ESC GREEN FINGERS – autumn volunteering team 2022 testimonies (part 2)

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From September 19 to October 24, ten volunteers from nine countries participated in the Green Fingers project, making up the autumn volunteer team of the European Solidarity Corps.

Volunteers Nana (Belgium), Jasmin (Finland), Priscilla and Elise (France), Nika (Georgia), Atilla (Hungary), Elena (Netherlands), Anna (Poland), Carlota (Portugal), and Elisa (Spain) is gardened in the school gardens of partner elementary schools and one kindergarten in Zagreb, painted outdoor polygons for kids in one partner primary school, organized and held an Intercultural night, and conducted personal projects. The program provided different avenues for volunteers to embrace and try on different activities, from working on the immediate project tasks to enjoying hiking to Medvednica, watching birds in Maksimir (organized and implemented by NGO BIOM), and participating in educational activities to raise awareness of the importance of trees and the “3 billion trees” initiative through familiarizing Maksimir trees (organized by NGO Ocean Znanja and youth from “Kvart po kvart” project).

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Hi I’m Attila from Hungary. Volunteering was at the back of my mind for a long time as something that skilled, selfless people do with a lot of free time on their hands. Totally not for ordinary people.

However approaching the end of my college years I found myself with an increased desire to do something that is usually not part of our everyday life. That’s when I found ESC and OAZA, offering a short term volunteering option in Zagreb.

Their theme of sustainable lifestyle, environmental friendliness and bringing different cultures closer to each other was something that I was interested in anyway,

so it sounded like a perfect experience to have before „officially” entering the working life.

During these 6 weeks our community of 10 volunteers helped maintaining school gardens, organised workshops and even held a cultural night. The organisation of OAZA helped us feel at home in a foreign city. We got to experience croatian culture, went birdwatching and even hiking!

It’s also safe to say that they did a great job in picking diverse participants, since we were not just coming from different countries, but were at different stages of our lives, had varying ages and backgrounds. Despite our differences my time with the other participants was very pleasant, and I feel like there’s something inherently common in those who choose to participate in something like this.

While most of us were not proficient in gardening, our main role, it never was an issue since we all got to learn the basics.

Spending our free time exploring Zagreb, it’s surroundings, the Croatian coastline and even a small part of Slovenia was also a huge part of the experience!

All in all I’d encourage everyone to try someting similar at least once in their lifetime! Cheers!

                                                                                                                                                  – Attila, Hungary

What do you do when you just turn eighteen and the whole world is in front of you?

Take a gap year and go on an amazing ESC project in Croatia! Hi, my name is Elena, and I decided to follow this path. I went for 6 weeks on the ESC project called Green Fingers in Zagreb, Croatia.

I wanted to learn more about my Croatian roots and to discover the beauty of volunteering in a green project with 9 other volunteers! And I did that, I learned so much while being on this project. The Green Fingers project organised by O.A.ZA. was all about the environment and being green. We went to some schools, and there we gardened and painted polygons for the children. I truly believe that we made a difference for the children in schools. We created fun games for them to play and to learn more about nature. We learned how to garden, how to be paint polygons and most importantly, how to be more sustainable.

Not only that, but we also learned how to live a vegetarian lifestyle! We cooked together the most fun dishes, from basic but delicious eggs with cheese to our own vegetarian burgers that we made from scratch!

The Green Fingers project offered each one of us so much. In this short period of time, I have learned more than I ever could imagine. Not only did I learn more about the environment, but also more about myself and the world. I also met the greatest people who are now friends I could not see my life without. We laughed together, cried together and created

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a bond that is almost impossible to create without being on a project such as this one.

Almost always, we were together as a group, at work, back at the hostel and most importantly, while we were doing fun things together. In the beautiful city Zagreb but also in Ljubljana, Plitvice lakes, Samobor, Split and Brac. This caused me to create friends for a lifetime. The Green Fingers project gave us an amazing opportunity to discover more of the world and ourselves. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.


