Words by Aleksandra Maldziski, photo by Artur Stasze (CC)
ai???Surrounded by hills and fields as far as the eye can see, only with a few distant houses in sight, the fresh air, the smell of sawdust, the mountainous horizon with snow on top, and the sound of the fire in the kitchen, the smell of the food, the pleasant company, the uncontrollable laughs, the breadcrumbs on the table cloth, the dogs lying around and the feeling of being physically exhausted after a full day of splitting wood, that’s the stuffai???.
This is how Felix, 24 years old and from Sweden, described his WWOOF experience on a farm in Scotland which he now considers one of his favorite places on earth.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms ai??i?? WWOOF is a concept of linking volunteers with organic farms and growers. In return for volunteer help, WWOOF hosts offer food, accommodation and a chance to learn about organic lifestyles.
In a similar way, various summer camps provide young people with short-term volunteering opportunities abroad that brings them a perspective of the country different from the one of regular tourists, as well as a chance to learn something new and meet local people.
Photo by Ken Dodds (CC)
When in Rome…
Kate decided to spend a month volunteering on a farm/B&B just outside Naples primarily because she wanted to improve her Italian.
ai???It was not only rewarding due to the time I spent there working the farm and renovating the grounds, but served me better than any language course probably would have and all for free! I also got to be outside in the beautiful Italian countryside, work hard in the sun all day (best tan I’ve ever had) and relax in the evening with everyone, drinking lovely wine and eating lots of pastaai???, this 25 year old tells with a strong British accent.
From the other side of the globe, Luke Oai??i??Keefe, 21 year old American, decided to spend a part of his Euro-trip volunteering on a couple’s farm in southern France and it was a chance for him as a tourist to step back from the overcrowded popular destinations and see a different aspect of French life.
ai???I would have never dreamed of spending a week with two rural French farmers when I first left the United States, but I am incredibly grateful that I did. I feel like I learned more about what life is really like in France for the average person than I ever would have from the Eiffel Tower.ai???
More than 5,000 young people will also have a chance to experience France in a non-touristic setting this summer by taking part in the ai???You’re up!ai??? camp organised by Scouts and Guides of France. This event will bring scouts and guides aged 14-17 from all over Europe to live on the same campsite and explore issues related to European citizenship with 10,000 of their French peers.
Nicolas Bertrand, 32 years old, is organising the event with the help of 300 volunteers and describes it as gathering for young people organised by young people.
ai???The main added value of this camp is that 29 nationalities from Europe will be living together, eating together and taking part in the same activities for a week. Moreover, we have invited them to come to Strasbourg using environmentally responsible transportation so we’re looking forward to seeing them arrive by flatboat, hot-air balloon or riding a horse.ai???
Photo by Nation (CC)
Meeting Rod Stewart
Felix will not be going to this camp, but he was also riding horses in another of his WWOOF experience, and he had an interesting story to tell: ai???When I was down in Devon, working on a farm with around 70 horses, something out of the ordinary happened.”
“This farm was situated in a serene part of the country, on sloping land and about 150m further there was a quite an exclusive hotel but we didn’t pay much attention to it. One day, we were keeping to our chores and I was walking to tip over my wheelbarrow when suddenly I hear someone say “it’s Rod Stewart!”.
“Apparently his friend was getting married and the wife-to-be liked horses, so they had come up to the farm to ask us to show the horses on the wedding day, which we did.ai???
No matter if it was for the lack of money or for the will to acquire new skills, all those who have decided to combine their traveling with volunteering agree that, with all its ups and downs, it was definitely a worthwhile experience.
And one thing they all point out is the people they met on the way. As Roland Barthes wrote ai???Open a travel guide: usually you will find a brief lexicon which strangely enough concerns only certain boring and useless things: customs, mail, the hotel, the barber, the doctor, prices.”