Bears and shopping lists: volunteers’ adventures in Croatia

Volunteer Joel Ireland with Clair Brown from Everything is Possible in Leeds

The UK National Agency was out and about during the year, carrying out monitoring visits to some of our projects across the country. The European Solidarity Corps team had the opportunity to catch up with two participants, while visiting Everything is Possible, in Leeds.

Joel Ireland, 20 years old (in the photo above, with Clair Brown from Everything is Possible), and Molly Gannon, 18 years old, took part in a wildlife conservation volunteering project at the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary, in Croatia. From releasing a bear into the wild, to understanding shopping lists, they shared some of their adventures and thoughts on volunteering with us.

Beginnings

Moving abroad is always a big step into the unknown. Molly had never travelled on her own, and she was not entirely sure either what kind of career to choose for her future. She found out about the volunteering opportunity during a meeting in her college, and decided to give it a go.

Joel added that despite ‘everything being completely different to what you know’, the project was well organised from the beginning.

‘At the pre-departure training we met others and learned more details about the placement. We also did team building activities’, said Joel.

Work

The wildlife conservation work proved to be both challenging and very rewarding, as well as quite unusual! ‘In the first two weeks, we did construction, repairs, and enrichment for bears’, Joel told us.

For both participants, it was a great opportunity to make a difference and see the tangible effects of their own work. ‘Working and seeing the change was incredible’, said Molly.

‘The highlight of my placement was when we released a bear back into the wild after it had been in the zoo for 40 years’, Molly told us.

Community

Molly told us how much she enjoyed the placement. Going ‘back to basics’ (learning to cook from scratch, cooking on a wood burning stove etc.) really made her appreciate everything more.

A very important part of every placement is also the international group, which quickly becomes volunteers’ second (or first!) family: ‘The one thing I learned from my placement was that being in a team, with the right people around you, makes everything better,’ says Molly. ‘I feel more comfortable talking to different people from all over Europe. Being in a big group was good.’ added Joel.

A ‘thank you’ note to the organisation
A ‘thank you’ note to the organisation

 

The hosting organisation plays an important role here. ‘They want you to experience as much culture as you can, but they don’t force it,’ Molly told us.

For her, the most challenging situation was during their second week in Croatia. The volunteers were tired after working in 35°C heat. Some people were also feeling homesick, so the organisers decided to organise a campfire, which cheered everyone up.

Ivan, the host, was always there to support the group. He really wanted the volunteers to learn about the Croatian culture and language, so he would create shopping lists with them, and would only put items that they said in Croatian onto the list.

Future

Both Molly and Joel loved their experience volunteering in Croatia, and have established what kind of work they would like to do in the future.

‘I got what I wanted from this experience,’ said Joel. ‘I now know for certain that I want to do conservation work. It was an incredible experience, and I would definitely recommend it to others.’

Molly agreed with Joel. ‘I would 100% recommend doing a volunteering placement – I didn’t want to leave!’ Before she went on her volunteering placement, Molly was unsure if she definitely wanted to do a degree in veterinary science, but now she knows that she would like to pursue this, and get more work experience in conservation too. ‘I’m really impressed with myself for having done the placement and travelling on my own. It has increased my confidence, and I feel more comfortable about going to university now. I hope to continue working with wildlife conservation in the future.’

Read more young people’s experiences on the Stories section of our website

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