Some say best ideas come up randomly, not on formal environments when you are fervently seeking for brilliant concepts, but more often from simple chit-chats, or in a tea break. Most of them are lost in the wind, but some notions do come to take life, and it feels genuinely good when that happens.
It was a similar case with the work camp in Tytuvėnai that took place on 3-7th of August, or “Vietnam Camp”, as the participants named it. My colleague volunteer and I were having a chat in June, and he was a bit displeased that there are few people of our age in Tytuvėnai, that our friends volunteers don’t visit us more often, and he was about to go in a work camp in other Park. Then it occurred to me: “Lets make a work camp here as well.” “Here?!…”
Little by little, the idea caught life, we had the concept, but not the means to achieve it or the main goal. We spoke with our Lithuanian colleagues in the Park who were very supportive, and fond of the camp idea. Our colleagues told us they have a serious issue with the reeds that are covering the main beaches of Gilius and Bridvisas lakes, the main attractions in summertime in Tytuvėnai. There where some attempts to cut the reeds, people gathered even in wintertime when the lakes were frozen and cut some of them at the surface, but to no avail.
The Director of the Park showed me which are the key points where the reeds should be cut, and I was told we should cut them bellow the surface of water, so that the plants would be drowned and not grow even healthier.
I was a bit reluctant at first, because my main target was to get involved in a nature-related project, not to destroy plants that were growing naturally. However, my supervisor made me understand better the concept. The abundance of the reeds is the result of chemical fertilizers put on the crops nearby, and the tendency of the lakes is to become swampy, as it happened before in one case.
Therefore, the objective is not to interfere in the natural process of plants growing, but to adjust an artificial growing, according to the natural needs. The project of the camp was included in a bigger one, “Lakes for Future”, which implies the cooperation between Lithuania and Latvia in order to prevent eutrophication of the lakes.
Prior to camp, we made an experiment to see how it goes with cutting the reeds, and we realized that it would be a though job because it involves some physical condition, and staying in the water for more hours. We bought few pairs of rubber slippers for walking in the water, gloves, some special tools, curved, like hooks, that I call “yatagan”, due to the shape. The name was catchy and we went even further, with “D’Artagnan”. We considered some people should cut the reeds, while others can collect them from the water and bring them on the shore, and then, exchange the roles.
We figured we need about 5-10 people, but in the end, we had 15 guests. Some of them were friends that I spoke to, others acquaintances, or people that I see for the first time. I made the poster and the schedule of the camp, made public announcements on the Facebook group for EVS volunteers in Lithuania, and I was in charge with the list of guests.
The poster was also shared by my mentor on the public FB page of Tytuvėnai Regional Park, and I also spoke with the Director of the Summer Festival in Tytuvėnai, and told her about the camp. We had great help from 3 local high school girls. In exchange, we shared them our EVS experience, volunteering in general, encourage them as well to do an EVS project, we answered their questions and we brought further clarifications. The general atmosphere was cosy, informal, we managed to integrate them in our group for the short-time period they participated.
The word traveled far, since a television from Šiauliai honored my mentors’ invitation, and came one of the to interview us. From my side, the short interview went very bad, but that is another story.
Due to reasons independent of their will, some volunteers came a bit later, or had to leave earlier. It was quite challenging to manage 15 -18 different people, the work, and the schedule, but I enjoyed it, nonetheless. My volunteer colleague was in charge with logistical aspects: firing up the oven for warm shower, kitchen, providing necessary cutlery for the whole group, shopping list, managing the kitchen teams.
I made a detailed description of the project, and about the resources we need, therefore we received financial help from the Park, from the mayor, and from the coordinating organization,
DEINETA. In this way, we had half of the food for 17 people, covered. For the rest, we chipped-in. The food was delicious, varied, plenty, and the gods of thunder loved us in those days, because the weather was amazing. We ate outside, we watched the sky, and the falling stars until past midnight, and we were able to properly fulfill our tasks.
Accommodation was in our working center, and as one volunteer remarked, it provided everything: kitchen, showers, big space, holy internet. However, I was aware that the job would be challenging, therefore, I wanted to repay somehow the volunteers. My colleagues and I established that given the circumstances and the work itself, the working program will be from 10 to 16, one hour lunch break, and 2 small tea/snack/raspberry brakes in between. After working schedule, every day had a fun, thematic activity, active relaxation.
My objective was to find the perfect balance between job well done, and people feeling great, I aimed for a win-win situation. The positive feedback from the participants gave me great joy, the more so I was told I combined those two aspects perfectly.
The first day we took bicycles form the pilgrim center to explore the area. I lead the volunteers throughout Tytuvėnai on the main bike route, to the Watchtower, deep in the forest, and our little excursion was estimated at about 30 km. In exchange for the little gift from the pilgrim center, I had the task to go the following week to take photos of the monastery, so it couldn’t turned up better for me.
