Long Term Volunteering: where there is a will, there is always a way!
What is it like to be living in Iceland?
Interesting. I arrived in February, at that time the sun was going down at around 15:30. Since I am a fan of photography and one of my favourite topics is the sunset, I was always trying to leave the office before dark so that I would still get the chance to take a few pictures. However, I soon realised that every day I had to wait longer and longer. Only two months have passed since, but for example, today I would have to wait until 20:00 to see the sunset. The other curiosity is that right now knitting is the trendiest activity among young people; wherever I go, in cinemas as well as pubs, I keep seeing a group of teenagers knitting together. The reason for this might be that the prices are in the sky and buying a knitted cap equals bankruptcy, but if they do it for themselves, they can do it more cheaper. But what surprised me the most was their national dish, the hákarl, or rotten shark meat – there is nobody on this planet who would be able to eat it with a good appetite!
Why were you so attracted by the activity of this organisation?
Before deciding to apply for the European Voluntary Service, I was supporting the work of the Útilapu Network as a volunteer for years. I was mainly involved in helping the organisation of Hungarian workcamps, but through them, I also had the opportunity to participate in quite a few camps abroad. I have been to Scotland, Ireland, Slovenia to help with projects revolving around environmental protection and once, I even travelled to Croatia to help out on a bear farm! I really wanted to find an opportunity where I could continue supporting workcamps and since the Icelandic SEEDS association was created with the goal of promoting the voluntary activity of young people abroad, I knew right away that this would be my project! I signed up for the newsletter and for two years, I took every chance I had to apply. Although I made it to the interview, in the end, they always chose somebody else. But I didn’t give up; I started looking for an alternative solution instead.
How did you stumble upon the Long Term Volunteering opportunity and what does the programme offer?
The Long Term Volunteering programme is really similar to the European Voluntary Service in that it gives people the opportunity to spend 3-12 months helping the work of an NGO abroad in exchange for free accommodation, food and most of the times also pocket money. The biggest difference, however, is that while the European Voluntary Service is subsidized by the European Union, the Long Term Volunteering is the own voluntary programme of Service Civil International, within the frames of which its partner organisations (like Útilapu or SEEDS) can exchange volunteers or delegate them to organisations with whom they have an agreement. Although at the moment there are a lot fewer projects available than through EVS, I was lucky because the organisation I set my heart on working for also participates in this programme. The advantage of LTV as opposed to EVS is that the application procedure is a lot less complicated and since there is no age limit, the over 30s do not get left out either. On the other hand, disadvantages include the fact that the travel costs are not covered and there is not preparatory training either.
What do you do on an average day?
Normally I work 6-7 hours a day, five times a week. I spend more of my day in the office where I either work on popularising our workcamps or I welcome young people who are still hesitating about taking the plunge to apply for a voluntary project or who need help selecting the most ideal opportunity for them. I am not surprised that they do not manage on their own: this summer, they have the choice among 2-300 projects. However, on average, if they do decide to go for it, they tend to pick Mediterranean countries, for example, this year a lot of them are going to Italy or Spain. Our organisation is really active, in 2012, there were 120 camps organised in Iceland where we welcomed almost 1000 volunteers from 50 different countries and we helped more than 100 Icelandic young people travel abroad to participate in workcamps, coordinating altogether 75.000 hours of voluntary work.
After work, I am normally at home: I live in a huge 2-floor house together with all the other volunteers and since we often host other foreign delegates as well, even staying at home can be an exciting intercultural adventure. Next week, for example, we will be 27 people at home, almost everybody from a different country! When I get the chance, I join the excursions organised for the volunteers. So far, I have managed to do the tour of the Golden Circle, but I would also like to visit the Blue Lagoon in the future.
As far as I know, Hungarians can also participate in the Icelandic workcamps coordinated by you. Would you recommend one of your favourite projects in case somebody got interested?
Of course, even though it won’t be easy to highlight one amongst all the different ones! If I was to choose for myself, I would go for one of our photography camps. These ones offer trainings and workshops with professional photographers during which the young people can learn the most important skills that they can later put into practise at an event where they do a photo report focusing on a specific topic. Although each camp revolves around a different issue, they are all connected by their commitment to call people’s attention to a specific social or environmental problem; to achieve this, the participants are invited to organise an exhibition using their photos during the closing days of the camp. I hope to be able to welcome some Hungarian people this summer in the frames of this or any other workcamps!
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