ESC GREEN FINGERS – Growing School Gardens – autumn 2021 testimonies (part 1)

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A team of volunteers from all over Europe participated in our two-year Green Fingers project in the period from the 23rd of August to the 20th of October.

Volunteers Anisa and Melanie (Albania), Lara (France), Amelie (Germany), Concetta (Greece), Emma (Hungary), Carolina and Margarida (Portugal), Irina and Damian (Romania), and Marta and Rebeca (Spain) organized and conducted entertaining and educational workshops with children (on the topic of sustainable development, environmental protection, foreign languages, etc.), gardened in the school gardens of partner elementary schools in Zagreb and Jabukovac near Petrinja, organized and held an Intercultural night, conducted personal projects. Besides working very proactively, along the way they also relaxed a bit by hiking on Medvednica (along with our colleagues Branko, Mila and Jasmina), and watched birds in Maksimir (organized and implemented by volunteers and employees from the BIOM association).

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The project is founded by Agency for Mobility and EU Programmes.

Below you can find the first part of the testimonies:

1. Anisa, Albania

“Journeys can be adventurous and exciting, disappointing and stressful, or somewhat settled in between these two opposites. My journey to Croatia started off on the wrong foot, to say the least, with a 15-hour planned trip inexplicably turning into 30 hours of constantly thinking to myself “when is it going to end”. The higher the number of hours spend on the road got, the lower my expectations for this two-month experience went and by the time I finally stepped on Croatian soil, my expectations were somewhere underground right next to my hygiene level. But to my dismay, the predictions I had about how the future two months were going to be were completely off.  

Unfortunately, waiting for me to arrive was the most wonderful and amazing mentor, happy to help me mediate through this foreign city to the best of her abilities. Sadly, the fellow volunteers I meet were incredible people that made me laugh and forced me out of the shell I carry with me at all times, urging me to have fun with them. Regrettably, the time I spend in Croatia was possibly one of the best experiences I’ll ever get to go through in my life. And the reason why I describe all of these seemingly great things with a note of dejection, it’s because it all had to end.

Starting from our very first encounters despite the clear differences we all had, we understood each other so easily it was indescribable, everyone with a different personality was like a unique piece of a puzzle that doesn’t quite make sense till it all comes together. On such a journey we had taken upon ourselves we all had moments of uncertainties and of feeling downhearted, but even the worst of the bad memories become fond ones now as we look back on them.

The O.A.ZA team welcomed us with warm hugs and endless jokes, always making us feel comfortable and being there as a support for anything we needed. Since the very first two weeks whilst on the introduction of their NGO, of their views and values and what they were trying to achieve through raising awareness about vegetarianism, sustainability and the important impact recycling has on the environment, they never did once burden us or made us feel unpleasant, instead they treated us as colleagues, maybe even as friends.

On the first day of us doing one of the educational workshops we had created as a team, I was a little nervous because I didn’t know what to expect from the kids, or from myself with the kids. I walked into the first school worried but came out smiling as brightly as I could. The workshops we had with the young children from the 1st grade up to the 8th were all small slices of chaotic joy that made us impatient until the next day of workshops came.

Sometime during the times of us creating workshops for the children and then putting them into action, hiking up the Medvednica trail and telling bad jokes along the way, sharing dishes from our countries and cultures, fighting for the bathrooms in the morning, the time flew by without us even noticing it, and we all had to return to our homes.

To the other eleven volunteers, to the O.A.ZA team and to my mentor, words cannot express how much I treasure the time I spend with you. The only regret I have is that I wasn’t able to make it last longer.”

2. Melanie, Albania

What did I do during my stay in Zagreb? What were my tasks?

We were assigned to a hostel in Zagreb where different travellers would often come. Our main tasks were to create workshops for children in three schools in Zagreb (these were the only ones we had the chance to do the workshops). We would work 5 days a week from 10:00 until 17:00, with a different schedule each day, meaning that we would usually spend Monday and Tuesday brainstorming and preparing workshops and the rest of the week implementing them into schools. One of the other tasks we had was gardening in the school gardens, like plants and a few vegetables. We were happy to join the vegetarian challenge. Also, I went for the first time hiking in Medvenica, and I loved it. I think I had a lot of first things here considering that I had the chance to visit an island here too, we had time to visit Split and the Hvar island. It was amazing. My typical day was very fun and in general fulfilling with the above-mentioned activities and also with the personal projects that we organised.

