtains all its food from the region. In return, we did the work needed for conservation and had a lot of fun doing it!

We, that is Jessi, Charlotte and Tim, were the leaders team of the Workcamp and lived and worked together with 10 international volunteers from countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Spain for two weeks and got to know each other better.

The language barrier that previously intimidated us turned out to be smaller than we thought. Because already on the first day we were able to create a sense of unity in the group that should last the whole time.

Jessi and Charlotte had previously completed the online Workcamp leaders training, while Tim had completed the on-site training a year earlier. We had been prepared for the camp in different ways and came to the conclusion that the on-site training was closer to the everyday life of a Workcamp and that it was better preparation for the group and living together.

This camp was a special one because, unlike in other camps, there was a school class (7th grade)  from a Waldorf school on site during our stay, who also worked with us.

Although there were still difficulties in approaching each other at the beginning, over time things became more and more relaxed between the two groups. The teachers were in close contact with us and helped us to make this camp work well.

In the morning, the work was always very varied. A bus was organized to take us and the school class to our locations in the forest or on the juniper heath.

Our work there was mainly related to nature conservation, in that we cleared areas or even felled a tree or two.

We often worked together, at our own request, as an internal IBG group. Armed with axes, saws and scissors, we cleared the forest. As a result of these measures, more light now reaches the soil and rare plants that need these sunlit locations can now grow there, for example the mountain vetch. Once a mountain vetch grows, the mountain vetch - which is now also rare - can lay its eggs there and multiply. We then immediately burned the resulting cuttings in a large fire.

The soil on the Swabian Alb is also special; it is rich in lime and poor in nutrients. Many areas are heavily enriched with nitrogen as a result of agriculture, but also industrial and motor exhaust gases. These soils are referred to as nutrient-rich. The plants, which are protected and encouraged to grow with measures such as juniper heath care (which was also part of our tasks), can only survive on the increasingly rare, nutrient-poor soils.

In the afternoons, there was a different program organized by the forest school each day, such as a trip to a regional sawmill, an educational hike or a visit to the main and state stud in Marbach.

Another item on the program was a guided tour through the Münsingen military training area, the heart of the "Swabian Alb" biosphere reserve, with lots of information about the region's history and the special animal and plant species. An exchange with the school class was also on the program, in which the international volunteers talked about the forest and the climate in their home country, which was certainly also very interesting for the pupils.

In addition, there was also free time, which was used to play joint activities such as basketball and table tennis in our own sports hall or to go hiking together to the nearby castles. It was important for us: Everything is possible, nothing is neccesary. If it was too much for someone or other ideas came up, we communicated with each other and agreed on the activities. Because there were three of us in the management team, we were able to form two or three groups without anyone being without a contact person. In this way, communication was always guaranteed.

The Waldschulheim was always there to help and advise us (and in really good English #dankeHeinz).

Our main contact, Elmar Birnbickel, was very accommodating and was always open to suggestions and feedback. Our care in the morning, at noon and in the evening was also excellently taken care of, so that we didn't have to pack our own packed lunches or cook for ourselves. Even allergies and other peculiarities were respected and always considered as best as possible.

A highlight of the camp was going to the restaurant with the whole international group, because we had three birthdays to celebrate (yes, three out of ten people had their birthdays in the first week :D).

There we were then allowed to play translators for all internationals at the same time. The participants were fascinated by the menu and the local specialities, although nobody wanted to try the snails. Since the next day was the weekend and sleeping in was the order of the day, the evening went longer, if only for those who wanted to.

All in all, we had a great camp, the participants had a lot of fun and we can warmly recommend this camp, especially for beginners in group leadership, due to the planning by the forest school!

For ourselves, we have learned that nervousness is usually greater at the beginning than it needs to be and that it is very helpful to network with the participants in advance (e.g. through a WhatsApp group) so that they can already have names and faces to the descriptive texts and being able to plan arrivals together, for example.

Of course, everyone is a bit nervous and insecure at the beginning, so an Ice Breaker game with your own name can help take the pressure off and strengthen nicknames right from the start (#TigerTim). And once the camp has started, the time just flies by."

(Jessi, Charlotte and Tim, camp leaders team)

Would you like to read more stories from Workcamps? Here you can find all reports from our volunteers.