This summer was my fourth which combined volunteering overseas with coordinating in the UK. 

My first project took me to France’s least-populated department, Lozère, where a mere 12,000 people inhabit its regional capital Mende. Our group, led by Rui from Portugal and Hélène from France, also consisted of the other Francophone volunteers Sarah, Marie, Aziz and Mohamadou, Spaniards Diego and Beñat, Rebecca and Luli from Italy, Jo from South Korea, and Alejandra and Jorge from Mexico. 

Our task was to renovate Les Boissets, a complex of old farm buildings, by sanding and then varnishing the doors and shutters. We slept in tents in a neighbouring field. There was also time for canoeing, hiking and vulture-watching, and a walking tour of Sainte-Énimie. We stayed in touch with families by connecting to the local tourist office’s free wifi. The project was in a peaceful, remote and beautiful mountainous area with abundant wildlife; we saw deer and snakes (mercifully away from the tents!) in the wild. It was memorable for me as the only English volunteer not just because of our work and activities in this isolated corner of France, but because of the heroics of the English football team in reaching the semi final of the World Cup.

The second stage of my volunteering was as coordinator of the summer’s final Green Away project in rural Worcestershire. Due to a number of last-minute cancellations I coordinated what I’m assuming to be Concordia’s smallest ever group – consisting of Dana from Germany and me! Our work involved helping to run the final events of the summer at this sustainable tented conference centre, powered largely by solar energy, and then gradually taking down the tents and other equipment, as well as performing day-to-day tasks in order for the centre to function, such as chopping and then lighting the wood both for the stove and for the showers, watering the flowers, cooking, washing-up and cleaning. While I never quite got used to the compost toilets, the role they play in fertilising and in saving water is undeniable. We were part of a much larger group of volunteers from many walks of life, including even a volunteer who is a member of the House of Lords. The leisure activities included a day-trip to Worcester, a quiz night, dancing, cycling, swimming in the nearby river, football, rounders, cards and other games.

One of the best aspects of international volunteering is the variety of projects carried out as well as the range of people participating. Last summer’s projects, which bring my total to twenty-nine, were no different. Having participated in, or coordinated, international volunteer projects for two decades, I would encourage others to do the same. It is one of those times when you can break out of your daily routine, leave your comfort zone, broaden your mind, meet people you might not otherwise meet, and as a result become a better, more knowledgeable, more flexible and more open-minded person.