What was your favourite thing about working with the school children, living with the community andwhat was challenging for you?

My favourite thing was doing the workshops with the children. They would always get so happy and even though communication was a challenge sometimes, we would try to understand each other with our gestures and sounds. As for the community, we were located in a very peaceful neighbourhood with a very appropriate location, because almost every place that we wanted to visit was only 20-30 minutes away. I like the fact that we were 12 volunteers living there, and that we had a space where we could spend time together with each other.

Why did you decide to go abroad as a volunteer?

I actually just came back from a voluntary service and I wanted to do one more volunteer before I started the last year of my bachelor’s degree. This opportunity came firstly as a recommendation from my best friends, and after both of us were accepted we decided to join. After all, the project seemed very nice and since it had children and plants on it, it was the one for us.

What has volunteering given you?

Volunteering made me realise that there are more opportunities if i just know where to look for them. It made me think that there are other options beside what i think and be more tolerant and acceptant towards diversity of people and cultures. It also gave me a lot of new and unforgetable experiences and amazing new friends.

What did you do in your free time?

I usually spent it by visiting places ive never been there and having nice time with the other volunteers. My favorite place there is park Maximir. I loved having picnics there and even just going for a walk when the weather was nice. When it was the dinner time we would all gather in the commmon room and play different games.

Has the coronavirus pandemic affected your project?

Honestly speaking i dont think it has. At least not that much. Yes, we had to wear masks all the time and had to be careful when we did our workshops with the children, but its part of the safety. I think I got used a little too much with the Covid meassures that they don’t actually faze or worry me anymore.

What are your plans after the project?

After this project I plan on continuing my last year of my Bachelors degree and graduate. after that I dont really know. But what I do plan is to share all the knowledge and experience with all my peers.

Would you reccomend the experience of international volunteering to somebody else?
Yes, I would 100% recommend it to everyone I know and to those who show the slightest interest I tell you: This is it!

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3. Lara, France

“I found this project while browsing the ECS website, 2 months later it was on, there I was in Zagreb for a new adventure within the Green Fingers project, a mission shared with eleven wonderful European volunteers.

With the help of the Oaza team we organized creative and educational activities about the environment which were then carried out in some schools in Zagreb.

I found this project while browsing the ECS website, 2 months later it was on, there I was in Zagreb for a new adventure within the GreenFingers project, a mission shared with eleven wonderful European volunteers.

With the help of the Oaza team we organized creative and educational activities about the environment which were then carried out in some schools in Zagreb. We also had a great and fun time in the school gardens planting flowers and garlic between volunteers. The Oaza team has set up many activities to create the family we have become, such as teambuilding or hiking together in a city next to Zagreb. If I had to qualify this project in one word I would say sharing because during these 2 months we shared everything, our cultures, our time, our accommodation; which made us real friends. Moreover, during our free time we took the opportunity to visit together the Croatian coast, which made us even more united.

This first volunteering experience was above my expectations. I learned a lot during these two months. I would 100% recommend embarking on an adventure like this. 

Thank you for everything!”

4. Amelie, Germany

“The past two months I was a volunteer for the Green Fingers project in Zagreb. For the first time, I was abroad on my own, without any family or friends. Of course I was excited, but at some point I also had some doubts and even got a bit scared. Luckily, it turned out to be an amazing experience, and I had a really great time. This is for everyone wondering what going abroad with the ESC was like for me.

Tasks/ Work
We mainly worked from Monday to Friday, about six hours a day. As our tasks varied each day, we would get a weekly schedule where we could see what was planned for the upcoming week. The main focus of our project was, preparing and doing workshops in primary schools about nature, the environment and multiculturalism. Even if working and coming to terms with a big group can feel challenging on some days, we had a really good time in the office of OAZA where we prepared the workshop materials together. Apart from working, we also had time there to talk, listen to music, drink tea or coffee and just joke around. Then, we would all feel very happy to finally go to the schools, and put our own workshops into practice. It was wonderful and fulfilling to see, how excited and curious the children got about the playful, but also educational games. After all, when the kids were happy, we were too.

