Back to my other reality

Lora Egle

Perks of volunteering from today’s perspective

Since I returned from my holiday, I miss Austria everyday. This is something I did not expect to feel. It has been two years since I finished my year of volunteering in the youth centre Park in in Hall in Tirol, and to be honest I rarely had a nostalgia about my great experience there. I truly enjoyed my project and living in Austrian Alps for a year, but I was as happy to return to Riga, Latvia. Despite the pandemic, my life after the project has been joyful and fulfilled – I have an amazing job, I have started to study again, and I am surrounded by great people. And during these unpredictable times I have realized how meaningful and beneficial the year of volunteering has been for my personal growth. While working in the youth centre abroad I learned an important thing that has helped me to stay calm and even enjoy the times of pandemic, it is going with the flow. Accepting the things the way they are. Not unnecessarily worrying about the things I cannot affect. Keeping a cool and open mind, and most importantly enjoying!

After returning to Latvia, I literally noticed my development because I felt more mature than my friends who have not done transnational volunteering. During my year in Austria I had to overcome several emotional challenges regarding the living abroad and it only did make me stronger, more confident, and more open-minded. A friend of mine from Albania who was an Erasmus student in Latvia once told me that I am more Western than other Latvians. This small remark stayed in mind, and I have thought about it quite a lot. I believe that volunteering in Austria added to the development of my European mindset.

A gap year of volunteering also added to my professional qualifications as I used the opportunities to learn by doing. In addition to European Solidarity Corps volunteering I did some more volunteering for an organisation Plattform Asyl in Innsbruck that works with refugee integration issues. During the work in a youth centre, I met many minor refugees and I got very interested in how the asylum and integration system works in Austria. Back then in Latvia there were few refugees, and I had a limited knowledge about the questions regarding their life, therefore I was curious to learn more. In Plattform Asyl I had a chance to help the amazing Kathrin Heis who was open to share her broad knowledge.

After working with refugees in person and getting to know about the institutional level in Austria, I was inspired to bring my new knowledge and understanding to Latvia. By fortuity when I came back to Latvia there was an open position for a social mentor within the project supported by the UN Refugee Agency and I got a chance to work in Latvian refugee integration system for five months until the pandemic. It was a great experience to compare both systems and contribute to refugee well-being in both Austria and Latvia which creates unique knowledge and understanding of integration issues in Europe.

Visiting Austria 2021

We had a plan with my colleagues from Park in that I will visit Tirol in the next summer after finishing my project but by then the pandemic had already made changes in our lives. Therefore, I postponed my trip and went to Austria this August. Before going back to Austria I was excited and wondering how I will feel being back to the places I have spent a whole year. I am not very good at keeping regular contact; thus I was thinking how I will be welcomed after two years. Will everything be different? Have the youngsters that I worked with grown a lot, do they even remember me?

But once I arrived, I felt like visiting my second home. Such an incredibly good and peaceful feeling! Seeing the familiar faces and streets, feeling the friendship and warmth – it felt like I was gone for a couple of months not almost two years. During just 10 days I met many people and visited many places, and absolutely would have liked to prolong my stay for a month. I especially appreciated the conversations with ex-volunteers and current volunteers. Everyone’s experience and path are different, but it is great to talk with people who understand and can relate to things and feelings only volunteers know.

And, of course, mountains! Living in such flat country as Latvia I did miss Austrian Alps, but I did not realize how much! I was sending photos to my friends and work colleagues in Latvia, and as one of them said: Lora, you are in a different reality now! And he was right. My life in Latvia and my life in Austria are two different realities. It is weird and awesome at the same time. After this holiday, I have realized how lucky I am to have those people and places Austria thanks to European Solidarity Corps. A part of my heart will always be in Tirol.

Lora Egle (European Solidarity Corps volunteer in Jugendhaus Park In October 2018 – September 2019)

Volunteering at a Montessori School

My name is Barnabé Albrespy, and I did a volunteering project in the SCHULGARTEN – Aktive Montessorischule Telfs in Tirol from September 2020 until July 2021. This is a Montessori school where children from 6 to 15 years old study. I worked the most of the time with a group of children from 6 to 9 years old.

The children work during the morning, which is divided in two parts. The first part of the morning is called « Free work time ». The students have to on different topics and different activities. During this time, I could help them, to make some activities or to propose some work if they don’t know what to do. After this part comes the « Free play time ».  During this time the children have the choice between playing in the garden, the school or to work creatively. Each day one teacher and once a week myself, propose a creative offer to the children. When I don’t make creative offers, I try to propose some games to them or at least I have a look to see how everything goes. At the end of the day is a short time where the children have to clean the room of the school. I also helped them to do this task.

I feel really happy in my work. The contact with the children is great. They are friendly and they have a lot of good ideas for work and for games. Also, the atmosphere between the teachers is great. My colleagues propose me all the time some nice work and games to do, therefore I always felt active and useful, which I really enjoyed.

