HOW TO BE A LEADER OF VOLUNTEERS
5 HAZARDS NEW CAMP LEADERS SHOULD HANDLE ON A WORK-CAMP.
In early August morning, 2015 I was standing on the platform of Mukachevo station, Transcarpathia, trying to find a group of people. They were meant to look lost and foreign — like on any first day of any volunteer exchange. Instead I saw a militia man, a beggar and a witness of an fruit-fly cult — woman selling yesterday’s sweets.
HAZARD 1 Losing People, Things and Coordination
I started suspecting that the job of a team leader was harder than I had anticipated. Previous evening I’d been contacted by a panicking French volunteer who’d lost his luggage and was now surrounded by an equally panicking crowd of Boryspil International Airport employees. They demanded the exact address of St. Miklosh Castle. Conducting a thorough google investigation, I was wondering, whether castles had street names in the times of count Dracula.
In the morning I started another hunt — for volunteers. The inconvenient truth is that volunteers are not slaves to your will or your timetable. Some had come early and went off sightseeing. Some had reached Ukrainian border to realize they’d left their passport at home. Others were unable to find train connection, and so on. When the group was almost gathered, I went to talk to the taxi driver and turned around to find one person missing. He went to buy coffee to the station buffet. It took another 10 minutes to assemble human puzzle again.
On the bus to the castle another problem showed its ugly face — cultural diversity.
HAZARD 2. Becoming a Free Translator
The bus was being filled with people up the the roof. As we sat at the station, one of my volunteers put his rucksack of precious books on a seat next to him. When two very active women returning to their spa resort squeezed in the back door, they started mocking the rucksack owner. He had no knowledge of mid-Ukrainian accent or mid-Ukrainian norms of behavior, and continued to sit smiling. Women didn’t look cheerful and I decided to let some things stay untranslated.
But the job of an interpreter was following me till the end. I had to always make sure that my team members understood the task, that the ground from the cellars where we did archaeological digging, ended up in a specific place, that somebody held the handle of the well right, that we didn’t (or did) throw rubbish to the neighbours’ side.
Last day of the camp was arranged as the “initiation to archaeologists”. Our kind host, the owner of the castle Joseph Bartosh made an elaborate speech in Transcarpathian dialect. I started translating though didn’t get some words myself. But then Mr. Bartosh gave an intricate citation from the Bible. As everyone’s intrigued looks shifted from Bartosh to me, I thought that being an atheist can put you in an awkward position every once in a while. So I said something ridiculously irrelevant and smiled.
HAZARD 3. Becoming A Dictator
With money comes responsibility. I was very happy to give all the cash to my fellow camp-leader, but strategic division of food remained an issue. With exchange rates and general raise of prices in Ukraine we had a constant paranoia of not having enough food funding for the last days.
Each meal was cooked by a team of two. Me and my fellow-camp leader had to go to the shop with the team and make sure they didn’t buy caviar. By second week though it became obvious that now we had too much money. The news spread fast. When we gave twice the usual amount to our polish participant he was so astonished that he went and bought 8 liters of yogurt for seven people. The less money there was left, the easier it got for us to breathe, and by the end I became almost a normal human again.
HAZARD 4. Planning Too Much. Or Not?
Two days before the project my fellow camp leader wrote me that it might get unbearably boring in the village. I had so many projects where one had nothing to do with their free time, that I immediately agreed to make a strategic plan of not letting a single sigh of boredom reach our camp. And so we planned. Way too much. We went to the waterfalls. And another waterfalls. To a castle, and another castle, and ruins of yet another castle. And to the lake. And yet to one more lake. Besides, the castle itself turned out to be a venue of numerous concerts, and evenings were fully packed.
After a week of this kind of schedule I felt exhausted, and still had a bit of paranoid thought that my volunteers weren’t happy, and probably even didn’t like me, the goddess of their free time. Saturday evening after three days of excursions I ended up filled with blueberry wine, crying and watching stars fall (meteor shower). Next morning we woke up into a nightmare of another bus tour, planned by me and my fellow leader’s evil masterminds. I pretended to be terminally ill and stayed. A cowardly gesture, but it was the best day of the whole camp. Slow and relaxed I walked to the forest, ate an ice-cream, met a white horse and smiled to every passer-by.
HAZARD 5. Becoming an Animator — You Versus Fun
Every camp-leader’s bible (we all have one) is filled with energizers — small games to make volunteers closer to each other. Reality proved: energizers don’t work for everyone. After the first getting-to-know game Tadeusz looked me sternly in the face and said that “us volunteers” would not participate in such “communist” activities as energizers. It broke my spirits, and destroyed any scratch of SCI corporate ethics.
But after some time we found natural sources of fun, personal memes, such as riding wheel-barrows and playing hide-and-seek in the castle after sunset. We rode horses and had initiation party for archaeologists. On the last day a local girl made us henna tattoos of wheelbarrows, castles and star-showers.
All hazards and mistakes were worth the end result. As a camp leader I had a sharper realization of the work our team did and the fun we learnt to have. I saw things through the magnifying glass of responsibility, and appreciate the experience.
(More on volunteering: https://www.facebook.com/svit.ukraine/?fref=ts )