For the project, we were accommodated in the hostel Mali Mrak which lays in a calm neighbourhood, but still is not too far from the Center by tram. I think that living in a hostel for two months was a very unique experience. Coming from home with my own room, I now had to share my room with four other volunteers that I just met, and share the bathrooms and a kitchen with everyone as well. Of course this was challenging sometimes. Everyone comes from a different culture and background with their own habits and needs. But, as it was so different from my usual living situation, this was a great experience. And because we became close, it also was like living together with all your friends where you would always have someone around. I loved to play Poker or Uno together, cook or eat together, and just have a chat with someone in the room or outside. These small, but beautiful moments I will remember more than anytime I was looking for a free bathroom in the morning 😉 I believe our living situation was also special, because we would not only live together with the other eleven people of the group, but also met travellers or guests of the hostel along the way. This was always interesting and we had the opportunity to meet even more new, and very nice people from all around the world.

Leads me to people and our community In our volunteering group we were twelve people from eight different countries. Almost all of us did not know anybody of this group before, and still we grew together a lot. Two months are not a very long time, but if you are living together and spend almost every day with each other, you can get very close. So did we. In the beginning it obviously took a bit to get to know each other, but after the first weeks it already felt like we have known each other for much longer. It was so much fun going on trips and other adventures with these, maybe sometimes crazy, but lovely people. I had a really great time and I am glad that I have chosen to come to this project.

Lastly, I want to recommend going abroad for a volunteering project to everyone, because I believe that if you want to experience something new and get to know other cultures, this is one of the best ways to do so. With the ESC you get the opportunity to live in another country where on the one hand you will contribute something to the local community, and on the other hand you can learn a lot and take back to your home country as well. Of course you should be prepared to step out of your comfort zone and it can take courage to go on this journey, but this will enable you to grow and broaden your horizons.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone who was part of this project. These months have been amazing!”

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5. Concetta, Greece

“The experience of living abroad offering volunteer work is a unique and absolutely amazing experience.

First of all, your contact with the country in which you are in this case Croatia directly affects your aesthetic perception. Croatia is a beautiful country and Zagreb is a European capital that has nothing to envy from its other counterparts but that in a way its provincialism offers to the charm and tranquility of the city.  Then it is your common life with the members of the rest of the group. The biggest life lesson I have learned so far!!

I must also emphasize that different cultures, languages, mentalities that live under the same roof exchange views and accomplish a common goal, when that happens it is simply majestic. The friendships and bonds that emerge are touching. Within the short period of two months, the confessions, the conversations, the revelations of secrets, the open opening of the heart and the mind to the other, the sharing of emotions, was our daily routine. Making real friends is a blessing in disguise, and it’s wonderful to do so quickly and deeply.

Working, traveling, offering and living together, we all shared a unique life experience that we will never forget and will carry forever in the baggage of our lives.”

6. Emma, Hungary

What did you do during your stay in Croatia? What were your tasks?

We made workshop for kids, and if we weren’t with the kids, or were doing fun /great tasks for them, we were gardening.the children were elementary school students. And if we didn’t do these things, we worked on personal projects. Which could have been for our volunters members or also for the kids. 

What was your favourite thing about working and living in the community, and what was challenging for you?

I don’t really know what my favorite part was. I loved the whole team, it was interesting to see how different we are ,but the same. Perhaps the best part about working with them to create something was the best.

id you decide to go abroad and volunteer?

Had already been tried by a relative of mine and he recommended me to try it because it is a good thing. I didn’t regret it, I loved every minute of it.

What has volunteering given you?

It’s a question I would have a hard time answering, I’ve experienced a lot of things, or I’ve learned. Nor is it. I learned rather developed a lot, especially in the emotional field. it was an amazing 2 months.

What has volunteering given you?

It’s a question I would have a hard time answering, I’ve experienced a lot of things, or I’ve learned. Nor is it. I learned rather developed a lot, especially in the emotional field. it was an amazing 2 months.What did you do in your free time?

I mostly spent my free time with my volunteers, we discover up the city together, we wandered together. I wasn’t really alone, they always came up with something new.

What are your plans after the project?

I am currently staying in my home country in Hungary and trying to look for a job. But I am thinking of a long-term project.

Would you recommend the experience of international volunteering to someone?

Yes of course. It can help people a lot, it can help you find a goal. So I can recommend it because it’s a great experience for people.

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Udruga O.A.ZA
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