Each Wednesday is the “Natureday“ – where we go on to the forest, the mountain or next tot he river. Same as the other days, there is a time of work and a time for games. I also prepared some work, activities and creative offers that I propose to the children. It’s all the time a really good day with a great atmosphere. Even if the weather is rainy or cold, the children are just happy to be outside. I also did Naturedays with the older group of the school. The Natureday I soften a very special day and we do great activities.

In addition to these nice moments in the school and during the Naturedays, we also do some projects with the children. We are actually doing a Garden Project with them. All the children, who want to participate, have a little area where they could plant some things. It’s also a really nice project because I think it’s great to get in contact with the nature. I was very surprise to see how many children were interested about this project. They have so much motivation to make a nice garden and to take care of the plants. Some of them go every morning before the school to check how the plants are doing an to water them.

This volunteering experience was really intense form me and the contact with the children was good. It was always a lot of fun to help them in the work and to play with them. It was my first working experience after high school and I think that going abroad during one year and work within this type of project was the best way to travel and to grow up. I’m really happy that I had the chance to discover a new country and also to discover a new way to do school. I was very interested about alternative and specially Montessori pedagogy. I think that this year thought me a lot of things.  

Barnabé

Up, Down and Further Underground

I arrived at the Backerei a good 15 minutes later than the time that I said I would be there, but no matter, because Maxime was not there either. That was good, unpunctuality in meetings is one of the things that I miss the most from home, where I would set up a meeting with my friends at 6 and everybody would send out a message at 6.30 saying that they were about to leave their house and that they would be a bit late. It was just like that, perfectly imperfect.

I weighed the option of waiting outside until I would eventually get a message back from Maxime saying that he was ready to meet me, but it is too late in the year to wait outside in the drizzle instead of bathing in the afternoon sunlight, so I decided against it.

There is always this small kick in my stomach when I have to force myself to enter unfamiliar and non- impersonal spaces on my own that is uncomfortable to say the least. You can draw your own conclusions about me based on this statement. If, however, you guessed that this must have been exactly the feeling I felt while I was sinking in my seat on that airplane that evening on September 4th, when I took off from SKG airport to come to Austria for my volunteership, I would pat you on the back and, in a very teacherly manner, reward you with a star-shaped sticker, because you would be undeniably right. The feeling is always the same, the intensity varies, but the kick is ever-present.

This time it was strong. The consecutive lockdowns have left me with few social skills and a fear of coming out of my shell, but walking through the door all those thoughts were interrupted, dissolved, evaporated into steam on my glasses as temperature change claimed my vision. And also because the cafeteria area of the Backerei is wonderfully cluttered, and could easily pass for one of the many student hangout spots back home in Thessaloniki, which made my shoulders immediately relax.

A man walked up to me and said something, I was still trying to take in the welcoming wormhole I had apparently just stepped through, but I managed to say that I was looking for Maxime. He confessed that he did not know what Maxime was up to, but urged me to take a seat in the front room a wait. It’s just like a doctor’s appointment, I thought, and also said so out loud because I found the thought funny, and with that, I took a seat next to the library corner in the far end of the room that seemed to be extra comforting, even though the space already felt familiarly cozy.

I looked around, occasionally people walked in and out and there was chatter coming from the next room. The bookshelves were full of mismatched, clearly pre-loved books. There were plants, an old jukebox that probably wouldn’t play any more and raw elements everywhere. It all looked significantly different from all spaces I had happened in since September. It was not pristine, it was textured. It was authentic, a place where objects seemingly chose their own posts, rather than being arranged by a well-meaning, yet ignorant as to the object’s desired placement human.

When Maxime showed up, I had already swept the entire visible area with my eyes more thoroughly than the thoroughest of spring cleanings and was eager to sweep further in as well. Therefore I was delighted when he offered me a tour of the place, almost immediately after we said our hellos.

He seemed to be well practiced in the art of guiding one around the building and so we glid through doors and corridors, right and left, up and down fluidly like a flood from floor to floor. My head was swimming with information rushing in, my eyes jumped from surface to surface taking in every detail available.

Here are the offices and here are is the art studio, and here is a shower room that leads to another office where someone makes speakers out of old suitcases. Behind that door there is a room where somebody is living, probably. There, on the top of that staircase, is a creepy door that probably leads to some topsy-turvy dimension, and across, that is, behind us, is a door that is not particularly memorable, but behind it are some spare, unhinged doors and a kingdom of dust in an attic.

We stayed a while in the attic. There was a mass of old and dusty wooden furniture appendages piled up high, lining a small path. We followed the path while we were being showered with the last glittering light of the day that was slipping through big and small holes in the sloping roof and thus we were lead to a clearing where an old ornate dresser stood, centered and illuminated from a side window as though it was an ancient occult object of narrative importance that would change our lives forever the moment we touched it. I touched it. To my disappointment, there was no orchestral music playing in the background as I inched closer to it and nothing happened. It also seemed mostly empty.

