ESC GREEN FINGERS – spring volunteering team 2023 testimonies (part 1)

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From April 19th to June 4th, twelve volunteers from eight countries participated in the Green Fingers project, making up the spring volunteering team of the European Solidarity Corps

Volunteers Mireille (Egypt), Aurelie and Nathanael (France), Verena(Germany), Keivan (Italy), Hassan and Houda (Morocco), Ankica (North Macedonia), Csilla (Romania), Nadia (Serbia), Jose and Julia (Spain) carried out activities in primary schools in Zagreb and Vrbovec: gardening in the school gardens of partner primary schools, renovated the school lake into a Trnoslav garden, and cleaned tiles from grass and maintaining greenery area in primary school Davorin Trstenjak, organized and held an Intercultural evening, organized and held personal projects as part of the Garden Festival at Dobriša Cesarić elementary school, and held several workshops for students in two elementary schools (Zagreb and Vrbovec). 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 bees and planting honey plants for bees (organized by NGO BINGO).

  After graduating from college and holding my bachelor degree, I was super lost with my life for a whole year and half, didn’t know what to do and I was desperately looking for a job everywhere that could suits me and suits my mindset and after changing almost 4 jobs I felt tired, drained emotionally and physically and not satisfied with all the jobs that I went through because it seemed that it doesn’t fit my mindset and my lifestyle … But I remembered one of my dreams and felt enthusiastic again about my life which doing volunteering work but I didn’t know how to do that and after doing my research I found out about European Solidarity Corps (ESC), and from here I started to look for opportunities till I found about Green Fingers project in Zagreb, Croatia.  The project seemed very interesting to me as it’s related to gardening and environment, and I wanted to feel more connected to myself and to nature as I take care of my small plants every day and feel alive.

This was my very first sweet experience with volunteering abroad, since I arrived to Zagreb and I was so optimistic about it, ready to experience and challenge myself for almost two months with strangers that turned out at the end of the mobility to be good friends. We experienced gardening at schools together, building a cute little pond for golden fishes as we were happy of the outcome and we gave the fishes our names, also our supervisor Jasmina was always there trying to teaches us about environment and sustainability in life by taking us for a hike to Medvedgrad and from there we could see all Zagreb and witness how green and bright is this city, as well as she taught us how to be leaders for our road. We also had the chance to go for birdwatching in Maksimir Park and learn about the birds, their sounds and their behaviors. 

Through this journey we were learning about sustainability by practicing vegetarianism and veganism life by challenging ourselves to be vegetarians if we eat normally and vegans if we are vegetarians, and by mentioning this I don’t want to forget how Mile was showering us with all the sweets, snacks, and Ferrari Pizza, but not only this with lots of love as well which made us feel home in a foreign city but now I can’t call it foreign anymore because it has been my home for almost two months. 

We had an intercultural night to learn about everyone’s culture and exchange information about each other, and to present our countries with a dish made by our hands. Not only the intercultural night made us know about each other but also sharing our daily life together from accommodation, office, working in schools, having deep conversations, sharing thoughts, and making plans together made us create a better image of each one of us and break all the stereotypes, and almost every one of us tried to do language exchange and learn some words from the diverse languages we had around us. Also the teambuilding activities, discussing our personal projects and helping each other to hold all these projects at the end of the mobility in the garden festival for the school kids made us closer and closer. 

And when we say nature also our art lamp lighten up in our head, also during this mobility we had the chance to do art by creating labels for earth day, and with OAZA we did some art therapy starting it by meditation to forget about any stress around us and feel more connected to ourselves but as usual it ended by one of our team falling asleep and snoring to wake up us all from our meditation to share some laughs together but it didn’t only end by that, we had acrylic pouring to relief our thoughts in a piece of art to have it also as a memory to fly back with each one of us to his/her home.

