The month-long team volunteering project, Project Friendship, has just come to an end. In the project, a team of 12 volunteers from Europe and neighboring countries planned and lead functional workshops about friendship and interaction skills at local schools. In all, they visited 8 schools and held 31 workshops for 594 students. Before the volunteers set off for home, I sat down with them to hear more about the experience and the feelings have about their time in Finland and at Elba.
“The end feels bittersweet; amazing but also sad.”
Our conversation took place the day after the last workshop when the residual feelings of the last days were still fresh. They told me about the warm and welcoming feelings they felt throughout the days with the children and how they learned so much from their interactions. For example, “[f]innish kids can be politely aggressive. They can be fully and aggressively into the game and go back to be friends straight afterwards” and this practice is something they wish to see more in their home countries.
They said that their memories from the last workshop will be long lasting. When they went to leave the school, “the kids hugged us and chased after us. When we drove by the window, they were still smiling and waving at us.” The group shared that they wished there was more time and could easily have done another month of workshops. As clarification, one volunteer added that if the project was two months instead, they would have wished for three. Despite their full schedule, they always ended the day with the feeling that it was too short, and this was because of how much they enjoyed the time in the schools.
In some ways, though, this is not the end. Many of the volunteers are also involved in work the children and youth in their home countries and plan to bring back the methods and practices they developed while here. They also learned more about the Finnish school system and the practices used and think that there are elements that they would like to see at home. A few mentioned planning a Friendship 2.0 project and inviting the others to participate. During their time here, they formed a team that will continue forward.
“Volunteering is not only an opportunity for the others but also yourself.”
We also talked for a long time about the growth they have experienced in such a short time. One volunteer mentioned that they had worked as a mentor for international volunteers at their sending organization. There he saw the impact that short-term volunteering can have and it was a driving force in him applying for the project. When asked if their experience lived up to their expectation, it was astoundingly yes. In their words, “I left barely a Charmander and now I’m already a Charizard”. When asked what specific ways that they felt that they improved, the group listed self-care, responsibility, time management, confidence, and cultural and linguistic growth.
One volunteer offered up a way of thinking and a practice that they learned from Finland and Elba and that is to be closer with natural. “People ask permission from nature to be” and it feels more natural and sustainable. Others found elements of Elba’s sustainability and routines, such as learning how to recycle properly and laundry schedules, challenging at first, but saw the benefits after they got used to them. Finnish meals times were a bit harder to understand.
Others mentioned the more concrete benefits from their experience. Volunteering and the youth pass you gain from it will boost their CV and open more doors in the future. There is sometimes a perception that international volunteering is a break from your life but that is not the case. It can be a step forward towards your goals.
“In a new environment with new people, you can decide who you want to be outside of what others want for you.”
I also asked how they would sum up their experience in a sentence. More than a few found this difficult; some because it was challenging to get every feeling in a few worlds, others because they felt that summing it up would mean that it’s over. The overall sentiment was that it was the best experience they have had in their life so far and that they encourage everyone to join a project while they still could. Also, for anyone thinking to come to Villa Elba, make sure you come in the winter!
Writer: Ashten Gray,
social services student at Diaconia University of Applied sciences
and intern at Villa Elba