                                                 – Elena, Netherlands

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A thousand crumbs of memories from a backpack
I sit in my favourite armchair and think: how should I start this testimony? To be honest, I don’t have a clue yet… How to include all the thoughts – the hectic ones that ran through my head before leaving and the slower ones that I had during the project? How to describe the emotions I experienced during my stay in Zagreb, Croatia? How to collect the thousands of crumbs that are tangled in not-so-old memories?
And most of all – what should I describe?
What? That at some point, working away from my country and collecting funds to pay off my student loan, it dawned on me that I was about to turn 30 (okay, okay, not so soon) and that, so far, I haven’t found the time and motivation to take advantage of the program dedicated to young people?
What? That after one group volunteering trip in Hungary, I decided to find another but different project – close to my profession and interests. That I dug through forty pages of projects on the European Youth Portal, applied for a few of them, had an interview after which I was a bit worried if I had made myself clear and, haha, above all, distinctly.
That I was travelling with my soul on my shoulder, stressed by the inconvenient connection with transfers but staying within the travel budget limit, with a heavily stuffed bag, wondering if I would have enough time to change from one bus to another. That despite my experience in working with an international group, I was wondering how it would be. How will I find myself among the group, organization, with tasks, with ideas or lack of them, with better days, with worse days.
I think to myself… that I’m lucky, although it’s more of a good attitude, that I find positives in every situation or at least things that I can turn into something positive. And so, after moments of stress, preparations, a little brawl from my twin sister for the way I packed my bag, after several hours of preparatory meeting with my sending organization and coordinator, who just happens to be my older sister (and at the same time demanding-more-from me-than-from-a-random person, guide) – off I went.
Croatia – unknown place
But where did you go? What were you actually doing there? – you will ask. I’m already translating.
I participated in the project organized by OAZA – Green Fingers Autumn 2022. The project mainly focussed on gardening (planting, sowing, watering, weeding, working with garden tools, hoeing the soil),
restoring the natural environment, building simple gardening infrastructure.
I spent time with 9 volunteers from 9 different countries. I had met some nationalities before, such as Spaniards, French, Dutch and Hungarians, but others were a total novelty for me: Finns, Portuguese, Georgians and Belgians. It was an incredible experience to be a part of the team created by people from such diverse backgrounds!
Of course, there were also group classes that were supposed to bring us closer together and activate (or develop) our talents. One of these tasks was the construction of a bridge. We were divided into two teams, and each group was tasked with building a bridge that would be connected to the other bridge. However, we couldn’t communicate other than by sticky notes and explanations or drawings. Another interesting and cognitive task was to create a timeline on which each of the volunteers placed very important events from their lives.
For the first 2 weeks, the weather was not kind to us, and it rained most of the time. 
The time we spent in the office and the school library was devoted to designing games that would allow children to play together on the playground. Moreover, it wasn’t just the design and planning that we were dealing with. The action had to be involved! And so, on the playgrounds of the primary school, at first with the help of chalk, and later with paints, huge games were created – Chinese, rock paper-scissors caterpillars, jumping to colours. But the most fun was creating a racing game for 3 teams, which consisted of 5 games connected to each other. We also took part in decorating the school with educational stickers with the Croatian alphabet, numbers, and distances and a twister with figures. It was really exciting to see our work bring joy, not only to the kids, we had a lot of fun with these games as well! Surfing rainy days, we also had other tasks, like making wooden signs from previously prepared posters, as well as drawing posters for World Vegetarian Day. And during good weather (finally!) we took a trip to the centre of Zagreb. Thanks to our supervisor, Jasmine, we’ve got to know its story. Finally, we also had the opportunity to use school tools and tidy up the school gardens. Regular things like weeding, pulling weeds, cutting grass and branches, and then planting bushes and flowers. It might not seem like much, but it’s physically hard work. Good for stress relief and good for clearing the mind. And what did I love the most? Bird watching, walking on the mountain and around the castle, recognizing tree species. I loved it.
Croatia – a tame place
The time I spent in Croatia gave me the opportunity to discover and navigate through different approaches to life. It was interesting to experience coexisting with such a large, diverse group. I had a chance to discover, share and clash with different views and approaches. It also allowed me to see how some topics can make some people red hot, how different we have competences and approaches to solving conflicts, and how differently we deal with our emotions when we disagree with something. It’s so valuable that it made me more sensitive to the discrimination of women in everyday life, the perception of proactivity in these times and the injustice in this world.
It was also nice to see that after a while, the way from work to home became wonderfully familiar and, in a way, ordinary. That even if that was not my hometown, somehow I got so close to it that I knew where everything was, which tram to take, where to buy rolls, and even to explore an abandoned hospital. Little things like the washing machine not working properly, all the discussions and even decision-making (raised to the tenth power because there were ten of us, after all), it all created the atmosphere. Unusual, but ours.
If you are curious and would like to see some pictures from these trips, please visit my Instagram, and on Instagram OAZA
Happy we
I don’t have an ending planned. But I have a few more thoughts – crumbs. Let’s consider it an ending.
Happy are those who in their lives had the opportunity and financial resources to travel without limits. Happy are those who remove these restrictions and change. Happy are those who see a different path. Happy are those who, with backpacks full of various memories, go further.
If anyone is looking for something for themselves, there are some valuable and important projects – you can see on the O.A.ZA. website ( and other organizations working as part of the European Solidarity Corps.
And if anyone is looking for an activity in Poland – I encourage you to check out my sending organization – Association Aqueduct from Kwidzyn. It is located in the northern part of Poland, 100 kilometres from the Baltic Sea, in a small town. An organization that, like OAZA, through informal educational methods, makes sure that our world is a friendly place where openness, tolerance and diversity play an important role.
From myself, I will add, to all young people – take advantage of it. Try it, test it, check it and leave!
                                                   – Ramona, Poland