For the Croatian culture I barely knew anything about it I only knew that the capital is Zagreb and Split is one of the famous touristic cities, but now I would say I’m happy that I learned more about this reach culture, that almost felt so close to mine, I learned some Croatian word to help me deal with my daily life over there, it seemed a bit difficult to me at the beginning but I would say by the time I started to get it. Also the food was like heaven to me, I loved it from the bottom of my heart, and last but not least I learned how the Croatian people are so hospitable and generous.

For me in this mobility I wanted to be more connected to myself, my thoughts, and the nature around me and I think I achieved to do that and be more stable and aware of my real self and my true state. I’m sure that this is not going to be my first and last mobility I would like to go for more as now I know what I want to do with my life.

In the end, I would say this was my first experience with volunteering also abroad that made me experience myself in a different place with different situations and cultures, and by that I would recommend every person who still thinking about experiencing such an experience like this to try at least once in his/her life and I bet that they will never regret it especially if they have traveler soul like me. I’m gonna be always thankful for this whole experience… 

                                                  – Mireille, Egypt

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  After getting my Master’s degree and starting working right away, I felt the need to take some time off to travel, try something else, discover new cultures and reflect on myself. And what a better way for me to do it than taking part of an ESC project. During the last few years, I started getting more and more involved in volunteering activity in my city. The feeling of being useful and the joy of meeting new people, trying new things and working together grew very fast on me. 

When I learned that I can do that and travel in a new country, meet young people from all over Europe, I couldn’t miss my chance. 

So I took a break from my job and traveled to Zagreb to join the green fingers project in O.A.ZA.

What made me choose green fingers was my passion for gardening,  the will to experiment and learn more about sustainable living and a desire to challenge  myself. I was curious to see if I can live with 11+ people in an hostel for 7 weeks and if I can work with kids.

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The experience exceeded what I could have imagined. I meet a bunch of amazing, nice, fun, caring people in the group, O.A.ZA’s office and the schools, and in the hostel. Talking with them, I learned a lot about other cultures and even learned some words in Croatian, German, Dutch and improved my Spanish. The group quickly became a family and the hostel a home, and sharing a room with 5 to 7 other people was so easy.

With O.A.ZA we participated in a great variety of activities : gardening, creating a pound, cleaning tiles, making workshops with kids (bowling, origami…), birdwatching, hiking, yoga, acrylic pouring…


We also hosted an intercultural night and a garden festival in a school. All of it the guidance and the smile of Mile and Jasmina.

During the mobility, we were offered the opportunity to carry out a personal project in the form of a workshop for children during one school’s spring festival. With the will to challenge myself I decided to create one. It was at first uncomfortable for me because I didn’t know if the children will like it but it finally turned out great ! 

Finally let’s not forget the nights out and the trips to Slovenia, Budapest, and the Croatian coast. So many great adventures with a lot of stories  to tell (like during a huge van and breaking down in the middle of a hill)! 

I can really say that I found myself during this experience. It gave me more clarity in  how I want my life to look like. Back in France I want to continue being involved in associations and working with people.

                                                 – Aurelie, France

  It is no easy thing to write down and summarize two months of such an experience. So many things happened, such of me changed, and I learned so much. This year was my first gap year ever. I wanted to take that opportunity to try new things, to take opportunities I didn’t took before. In April, I had finished with my civic service in France, and had no plans. I knew now I wanted to travel. But I didn’t just want to be a tourist somewhere, I wanted to experience something else, getting to really know a place, a country, and feeling useful at the same time. A friend of mine was doing an ESC in Lyon and before I knew her, I had no idea at all what “European Solidarity Corps” meant, or even of its existence. But it was intriguing, how could someone travel for almost free, while volunteering in a great organization, having great tasks. I thought, that was some kind of special program I could never apply to. But when you are ignorant of something the best thing to do is not to imagine things, but just to ask questions. So that’s what I did, and little by little, I understood the amazing opportunity it could be also for me. I start immediately, searching for a project that could interest me. I’ve applied to the “Green Fingers” project because I was interested in the garden work, the vegetarianism goal and also working with kids. The next thing I knew, I was doing the Interview with who would become our super supervisor of the project. 

