This is the third article of Tina's experience in her volunteering project in Croatia. The first article of Tina's adventure you can find here.
The vision that brings us together
On the morning of our departure, October 14th, we arrived at Riga’s airport early and waited patiently for our flight. Mixed feeling of enthusiasm and fear prevailed on our team. When we got on the plane to Frankfurt, our transitioning airport in Germany, there was no way back and anything could have happened in two weeks. We knew that no matter what was ahead of us we could always rely on each other! Our team had such a strong spirit of solidarity that, and even before reaching the actual place, we were already helping people around us. We helped a nice old lady to find her gate of departure and fill in an electronic form. It was necessary due to Covid-19 restrictions, before entering the country. I thought to myself I was truly blessed to travel with those open-minded, enthusiastic young people.
You know that you are on the right path when you surround yourself with the right people!
After landing at Zagreb airport in Croatia, our team headed to the bus station. There we planned to get a bus to Gospić later that day. We explored the capital city of Croatia for a few hours. We roller-skated in the park and went to the art gallery. We also walked into the open marketplace with traditional handmade souvenirs, handmade items, paintings, and delicious original snacks. And on the first day in Croatia, we had a chance to speak to Croats who, from my first impression, seemed very straightforward, intelligent, and interesting to talk to.
We reached our destination the same day, where we met with volunteers from Lithuania, Greece, and Poland. Volunteers from Spain and Portugal came the next day. This project gathered together 19 people from five different European countries. The vision that brought all of us together was building a team, developing ourselves through voluntary work, engaging with the local community, and learning through non-formal education in a multicultural environment.
We had three objectives: first, to get involved in the work in Veliki Žitnik and help a local farmer harvesting apples; contribute to natural environment protection, and organize a clean-up in the forest in Veliki Žitnik, considering waste recycling option and its safe disposal. Secondly, to plan and spend four free days independently from the organization, travelling and exploring Croatia. Supporting each other and getting the most of the travelling during the pandemic. Thirdly, to spend five days in Sumartin, get involved in the olive picking, and gain the experience of the extraordinary and unique art of dry-stone wall building, the technique practised in Croatia for thousands of years. We would also get knowledge and understanding of their way of living and culture.
Building a team
On the first day in the home of Outward-Bound Croatia, in Veliki Žitnik, we introduced ourselves to the group and members of the staff. We also took advantage of the gloomy cold and rainy weather to play different funny and educational indoor activities. It was amazing to see our team in action –everyone participating, supporting one another, and each team member offering solutions to resolve difficult challenges! It’s important to say that the games and activities we were practicing indoors or outdoors were responsibly organised and prepared by trained and experienced staff members and according to all the health and safety measurements, using checked and quality equipment and tools.
We continued with the team-building and trust-building activities. They were both fun and educational, and the outcome was always rewarding regardless of who won the game. Many of the team-building exercises, such as Lava flow, Ski race, slacklining, and Jacob’s ladder helped us prepare ourselves to work with each other to meet the goal of benefiting the community. These activities encouraged team support. We learned to be more cautious of our team members' safety. Many of us found Jacob’s ladder physically and emotionally challenging, as it was all about overcoming personal fears, to help and support others.
The trust walk activity was my favourite one because it didn’t require any experience or skills, yet involved communication and building trust. Trust was important in this game as blindfolded participants rely on instructions that they receive to avoid obstacles. It also challenges the team to focus and help each other. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. As a result, we could help each other at different stages. Completing the challenge felt like an achievement for a group of people who never met before.
It feels great to be part of a team!
Especially in times of the world pandemic...
As our days in Veliki Žitnik went on we harvested apples on the farm in Smiljan. Smiljan is a village in the mountainous region of Western Lika in Croatia. It is located 6 km northwest of Gospić, and it’s the birthplace of the inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla. We explorer the village and learned about cultural and traditional heritage, enjoyed our free time hiking in the woods, meditating by the river, introducing ourselves to the locals. Our stay in the home of Outward Bound Croatia was perfect in my mind. And we couldn’t have expected anything bad to happen when on the evening of October 16th one member of the group received a message about possible interaction with a Covid-19 infected. At the time, it meant that he had to follow a procedure of self-isolation, testing, and quarantine in case of a positive test result. These procedures and the Outward Bound Croatia team’s Covid-19 safety measures have helped to put my mind at rest about my safety and those around me.
Fortunately, the test came negative hence we all were thrilled to get back on our volunteering programme schedule. While volunteers waited for the results to come back, the person in isolation remained patient and calm. The whole team and staff members supported him at every step of the process. And we wanted to be there for him all the time, and his wellbeing was our number one priority. I can only imagine how stressful those two days must have been for him. I am thankful to our support organization coordinator in Latvia, who talked to us to figure out if there was anything, she could do to help us stay positive and make appropriate decisions.
I would like to take the opportunity to mention how professional the staff at the Outward Bound have been in dealing with this whole situation. They were all so helpful and understanding in a time of uncertainty, even though it was a sad few days for everyone, they always put us first and provided support night and day.
In the next article I will tell you more about the activities we did there.
Project "The Fruit of Solidarity" is financed by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.
This publication reflects only the viewpoint of the author.