I arrived in Germany at the end of January to participate in an environmental project not far from Berlin. The main idea was to experience alternative and more sustainable agricultural techniques on a small scale; build an edible forest garden, a Hugelkultur system, a forest garden greenhouse, plant ancient and rare seeds, make and employ natural fertilizers in our veggie garden. On paper a truly awesome project.
I was looking for an active learning environment, a sharing community, some time to connect with nature and learn from it, and had to face what I will call a business-driven environment where instead, a community should have been created. If you share some of the issues I'm about to present, please discuss them with your mentor and representatives from the National Agency. Try to find a solution instead of terminating your project.
The two main issues were communication and participation. The second one was for me the most disappointing aspect. As my first long-term volunteering experience, I was expecting to take an active part in my hosts' project work with them and not for them, having the opportunity to provide and improve my skills within the project's goals. As it turned out, they had no time to take an active part in their own project as they were busy with their actual work. It was for them a weekend hobby, disguised as a highly engaging volunteering program. I've seen a lot of good talking but no acting, a behavior that I despise and contradicts the values they pretend to represent. I still haven't figured out the reasons for their behavior but I suspect they ignore or, fail to understand, the values that should fuel a volunteering experience: the willingness to put yourself, with your strengths and weaknesses, be available for those in need. What we felt is that we were working on their own selfish goals.
We were provided with five platforms for communicating and organizing work, and somehow we failed to have a healthy and daily exchange. Face-to-face interaction occurred rarely preferred over the more time-efficient online communication. This translated into entire weeks in which we didn't manage to see them, not a brief stop at the garden to see how the work was going or to give us instructions. The weekly meeting took place more and more rarely, once we even received a letter from them. I forgot to mention, we lived ten meters away from each other.
I felt exploited, I felt deceived, but I admit my mistake of not recognizing the alarm bells which lead to this stressful situation.
If your experience is somehow similar, talk with your hosts and mentors. If you have developed a feeling of discomfort or you feel underestimated contact your sending organization or the representatives of the National Agency. Their support and guidance have been truly helpful throughout the whole process.