14 young people, from 9 different countries, aged 19 to 29. 21 days in September. A small village 1300 meters high in the mountains in a National Park in the South of France. Working together as volunteers in the National Park, living together in a small mountain hut, eating together, spending freetime together.
Peacing Europe together - One Piece At A Time
This is what my September looked like this year. Why writing about it? What has it got to do with Europe? Why was it a special experience? After all, many of us have participated in summer academies, seminars and workshops, together with other young people from all over Europe; many of us have worked as volunteers, or spent some time in another country. So there is nothing special about spending three weeks in France, together with other young people from different European countries, you could claim.
A special experience
Well - but this experience was something special, for different reasons. And it has far more to do with Europe and the European Union than you would think at first. It was special to me, because I participated in a so-called work camp (which I have never done before) where together with a group of other young people you work as a volunteer on a specific project or task for 2 to 3 weeks, you live together and you organize your work and freetime together in a democratic way (i.e. there is no program planned or prepared for you). At first, I only thought this might be a nice opportunity to improve my French, work outside in nature, in a National Park (instead of spending time with my books in the library) and get to know some other people.
Much more than just work
But after the first few days, I realized that a work camp is actually much more than that. It is a way of creating tolerance, patience, and an interest in and understanding of other cultures in a very direct and practical sense. It challenges you to reflect your own cultural values and believes, and it also challenges you to learn and develop as a person – in a way, a workcamp is the perfect setting for informal learning. Every participant, whether in a conscious or unconscious way, is able to learn and to develop the things he or she needs to and wants to – be that speaking a foreign language, learning how to clean and cook, overcoming fears (in different ways) or improving your patience and tolerance.
Why is it special?
You may say that exactly the same happens when you attend a workshop or a summer academy, or when you spend time abroad in another country. And of course these are all different ways of international and intercultural encounter, different ways of getting to know other cultures and reflecting on your own culture. In a way, a workcamp and especially one where you are living in a small hut in the mountains, without internet or phone connection (as it was the case in the workcamp I participated in) is just a very intense version of this – and yet it is very different.
Giving back to the community
By working together, doing hard, corporal work, by the experience of accomplishing something together – in our case to clean a small river, which is the only source of water for the village we stayed in, to build walls and to seal leeks in the river bank – by living together with very little privacy and without the possibility of escaping into the vast realm of the worldwideweb or phoning friends and family back home, a bond is created between people, between cultures, languages and countries that has no equal. And there is something very gratifying about doing voluntary work, too – it gives you a sense of giving something back to a wider community you are part of. A European community, which relies on each of its members, on to contribute their share, their strength and their visions to the success of this community. It relies on each and every one of us to add a piece in order to peace Europe together – one piece at a time.
Lotta (22, Teilnehmerin)