After I finished my bachelor’s degree in 4 years, I felt a sense of freedom, realization and fresh air that I could focus on some plans that weren’t related to academic studies or working in my field, grasping finally the chance to take a little break prior to my return to routine. Perhaps to find myself more in the middle of the process? Or rather it was about creating the version I truly desired to belong to.

During my volunteering experiences previously in my own country, I realised there was one thing I experienced: peace and fulfilment. Since little, I have had this dream of volunteering abroad but hadn’t had the chance yet to put it into practice and transform in reality due to a lack of opportunities and not being the ‘’right’’ time. Additionally, most of the time, I’m open to challenges which put me out of my comfort zone (after all, growth happens outside of it) and help dive deeper within myself identifying individual strengths and weaknesses. Besides, doing a voluntary service broadens horizons which makes us look at the world from other types of perspectives furthermore, one of my goals was to improve my English skills. In short words, I was looking for supplementary inner growth and mind expansion. 

At last, that moment had arrived, with doors closing, other new doors opened… I started searching for volunteering projects abroad when I came across with European Solidarity Corps (ESC) that so far had never heard about. ESC is a new EU initiative which creates opportunities for young people aged 18-30 years to volunteer or work in projects in their own country or abroad that benefit communities and people around Europe. 

The more I read about this initiative, the more I got excited and shined within, feeling I was in alignment with one of my passions, giving back to others. After searching about some projects, O.A.ZA.s’ ‘’Green Fingers’’ caught my attention as we shared similar values when it comes to sustainability and environmental issues. Moreover, organizing and holding creative & educational workshops with children was another bonus, along with the fact we would spend a lot of time among plants and flowers. The vegetarian challenge for 43 days also appealed to me, especially as I’ve had vegetarian phases before. 

After being selected, I started packing and organizing everything. I was ready for this adventure. I remember having two fears inside me: interaction with people since I’m an introvert and not having enough ideas for the project. I silenced these voices and permitted myself to go with the flow. 

