Once you start thinking about the possibility of participating in an EVS project the questions start piling up: What should an EVS experience look like, What should I expect, Which project should I choose? Well, I think that the starting point for any potential EVS participant should be a seemingly clishe’, yet very true advice: Get out of your comfort zone.
In this spirit I have left my city to arrive in Italy, in the national park Apennino Tosco-Emiliano where the Hostel of fun, that is-Ostello dei balocchi, is situated. The first thing that struck me was the beauty of the place. The hostel is surrounded by mountains, isolated, yet full of life. Everybody was saying Hi! to me on the street, which is quite different from what I am used to. I had a chance to chat a little bit with people in a local bar, get to know my new neighbors and the place where I will be spending the next five months. Team of the Ostello dei balocchi welcomed me with smiles and tigelle, a type of bread traditional for these parts.
In the beginning I was a little bit lost. Used to the routine of the city life and office job I struggled to find a rhythm and the best way to contribute the project. The concept of summer camps where the children have the opportunity to have fun, learn about the environment and develop the empathy for the world that surrounds us is what attracted me to the project in the first place. After the initial cultural shock had passed, I found myself enjoying the non-formal and relaxed atmosphere of the hostel. It is not easy living with 20 children in the same house. There are no working hours, you must be available and dedicated to them 24 hours a day. Perhaps the most vital role is not the role of an educator but promotion of lifelong learning and cultural exchange by your own example.
Seeing as the hostel keeps the donkeys, animals traditionally kept in this zone of Italy, I found myself confused in front of these beautiful creatures. I quickly learned their names, but it took me time to get to know their personalities…and as it turned out every one of them is particular and unique.
I grew anxious as the third summer camp for children at the Ostello dei balocchi was about to start. To make a journey of 8 days from the national park Apennino Tosco-Emiliano to the see with 23 children and 5 donkeys, seemed to me like a science fiction. But when we were finally on the move, I realized how beautiful and ingenious this trekking was planned. It is more of an emotional experience than anything else. Climbing and going across the ridge, finding yourself in Tuscany, with its landscape and style of life different from the ones in the mountains…bonding with the donkeys, learning how to understand them and seeing how easily and naturally the children interact with them is priceless. And then finally, after 8 days of trekking, we were at the beach, enjoying our little achievement, swimming, singing and having fun.
Step by step, thanks to the warmness of the people who live in Ligonchio, and their effort for me to get to know their traditions and history, helped me find my place in this project and immerse myself in the life of the community.