The second day, after the working schedule, was dedicated for waters sports. We used stand-up paddle boarding, and played Volleyball on the shore, while waiting for our turn. I received a good lesson for using the SUP longer than my guests’ expectation. Two volunteers swam half of the lake and stole my SUP as veritable pirates, so I had to swim back. Good lesson, good laugh, good workout.
The third day we had a Volleyball Tournament against Director and local community, friends of Director. Each team had 5 players, the game was intense, beautiful, and there were some memorable sequences. The more we played, the more we became a team. Nevertheless, the defeat was like a cold shower, but we quickly recovered jumping from the trampoline in the lake. We took a swim until the sky turned dark. At night we made campfires, and at one point, we saw the reflection of the fire projected on the sky. Watching red moon rising and counting Perseids was magical.
Since we had a lot of diverse, physical activity, and I wanted for the guests to understand better this place, we saw also the symbol of Tytuvėnai, the one engraved on the emblem of the Regional Park: the monastery. To our delight, the guide of the monastery let us to freely explore it, and maybe we overdid it, since we discovered even the hidden chocolate candies in the confessional. We didn’t eat them.
The second part of the last day we just lied on the grass, listening the silence, until we started with inside jokes, and catchphrases from the camp. Some of the guys were about to leave soon in their home countries, so the funny moments when we laughed few minutes in a row were also littered with a bit of nostalgia, and with the unspoken, perhaps unanimous feeling that probably those were the best days which won’t come back not even in different forms, after the project would be ended.
This is my perspective towards the camp, please see bellow some testimonials from the participants:
Alexander Schneider (Germany): “Simply amazing.” Ivon Brandão (Portugal): “Awesome days… awesome people”
Carlos Martínez (Spain): “The camp gave us all what we needed to feel perfect.”
Jordi Tortosa (Spain): “An unforgettable experience”
Sélanie Chauvet (France): “The summer camp was really nice, I spent really good time! Good organisation!“
Margarita Mankevičiūtė (Lithuania, local girl who helped us): “It was really nice to talk with such interesting and friendly people from foreign countries. Also, I had an opportunity to help volunteers to clean our lakes, which is nice because it is very important to take care of nature. I would definitely participate in a camp like next year.”
Milko Grozev (Bulgaria): “These EVS camps are a very good combination of achieving the goal that we gathered for, while interacting in a multicultural micro group, managing together with the tasks and the leisure time. The perfect combination of having a good time while working for a good goal and diversifying the everyday life at your work, a chance to try something new and experience a work in a different environment with new people. And so on and so on. It was very good. Thank YOU! “
Agnė Buchaitė, our mentor (Lithuania): “We are very happy about everything: the idea itself and how our volunteers took the lead and planned everything; about that week (our directorate, our little town had some action and new, interesting, nice people around); about the outcome – we see that the places where volunteers worked seem to look better now, many reeds were cut and removed from lakes. It was great to see many different young people from different countries working so nicely together, that was a great example to local people either. We are thankful to all participants.”
Alexandr Agafonov, my colleague, the other camp leader (Russian Federation): “The summer camp, which we organized in Tytuvėnai regional park, for our EVS friends – was one of the most remarkable events during my volunteer project in Lithuania. Though at the beginning me and Simina were very skeptic on points like weather, tasks, activities and general fact that here, in Tytuvėnai, we were not so often visited by our friends and loads of organizational moments- we slowly but persistently moved to the moment when all the idea will come true.
Actually, I didn’t expect that we will face with situation when we will have to say to next participant : “sorry, but the whole pace is full, we can’t host more people”. And I didn’t expect sun, +30 degrees during the whole week of the camp. But it all happen. We were happy. Everyone.
Of course, when you work as a camp leader and in charge for your own field of responsibilities, you get somewhat stressed. Our friends were keep telling me and Simina to relax a bit and spend more time with them, but not with our duties. Don’ t take me wrong, I have to admit that we did our job very good. Main reward: that our friends were glad and happy.
For me- it was one of the best groups I led during all my 13 month camp leading experience in Germany. Maybe because we knew each other well and, all in all, camp was like a big volunteer meeting on weekend, but lasted 5 days, maybe because everyone helped each other, and at the same time knew how to relax and not to bother and annoy other people, maybe because it was summer, real summer days in perfect nature around Tytuvėnai and also stars came together (actually, kept falling from the skies few evenings in raw) and maybe in general atmosphere and sense of summer camp- when even big office building turns into cozy house for all of us. I don’t know. Guess- everything together.
And I (and most of participants) keep on thinking, how great will it be to hold such an event in our directorate again!”
Please see the link with the article of Šiauliai television: http://etaplius.lt/spalvinga-internacionalinesavanoriu-grupe-tvarke-tytuvenu-regionini-parka/
This work camp was organized by volunteers from Erasmus + program.