This project gave me so much, it will be hard to not forget some things. The first things I can say it’s of course the fact that now I’m more aware of the organization of a garden. It is not just planting stuff and waiting for it to grow. It is much more complex than that. I understood the importance of diversity in the garden, the importance of observation in the garden. How cool was it, when Mile, one of our supervisors, showed us the different type of plants we could eat. I understood the importance of knowledge as well, when you know about something, you are more able to take care of it, and that works also for gardening. The way plants communicate with one another, how one can help another and vice versa. More practically, we also learned a lot about the tools of the garden, how to build a pond, and in general working outside it’s such good for the head, you fill tired after but happy. 

Another thing I would like to share in this testimony, is that this project gave me the opportunity to try out the vegetarian diet. I had never done it before, but I always wanted to try. I took the opportunity of having those workshops about vegetarianism, having 5 vegan meals a week, and having access to a kitchen to try new recipes, to try to vegetarian for 2 months. At least to reduce my consumption of meat, and it worked. I did. Of course, coming back to my home country won’t be the same, the context will be different. But I will definitely try again.

 I would like here, to personally thank OAZA, all the people working there (special mention for Jasmina and Mile), because without them, none of this would have happened. Through those two months, you slowly understand the amount of work that takes to put together this kind of project. Dealing with all the applications, then planning the activities, dealing with the bad weather, all the administrative part (housing, food, money, travels…), and of course dealing with us volunteer.

What I mean by dealing, is also being available. For any kind of things, they are here for you. So, thanks. I loved trying new things like the acrylic and meditation workshop, or the nonverbal communication workshop of Salma, the hike in Medvegrad, the bird watching (more listening) activity in the park… I’m sure I must forget some. But those things put you out of your comfort zone, and that’s when you learn the most.

I also want to share my gratefulness for Croatia in general and Croatian people. I have learned so much during these weeks about its culture, its food, language, habits… So much that I didn’t expect, like the quantity of parks in Zagreb, the beautiful little towns like Samobor, all the festivals, the great local food from the markets and bakeries… This project also gave the opportunity to travel during our holidays. One of them was in the coast, in the city of Makarska. So much beauty around it, the islands, the sea, the sunlight, the beaches. I cannot write this testimony without talking about. 

And because travels are as well about connection with people, I would like to dedicate these next few lines to all the volunteer’s member of this project. This experience wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you for all the loughs, all the talks, the walks back to the hostel, the dancing, the driving, the cooking, the working together… Sharing a small space with all of you in the hostel was actually not that bad. It was really great. It’s amazing how complete strangers can become very close friends in that little time. The strangers that at first maybe I didn’t expect that much, turning into amazing people. You all allowed me to be myself and I learned so much because of that. It felt like a bubble of safe space, judgment free and caring for two months. Maybe I didn’t realize at the moment, but I am very grateful for it right now. I grew so much thanks to you all. 

I will finish by saying that I more than recommend young people to do an ESC, I think everybody should do at least one. That experience allowed me to try out new things, to get out of my comfort zone, to know myself better and appreciate more what I have. It opened my mind being with such different but yet so interesting people. Now I feel more confident, more able to reflect on things, and globally happier. Thanks to every single person I met during those weeks.

                                             – Nathanael, France

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  This year hasn’t started that well for me. I realized that I have to make changes in my life, that the future path I chose for myself is not actually fitting me nor going to make me happy. 

Deciding to quit my university degree was definitely not the easiest thing to do but I knew that I belong in another field. 

In social work, I always could find a value in it and connect. It is something I enjoyed doing in the past, which I also extremely benefited from and made me happy. Deciding to go finally for a bachelor’s degree in social work upcoming autumn and make my passion for my profession felt right and good.

So, I had seven months left to fill… 

I wanted to leave my old environment, daily routines, and especially the German weather to discover and learn many new things. 