As soon as I arrived to Zagreb, I felt extremely welcomed by Hanna, a long-term volunteer whose interaction made me feel less nervous. On the way to the hostel where volunteers would spend the 43 days of this project, we were having this conversation where I shared that home has always been a feeling for me. Without a doubt, all this experience strengthened even more, this belief. 

During the first week, we were introduced to the organization and participated on several teambuilding activities, which helped creating a bond between the group. Afterwards, started gardening, planting flowers/plants, restoring areas to its natural state, also discussed among each other ideas for the creation of polygons, drawing and painting them on the floor. Learnt about Montessori methodology, other projects of O.A.ZA, also, the bird watching we had at Maksimir Park provided the occasion of broadening scientific subjects on several types of bird species and

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its classifications as well as the leaf-hunting game. We hiked together in the Medvenica trail permitting even more to grow as a team, understanding that we all have our own pace and as a team we all waited for each other leaving no one behind. Plus, planned games/energizers with kids, living the moment and getting in touch with our inner child,  enjoying the freedom of playfulness and pure joy. 

On top of that, I got valuable experiences in using art as a form of therapy for being in contact with my own thoughts, emotions for instance with stone painting, meditation and acrylic painting activities. We also had an intercultural night, where we were shown different types of dances, traditional music of each country, culinary, etc, including some curiosities regarding each country participants were from. I was able to taught about my own country customs thus spreading awareness of Portuguese culture. All of this inspired and induced me to greater tolerance, appreciation and understanding of other cultures. 

I have such beautiful memories regarding this experience, from Zagreb exploration (museums, botanical garden, finding ‘’Solar system’’ along the city, parks (…)), ballet performances, sharing circles between the group weekly where we opened up ourselves regarding our feelings of the current moment which helped me open myself a bit more little by little to the group, getting to know Croatian night, visiting Pviltice lakes, cooking and laughing together, movies nights, bowling to ridding the bycycles the hostel owner had to explore the outskirts. We even visit Ljbuliana in Slovenia ! But definitely one of the fondest memories I have is the sense of connection that sometimes happened between the group, digging below the surface, and choosing to truly understand someone’s picture of reality, even though I struggled with ‘’introvert hangovers’’ as I need my quiet time to recharge myself I would repeat this experience over and over again. 

Although nostalgia hits me, my heart smiles and I’m so grateful for this opportunity. I carry with me all these lovely memories, new knowledge I gained and the desire to spread it and put into practise daily in my life and around the world.

So what I would say is, give volunteering abroad a go. Don’t deny yourself the chance to experience something new and don’t let your own fears stop you. You will learn so much, meet incredible people and gain memories that will last you a lifetime and transform you.


                                                   – Carlota, Portugal

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In my last year of high school, I had already decided that I wanted to take a gap year, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. A few months before the end of the school year, I was introduced to ESC, and I thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to spend time with topics that I liked, travel and meet new people; and that is how I discovered Green Fingers project.

These last two months have been a whirlwind of emotions: from meeting nine strangers that would immediately become my family to exploring a new city with a different language to living away from home for the first time. There is no doubt that it has been a great adventure.

These last two months have been a whirlwind of emotions: from meeting nine strangers that would immediately become my family to exploring a new city with a different language to living away from home for the first time. There is no doubt that it has been a great adventure.

This project gave me a chance to meet truly amazing people who I hope to stay in my life for a long time. We were all new in this city, and we supported each other and created a great group that travelled together, went out together and discovered more about ourselves together.

Our time in OAZA was spent learning about different ways of gardening (when the weather allowed it), having an intercultural night where we got to taste delicious food from each other’s countries and exploring Zagreb’s nature and secret corners of the city.

My time spent here has really marked the beginning of what I want the rest of my life to look like. I’ve learnt about myself and about what I want to surround myself with in the future. It has really been an eye-opening experience.


                                                                – Elisa, Spain

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Udruga O.A.ZA
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