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Our Volunteer-pedia kind of thing

This is my first time in Lviv, Ukraine. This place didn’t ask me about my nationality or my background; in fact, it asked me nothing. It just stood there and let me explore both: itself and my new self. It did the same with 26 volunteers from different countries.

Still, I felt confident to come. When I came to Ukraine, the first thing for me was that here I am almost completely illiterate. I cannot read the signs. I can’t even know which road I am on. But I know “Apoteka”. Guess why? It has a green cross on the sign; it’s a give-away. I could write a lot about the hustle and bustle of people. I could write a lot about every breath of air, every wind is blowing; every person that smiles or stares back at me instead of words. This “everything” has a Slavic melancholy or pride, as well as it could be just the end of autumn taste.

From “I” to “us”

Ten kilometers from Lviv, in the quiet village of Bryuhovychy, where the ground is covered in autumn leaves and the air is filled with wood-burning smoke, twenty-six like-minded individuals came together for the ´´Volunteer-pedia´´ training. Set in Hotel Valentina, a beautiful and spacious building, which was to become our home for nine days, between the 3rd-11th November 2012, the participants discussed a range of topics about volunteering. Coming from all over Europe, including Armenia, Belgium, Catalunya, Germany, Romania, Serbia, United Kingdom and Ukraine, the group had a jam-packed schedule full of interesting workshops and fun activities.

Metamorphosis

There we were, we build up a training together, we redefine the simplicity in life, volunteering. If this training was an animal, it would be a snake that can get everywhere, to all places. Snake with good poison. We built training while tasting different views, people, and countries. We also tasted food. Lots of it! The Ukrainian diet consists largely of fried foods.  It’s tasty but, yeah, heavy. We do not go hungry here. Cabbage is more than a vegetable in here! It is a Queen and that makes us, from now and then, a group of crazy rabbits from all over the world.
One ordinary evening when the rabbits were walking in the streets of the village, they saw the Cabbage Queen about whom they’ve heard a lot, but never seen. All of them fell in love with her at once as this Cabbage queen was well-known all over the world, she was respected, loved, worshipped.
In order to please the Queen and to get her attention and impression, the rabbits decided to have a party dedicated to their highness, so it was clearly seen that they really feel towards her.  Next, they created their typical dance called “Penguin dance” which after that evening became the national dance of the rabbits. The Queen was soooo Impressed! This was one of the best evening rabbits had during the seminars.

A jump in the city

Tic-tac….time changes again bringing another day and with it a new journey, this time in the medieval city of Lviv. For once the normally noisy group stands silently and listens, some are shivering due to the cold wind that blows through the wintery Lviv. All eyes are on the tour guide with thick black moustache and a warm looking leather jacket, holding a plastic bag in his hand. We are gathered in front of the theatre, the most beautiful one in Europe, adds the tour guide proudly. This grayish afternoon in Lviv city centre brings both excitement and a well-deserved change in the schedule. We stop at an old church; we take pictures at a charming court yard and in front of the gas lamp museum with the statue of the inventor of lamps.  We learn about Polish and Russian kings and the hill of the castle, without a castle.  It is cold. More than when we first stood in front of the city theatre. People are jumping around or standing very close to each other to stay warm in the chilly weather.

Tour ends, we have free time to wonder about the city until the clock brings dinner time out to our reality. Dinner is in a secret restaurant. We need to learn a password to get in. People are whispering “Slave Ukraine” over and over again to each other in the queue to make sure to remember it correctly when the scary looking door man with a fake gun asks it.  “Slava Ukrein!”, a shot of Ukraininan spirit and we are in. Mix of happy chatting and laughter comes from the basement of the restaurant where we sit, all around a long table. Several different plates of Ukrainian food and one meter of beer are shared.

For two hours everything else disappeared, including the temperature outside. This is why we dared! We walked up a big hill in the dark, joking and singing on the way.  The view from the top of the fully lit Lviv is amazing, no matter if you are a group of “volunteerabits” or a romantic local couple.

The inside of our Ukrainian home

We get on a move once more. Through catacombs of the hotel Valentyna. Searching for workers at our home-hotel. So, the corridor leads us to the kitchen where we 1st met a very–very pleasant woman with sharp and long knife. To the question who we are and where we are from the answer was very surprising. It was surprising because the group of volunteers is working in the hotel almost a week and she got to know about it only when the training came to its end. As far as the lady is one of the cookers we asked her about our menu “Our cabbage is very fresh, tasty, boiled and cooked, sweet and sour, salty and powerful.“

 At the next corner we met a “fajnu” (cool) girl from a “fajne” place in vyshyvanka (Ukrainian national blouse) who told us a lot of interesting things about the unique taste, likes in food of each personality and even guessed the aim of our event. The following person on our LIST is in the restaurant. He works here as a waiter. He is Pavlo. For him, our meals in their restaurant were a good opportunity to practice his English and to take a journey around the world, while serving food to different nations. “It brought to my everyday life more color and excitement”, Pavlo smiles from behind a plate.

Moving forward the slums of the hotel we found ourselves at the reception where we were always pleased to be seen during these 7 days. Asking for the key was “one of our daily routines.” To the question if we made any troubles during this time the answer was short and clear “No problem guys!”. The answer was also a smile. A big one!

We also turned to the cleaning managers on our tour of the hotel. She said that we were quite neat and to socks on the lamp or other weird things she didn’t detect. And for the most hard question “What’s the most popular food in this hotel?” the answer was simple: “Cabbage”.

Our (voluntary) work

For the seminar itself, we had study sessions and workshops every day. Moving from the history of volunteering, to the online volunteering platforms, taking breaks into intercultural learning and speaking peacefully, we learned, being a team,  how to be leaders, but most important how to act according to what we are- humans. We were having personal identities, names, experiences, stories, laughs, sad eyes, inspiration, Goosebumps, we were caring years of experience throughout a week in Ukraine. We kept secrets in order to better reveal ourselves. We gave feedback and made plans. We wrote. Erased. And wrote again.

What is volunteering for a group of volunteers after a week of Volunteer-pedia?

Volunteering is about passion, vision, empowering people to do what they want. Volunteer-pedia aims to get people in touch with this passion, sharing different experiences, get a common sense of what volunteering is. The hope is to produce material of what volunteering is to different people.

An air of ease and openness envelops us. At Volunteer-pedia though, we are all active for common reasons, sent from organizations with similar beliefs. As non-violence is a core value of Service Civil International Organization (SCI), Volunteer-pedia was enthusiastic about the openness of everyone to engage in this topic.

And the schedule makes its final announcement: it is time to get on the road again. With one more backpack. We become once again 26 souls on the search…of everything. We leave Volunteer-pedia now, taking with us new (secret) friends and continuing doing our volunteering. Yeah, we’ll keep volunteering to death. Unless world peace is achieved in the next couple of years, you might hear about us again….

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Participants at Volunteer-pedia

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