Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Eleanor’s story. The RoadTrip diary, part 8

Laaabas! My name is Eleanor and I am a hippie bus. This summer, I was chosen to be THE one, which will get this unique opportunity of carrying 6 strangers around Lithuania. Nice and easy job, you’d think? Well, not exactly. 

So, you would like to know how was it? To tell you the truth, after those 4 weeks I cannot recall all what I’ve experienced during this journey. But I’ll tell you what, for them I might have seemed quite and dumb all the time, but in fact – I heard, saw and felt EVERYTHING. All their conversations, all their thoughts, all their emotions. So you think you have watched all the photos and videos, read all the articles and now you know what REALLY happened during the project? Shhh… my child, you know nothing. Since this is the last piece of the RoadTrip diary, let me share with you some pieces of their personal stories. Because I’m Eleanor and I know things.

The one where wild Mediterranean appears

So Lithuania is very different from my country. Example no. 1: it’s not raining that much. But it’s OK, I was a scout once so I know how to survive in extreme situations. But the thing I really cannot understand about this country, is freezing water in the sea. Seeing Baltic Sea for the first time in my life, when we visited Palanga, was a remarkable experience. And the sand was not burning my feet! Other beautiful things to discover were the dunes in Nida – just like a desert, but a cold and windy one.

Cool weather conditions recompensed with warm atmosphere of music, which surrounded us all the time. When we visited the absolutely unique Vinetu Village, I felt like in heaven. In the evening we all sat in the biggest tepee, with bonfire inside, and the owner of the camp gave us Indian instruments to play with. It was just like a jam session! The next time when I felt like this happened in Šilutėsin a Culture Centre. We heard live traditional Lithuanian music, played by a professional musician. Plus, we were treated in a typical, extremely hospitable Lithuanian way – with food and drinks. Apart from all this, I still sometimes felt nostalgic for my country. But guess what? A little part of Italy appeared unexpectedly, when we were staying in a beautiful place called Sodyba "Eve“. In one of the bathrooms we found a bidet! Some of my teammates have seen it for the first time. I couldn’t believe that – how can you live without it...?

The one from the Hunger Games

Today I saw a cat. It was SO CUTE; little and black and it was running away from me but I didn’t care – I love you, cat. I could play and feed him all day long, but we had to move for another adventure. Those Hunger Games are killing me. OK, I was trained for this at school, so I could manage perfectly with shooting arrows and extreme camping, but come on – walking in swamps? When we visited Šilalė, the amazing young people from Youth Centre ‘Pulsas’ took us for a trip in the forest, where we took a challenging stroll in the mud. And because I’m quite tiny, I thought I’m gonna stay there forever. Luckily, my friends helped me survive those sticky moments. The expedition continued: they made us climb the trees in the Adventure Park and, when we were in Tauru Parkas, we had to sleep on the trees, too! So as you see, I’m becoming a true ninja here.

Although, I must say that I’m experiencing some brief times of joy. It’s always a relief not having to run and fight for my life every time I cross the street; the drivers are so polite in Lithuania. In my country (funny fact: it consists of 7107 islands!) it’s really different. Apart from that, one of my biggest dreams came true. When we were in Palanga, the city which I liked the most, we had a chance to try ourselves in the roles of the radio stars. We participated in the radio audition in radio LRT, and it was absolutely unforgettable! The best part though happened in Kaunas, where in BlueOrange bar I took part in the Xbox competition – and I won! I even got a delicious award – can I keep it?

The one with maternal instinct

I really didn’t realize what I’m putting myself into, when, at the beginning of the trip, I said to the interns ‘don’t worry guys, I will take care of you!’ They really took it seriously. They started to call me their ‘mamma’ (and because I speak the language, they tried to translate it to Spanish. But guys, ‘mamasita’ doesn’t particularly mean ‘mother’!). Anyway, every day I heard the same set of questions, with ‘where are we eating today?’ and ‘is there wifi?’ as the most common ones. Luckily for them I am the best mom in the world and we had a chance to eat in some really nice places, as for example Bulvinukė in Palanga. And when we were staying in a Honey Valley campsite I was kindly offering them delicious cookies all the time.

Still, there were some advantages of being a Lithuanian mother for a bunch of strangers from foreign countries. I discovered that I can raise them all the way I want it and so I made them learn Lithuanian language all the time. It was perfect, because at some point I was really tired of translating everything for them. I figured – why not make them believe that speaking Lithuanian is easy? My best student was Kamia, who learnt to introduce herself fluently in my language, but what’s better – I even trained her to order food in the restaurant by herself – all in Lithuanian! There were also some other nice moments, where I could transfer all my maternal love to animals, too. Just to mention amazing animal shelter or a winter garden, where I could touch a cute little bird – a dream come true!


Because you see, it’s not like something starts and then ends. It just starts... and goes around – but never stays the same. And so they just went each other’s ways in every direction possible, but they surely didn’t go the same way they came from. They took off for other adventures, much richer with what they've experienced, survived, seen, heard and been through. At some point they all put their backpacks on their backs for the last time on this trip. Was the luggage lighter or they’ve just got used to constant carrying all their belongings with them? It was filled with memories counted in every measure - hours of long conversations, decibels of loud laughter, miles of walks, liters of rain and kilograms of eaten potatoes.