Behind it lay a plain old trunk that delivered the intrigue the dresser did not. It was filled with old school notebooks from the 60s, where an unknown young child had scribbled notes in perfect and unintelligible cursive.

We went on. If left to my own devices I am certain that I would have stayed poking around in that attic until it ate me away and I was nothing but a pile of forgotten dry bones trying to pry open some sealed crate or locked drawer.

There were balconies with beautiful views and a mishmash of empty flowerpots that I imagined would be the perfect locations for drinking a sunset lemonade. Underneath there were bathroom tiled walls that were not belonging to bathrooms, bathrooms without bathroom tiles and a fridge with a busted light that was filled with all sorts of packaged meat for anyone’s taking. Underneath those where the guts of the Backerei, accessible through a steep rusty ladder underneath a hatch and resembling a lot an underground gymnastics mini-studio/ bike tire graveyard.

It was beautiful. And I was disappointed in myself for not exploring it earlier in my volunteership. It flared my imagination up more than the spring here has flared up my allergies.

When I was small I used to sneak into rooms I was not supposed to sneak in and snoop around all the dusty exhibits I was not allowed to be around because my asthma would take the better of me. My love for my grandma’s old pantry or my parents’ house storage room was drenched in tragic irony, and disapproved by the adults dictating my life back then. But being here alone, with my nearest relative miles away and led enthusiastically into this never-ending rabbit hole of unknown wonders, I was filled with immeasurable child-like joy that I had not felt in years.

My visit in the Backerei stroke a very tender cord and I would honestly describe it as one of the most interesting bits of my whole experience here. I can’t wait to visit again.

Foteini Tyrovouzi

A tiny little song

I’d like to share a little song with you, especially for the ESK-volunteers in Tirol. Soon the Corona-restrictions will be loosened 🙂 And then we’ll meet up in natura! Have fun & enjoy 😉

Here are the lyrics:
Ein kleines Lied,
ein klitzekleines Lied,
ein kleines Lied jeden Tag,
ändert dein Leben und es bleibt nichts wie es war,
ändert dein Leben und es ist auf einmal klar.

One little song,
tiny little song,
one little song a day,
changes your lifetime, into a new and brighter day,
changes your lifetime into anew and brigher day.
(by Katharina Bossinger)

D, A, Hm, E, A :// Fism, Hm, G, A ://

Just change “Lied/song” with any other word you like (eg dance, joke, kiss, run,…) and try out what happens 🙂

Lukas, POJAT

Staying with the earth

Since 27 days we practices: „Stay at home, save lives“. The most diffiult thing in this time for me is: not to go into the wood, not to lay on the gras, not to lean on a tree….. I need the nature as much as my friends and my family. Since Tuesday we are allowed to go a little bit farer and so maybe this weekend I could be in the forest!

Meanwhile I appriciate the clean air here in Innsbruck! There are no aroplanes, less cars and so the are is free from CO2 and polushion.

In the last days I often heard: Earth is breathing!

So – every coin has two sides: as bad as this crisis is, it means a breath fort he environment. CO2 emissions are falling, the water is clearer than ever and every day we hear about dolphins and other fish in ports, where normaly only large cruise ships sail.

So for one or two or ten minutes I invite you to stay with the earth and to recognize this changing.

Standing with the earth  „is a call collectively to pause from action, to stand in silence, listen to and connect with the Earth, humbly acknowledging and deeply sensing our interbeing – a starting point for any measure taken to meet the urgent problems of our time.“ https://standing-with-the-earth.com/

I got to know this form of activism two years ago and I am very impresed about this very simple format. „It could be that silently reconnecting with the Earth is the most radical thing we can do.“

The founders want to implement a ritual into the field of political activism and in every day life. So also in times of Corona it is possible to STAY WITH THE EARTH and be activ. This could be a daily or weekle routine.

On 22th of April there will be the annual Earth Day. All over the world people will celebrate our big blue planet and our connection to the earth with diffenent rituals, formats and activities. In time of Corona we can use the format: Staying with the earth.

So I invite you to do so on the 22th of April at 11.50 o’clock. Together we will stay 10 Minutes with the earth to say thank you, to recoginze the changings and „to just stand with this violated planet, acknowledging and feeling her wounds, as well as her healing power, sensing that we are inseparably connected, that we are the Earth.“ I am shure: the earth will answer – so let‘s listen.

Happy Easter – Martina POJAT

Laugh & Meditate

In this special time I feel relieved when I can laugh. Then the tension within me is released. I want to share a great video with you which really made me laugh. In addition I was deeply impressed by this piece of creative art. Thanks to Philipp Klein for this ski video! There you go – enjoy!

Next to laughing this special time gives space to meditate. I found a touching text by Wendell Berry in the compilation “Earth Prayers” which I’d like to share:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild thins
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

Lukas T – POJAT