Building boats in Croatia
On 22 April I took a flight, after being selected for a 52-day short-term volunteering project in Croatia just 2 days ago. Without any expectations, I went to the Island of Brač, where, along with 3 other volunteers - with Clara from Spain and Noè and Louise from Luxembourg - reconstructed wooden boats in the local town of Sumartin.
Our boss, Michael, is an experienced boat builder, doing it all his life while living in the United States. When I found out that he had moved to Croatia only 5 years ago, my worry about the language barrier disappeared. In English it was much easier to learn about building boats than if it had to be done in Croatian language, which I had just begun to learn.
At the beginning of the project, I had a chance to do sightseeing in Zagreb, met other long-term project participants, volunteers from my host organisation Outward Bound Croatia. Gagik and Ethian showed the city and helped me to tune in to the upcoming project. It was very pleasing to see such kind people at the start of the project! Afterwards I went on to the island of Brač, spending 6 hours on the bus, thus getting to know the magnificent nature and coast of Croatia.
First when I arrived, I had a training day at the shipyard, as the rest of the volunteers were already on the island for a month and a half. In the middle of introducing many of the tools and skills I learned over time, I couldn't take my eyes off the great view to the coast, full of fishing boats.
Island of Brač is fascinating because of its peace and the everyday lifestyle of local people. The breeze of tourism in the months of April and May was not yet felt, so we volunteers had the opportunity to authentically get to know local’s lifestyles, culture and get eye-opening conclusions about life and nature! There is a ferry with scheduled rides from Sumartin three times a day, leading from the island to the part of Croatia's land, it was very useful for us when we went to the town of Makarska, where there was a wider choice of food. The island is beautiful indeed, proven by crystal clear water, by the charm of olive trees, by rocky beaches and by buildings built from white limestone. As we approached the end of the project, we also tried fishing with local residents of Sumartin.
This experience provided extensive insight into how to challenge oneself, build teamwork skills and fairly make decisions about future work. Inalienable memories and a wider view of life and the world! A quote I liked of the boat boss Michael, which he said, looking back at what has been achieved so far in his life: “When you meet different people on countless sides of the world, life has extended the perspective of everything, but the inner nature of the person does not change, the truest part of one remains.”
At the end of the project we created an exhibition in which we presented the restored boats, encouraged both children and adults to try the various skills we learned, and encouraged people to learn more about Croatia's cultural heritage - wooden boats. For the exhibition, each volunteer had also prepared a gastronomic treat, people enjoyed a Spanish omelette, Latvian “rasols”, and pastries from Luxembourg recipe’s books. And now other people, by their own initiative, are learning the skills of building boats with Michael.
After saying goodbye to Brač, I went on to help as a volunteer in the organisational part of the week-long Youth Exchange “I care”. I travelled from the Adriatic coast to the middle part of Croatia, where the Outward Bound Croatia building for various projects is located near the village Gospic. Here, youth exchange projects are being implemented, including the surrounding nature, hiking, rock climbing. By introducing participants from 5 different countries, I became aware of how relatable people can be based on their adventures and experiences of life so far. In the evenings, people from Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Latvia and Slovakia discussed important life topics near the campfire, and developed new friendships. The theme of the “I care” project was mental health during the post-pandemic period, so during challenging activities, the participants genuinely shared their feelings, which resulted in growing close with each other during these days.
Personally, the added value to this week's experience was to get to know 5 excellent Latvians who had flown to the Youth Exchange. There were lots of activities in the fresh air, and a few days passed in the kitchen, because my duties included helping to prepare meals. In the first few days I experienced being tongue-tied, because I had forgotten how to speak Latvian with someone in person, not just via the phone!:)
Thanks to this Youth Exchange, some project participants even met their significant other! :)
When I was abroad, I felt like breaking out of Latvia's mindset and realized how much light there is in people and I felt very, very joyful! I recommend this experience to people who are open to exchange their worldviews, to familiarise themselves with other types of culture, nature and people. If we compare my life with a book, this experience in Croatia was the end of an important chapter. I'm ready for what my future holds.
The experience this spring in Croatia, while learning in 11th grade in high school, provided me with an integral understanding of what solidarity and freedom means, and how valuable an opportunity to contribute to change is. I have an insight into how volunteering abroad happens, with a desire to continue to turn my dreams into goals, sometimes in very spontaneous plans, and realise them in life!
Project "Saving what matters: For future generations" is financed by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.
This publication reflects only the viewpoint of the author.