Mixed age project Switzerland
Community life, International solidarity - Europe North America Australia & Japan
In July 2007 I spent two weeks in Switzerland as a VSI volunteer. I have always loved travelling and exploring new cultures, particularly when the trips are of a slightly more intrepid variety. Volunteering seemed like a new and interesting way to see a different country. It is also an inexpensive way to travel as bed and board are provided. With VSI there are no huge fees to pay either, just a basic registration fee and then your transport costs.
As I hadn't volunteered before I didn't know what to expect. Therefore I decided to start relatively close to home. I was accepted onto a workcamp in Aarau, Northern Switzerland, about 35 km from Zurich. I had a small amount of information about the workcamp before I left Ireland. I would be staying in a large building that functioned as an adult education centre in winter and as a holiday camp for Swiss families during the summer months.
I also knew that I would be expected to do some gardening work. In return I would receive free board and lodging and possibly free time to travel and explore the surrounding areas. Before I set off I was apprehensive as I didn't really know what to expect. However I needn't have worried. Everything ran smoothly and I genuinely had an amazing time. Directions to the camp were straightforward and I met some of the other volunteers on the way. We were then greeted by the manager of the centre where we would be staying. In total there were 10 volunteers, three of whom brought children with them.
There are different types of camps; the one I attended was a mixed age camp and one which was suitable for children. Collectively the volunteers came from Ireland, Italy, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Slovenia and Belgium. We gelled immediately and I made some good friends, some of whom I'm still in contact with now. Every camp differs and it's impossible to know exactly what to expect. My own personal experience was great. We arrived at the camp on a Friday and had three days free to explore the area and its surroundings before starting any work. I visited Berne, Basel and Zurich with some of the other volunteers.
We also went on guided hill walks organised by the centre where we were staying. When work officially started, a typical day at the camp started with breakfast followed by some light domestic work for an hour. Later we did some gardening in the grounds of the centre, including the reconstruction of an overgrown pathway. We would have lunch and dinner later on. In the evenings we would mainly chat, play cards or watch a film. It was interesting finding out about other people's lives and their cultures. The experience has had a positive impact on me in a number of ways.
It's shown me a whole new way to travel. With VSI you can visit almost any country in the world, many of which are not easily accessible either when travelling independently or with a companion. You also get to travel cheaply and meet interesting people who have completely different lives and perspectives to your own. It's also strengthened my belief in myself. I now feel I have the confidence to get on a plane and go anywhere in the world without always needing someone to accompany me. I will definitely volunteer again but next time it will be somewhere further a field.
Julie Cadogan, Summer 2007