I participated in two other European solidarity corps projects in the previous years and had great memories of that, so looking for new volunteering possibilities came quickly into my mind. 

After finding and reading the OAZA spring volunteering project on the ESC platform, I was sure that it could be promising opportunity for me. I was always interested in gardening. The environmental aspect of the project sounded really convincing to me. So, I applied, filled out the forms, had an application video with the lovely supervisor Jasmina, got accepted (!!!), found a German supporting organization for the volunteering, prepared the documents, booked my travel, and got ready for almost 2 months in CROATIA ☺.

Sitting in the Flixbus and heading to Zagreb, my feeling of pure excitement got mixed for the first time with worrying if sharing a room with 5 others for that amount of time, living in a hostel will work out for me. I questioned, if I will be able to fulfill the expectations the organization had of me as a volunteer and also if I will enjoy my time, but then decided that I will never now until I tried.

And I can tell you I am so glad that I tried:

I spend great time with 11 other amazing human beings from Egypt, Spain, Serbia, Romania, France, North Macedonia, Italy, and Morocco, while living and working together. We exchanged so much with each about our cultures, language, and cuisine as well as political and social issues. We had huge laughs, travels, and nights out, and shared happy but also difficult moments, moments of tiredness, exhaustion, or sadness. We developed into a little family living in the hostel “mali mrak” in Zagreb, sharing a room and (so much more) with them was a blast.

The volunteering was pretty diverse, but one constant was the tasty vegan lunch, we got provided by OAZA Joyful Kitchen. It gave me some inspiration and new recipes I can cook for myself as a vegetarian for almost 4 years, who is eating mainly the same dishes.

We spent some days in beautiful school gardens planting flowers, cleaning tiles, or renewing a pool for fish. I learned some new skills and going to have my own plants now for sure. We went for hikes, flower exhibitions, or watched birds. On other days we were in the OAZA office, getting educated about environmental issues or planned activities with children. The days we spent working with school kids were my favorites. We mainly played different games in classes inside and outside, did origami, created musical instruments, and much more. 

I will be forever impressed by the fluency of English children in Croatia, not to mention their openness and happy energy. Speaking about Croatians: I can say that the people from OAZA especially Jasmina and Mile but also the teachers and other friendly faces working in the schools were my favorite Croatians by far. They treated us with a lot of kindness and openness, toughed and showed us a lot, and were extremely generous. 

I could go on and on for a lot more but in the end, I just want to thank Croatia: 

For its Food (especially Burek and Ajvar), its beautiful Landscapes, and opening its doors for me. 

It gave me so much that I maybe didn’t even imagine or asked for but needed. In the last weeks, I went always to bed satisfied with my day and already excited about what the next day will give me.

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I learned so much about the world and others, but also myself. I am looking clearer into my future now, knowing that I will continue with my journey as a social worker.

I left Croatia with tears because this beautiful adventure came to an end but brought back a suitcase filled with plenty of unforgettable memories, beautiful new connections, and knowing that it is always worth trying new things out.

Hvala for everything,

                                              – Verena, Germany

  Volunteering is always something that has interested me during my life, having had several previous experiences and also having studied in a field where working with NGOs and humanitarian organizations is essential. 

During the spring period having a lot of free time I decided to embark on this wonderful adventure that is to volunteer at OAZA for almost two months in Zagreb. I wanted to participate in this experience to question myself and try something new that I have never tried and I am delighted to have participated in this project.

The theme of the project which was about Green sustainability, eco-friendly environment and bringing different cultures together, I think it’s something interesting that convinced me therefore to participate in this project.

During 8 weeks our community of volunteers built from many countries including Italy, France, Spain, North Macedonia, Germany, Egypt, Romania  and Morocco helped to keep the schools clean and tidy by cleaning and maintaining the Gardens, organizing workshops, games with children and also some nightly cultural events. OAZA organization made us feel at home and even though we were in a totally unfamiliar foreign city like Zagreb. We were happy to get acquainted with Croatian culture and experience such as birdwatching and hiking. A special thanks goes to our supervisors Jasmina and Mille who helped us in our experience and were always kind and helpful towards us.

Although many of us including myself were not experts on the subject,

our supervisors helped us by explaining how the garden worked by helping us with the tools above all  by explaining how to use them safely and helping us to gain experience to learn the basic rules of maintenance and care of the Gardens and plants.

Also on free and vacation days having explored Zagreb and its surroundings together Dalmatian coast and also Slovenia It was a great experience I recommend to everyone as Croatia is a wonderful country to explore from north to south.

I recommend everyone to try a volunteer experience like the one we did at least once, also to try something new and above all to get to know a wonderful country like Croatia. with the OAZA organization you will always find me at home!

                                                     – Keivan, Italy

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  I am thrilled to share my experience as a volunteer with the OAZA organization in Zagreb, where I had the incredible opportunity to work on a team project focused on school gardens and the organization of a mesmerizing Garden festival. These two months spent with OAZA have been nothing short of transformative, leaving an indelible mark on my personal and professional growth.

From the moment I arrived in Zagreb, I was greeted by a warm and welcoming team of OAZA staff and fellow volunteers. Their enthusiasm and dedication to the cause were infectious, setting the tone for an unforgettable journey. The project’s primary focus was to revitalize school gardens, promoting environmental education and fostering a love for nature among the students. As a nature enthusiast myself, I couldn’t have asked for a more rewarding endeavor.

Working alongside a diverse group of volunteers from various backgrounds, I was constantly amazed by the collective passion and skills we brought to the table. Together, we rolled up our sleeves, dug into the soil, and transformed neglected patches of land into vibrant, thriving gardens. It was immensely gratifying to witness the joy and wonder in the students’ eyes as they saw their once barren spaces blossom into flourishing oases of greenery.

The OAZA team in general and specifically Jasmina and Mille (my beloved supervisors) provided us with comprehensive training and guidance, ensuring that we had the necessary knowledge and tools to carry out our tasks efficiently.

From learning about organic gardening techniques to engaging in hands-on workshops with local horticultural experts,

we were equipped with valuable skills that will undoubtedly stay with us long after the project’s end.

One of the highlights of my time in Zagreb was the Garden festival we organized with the OAZA team. It was a celebration of nature, community, and education, bringing together students, teachers, parents, and the wider community. Witnessing the joy and excitement on the faces of attendees as they participated in various workshops, live performances, and interactive exhibits was incredibly rewarding.The festival served as a testament to the power of collective action and the positive impact that can be achieved when we come together for a shared cause. I myself also had an opportunity to work along with the best gym teacher ever, and we organized the best football competition that every football lover is dreaming for and it was a chance to be a referee for the whole competition.

Beyond the project itself, OAZA fostered a sense of camaraderie and friendship among the volunteers in, out the office and also in Mali Mrak hostel(which is the best place ever where I had a chance to meet new people from different parts of the world). Together, we explored Zagreb, immersing ourselves in the local culture, trying traditional delicacies, and forming lifelong bonds. The support and encouragement we received from the OAZA team made us feel like an integral part of the organization’s mission.

In retrospect, my time with OAZA in Zagreb has been a transformative journey of self-discovery, compassion, and growth. It has reinforced my belief in the power of grassroots initiatives and community engagement to bring about positive change. The experience has also inspired me to continue advocating for environmental causes and working towards creating sustainable and vibrant communities.

I am profoundly grateful to OAZA for the opportunity to contribute to their meaningful work. The impact they have made on the lives of students, the local community, and the environment is immeasurable. I wholeheartedly recommend volunteering with OAZA to anyone seeking a purposeful, hands-on experience that will leave a lasting imprint on their lives.

                                               – Hassan, Morocco

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Udruga O.A.ZA
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