Damn son, it was a hell of a ride. And as challenging it was, for sure it made me happy too. Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce you one more time to my children, who I carried through this crazy Roadtrip. 6 strangers - the most random family on earth.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Another brick in the wall. The RoadTrip diary, part 7

Big green field, clear blue sky and a huge white bunker, outstanding from the ground. 6 strangers passed the iron gate and started their next journey. The history, hiding in the bunker’s walls, was waiting for them to discover. With 6 different approaches of life and traditions, they started their appointment with the Cold War times.

Šaltojo karo muziejus Žemaitijos nacionaliniame parke, situated near Plokščiai  village, is a Cold War museum, opened in 2012. It was built basing on the remaining of Plokštinė missile base - the first nuclear missile base of the Soviet Union. We visited this place while we were staying in Plungė and it surely made a big impression on every member of our team. But what exactly do we think about it? How 6 different people from 6 different countries all over the world, with totally various cultural approaches and lifestyle, could consider something which happened before they were even born, in some cases in a totally faraway place on earth…?

Li, China:
It was very surprising to see there some Chinese posters, which were mostly shown in my textbook of history at high school. In the period of 1960-1968, China and Soviet Union, which used to be best friends in the Socialism group since 2nd World War, turned their back to each other. In my parents' childhood they were educated that Soviet Union was the enemy of our country, just like the USA.

Karolina, Poland

Of course we study those things at school; theoretically we know a lot of cold facts about the Cold War. But when you actually go there and see all those big machines, real weapons, military outfits, videos about the explosions and propaganda posters, all of the photos you saw in book start to become live again in your mind. Poland and Lithuania have very similar history concerning those times so for me it was like watching my own country’s history. 

Roger, Mexico

Even though Mexico was indifferent during Cold War, Cuba played an important role between USSR and USA and made a huge impact in Latin America, but luckily didn’t evolve in other world war. The Cold War Museum showed me the raw and sad reality of this situation.

Caterina, Italy

This whole situation with the Cold War was actually really close to Italy. If something would have happened, we would be the field of the battle between USA and Russia – geographically we are kind of in the middle. So it is really scary to even think about it, also because it was not that long time ago.

José, Portugal

The Cold War Museum was for me a similar experience like with a House of Terror in Budapest or with Auschwitz. It was a confirmation that everything that I’ve seen in the movies and everything I’ve been told and everything that I’ve been reading actually exists and it’s not just the story that has been imagined. The Cold War times didn’t concern Portugal at all, but we study it at school, so this is something everybody knows about.

Kamia,The Philippines

It was a very interesting experience because we have never ever discussed the Cold War at school. The only reason why I’m aware about it comes from personal research. Being there was very informative for me and when I was walking through the halls, I could hear my feet doing the sound on the metal floors. I could just imagine all these people walking through there at those times… That’s insane!

Big green field, clear blue sky and a huge white bunker, outstanding from the ground. 6 strangers passed the iron gate and closed another journey. The history, hiding in the bunker’s walls, revealed all new information for them to discover. With 6 different approaches of life and traditions, they reflected the Cold War times from their own cultural perspectives.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Home sweet home. The RoadTrip diary, part 6

On one sunny Sunday morning peaceful Kretinga village’s roads got occupied by a hippie white bus. It parked near the old small building with wooden windows. 9 young people got out of the van and entered the orphanage. Surrounded by kids, they started to tell their stories about far away countries and unbelievable traditions.

Today was a good day

Lapiu Vaiku Namu Paramos Fondas is an orphanage with long and difficult history. We spent there 2 days – giving presentations, playing with the children and talking with the supervisors. Soon we realized that this place is extraordinary. It held a secret that could only be revealed by careful eyes and right questions. As we discovered throughout those days, the story behind it surely doesn’t come from a fairytale.

‘The building is 100 years old. Few decades ago there was no place to put orphans in this region, so time by time, one by one, they were brought here. And that’s how the sad story begins.’ – says Evelina, a woman who comes here daily to take care of the kids and to help with the challenges the orphanage is facing all the time. As she talks about the place, she puts all the emotions on the surface. All the concerns, worries and hopes are visible during her story about the place she is fiercely fighting for. ‘The biggest problem is this building of course, because soon its conditions won’t allow living here normally. We are doing anything we can but without any help from the moutside world we won’t manage to succeed and the kids would have to spread to different orphanages. For us it would be a disaster and the worst nightmare. So this is my goal; this is why I’m here and I will fight for it until I die.’ – she ends up with laughter but we have no doubts she’s absolutely serious about it.

This is how we met and this is why the RoadTrip Lithuania project came here to spend some time with the kids. 2 days surely weren’t enough to change their lives but we did our best to at least provide some positive changes and bring something new during this short time spent together.

6 foreigners from all over the world…

‘So what do you know about Portugal?’ – asked Zé, unfolding his flag. At the beginning all the kids, squeezed on the couch, didn’t really seem interested by what we were telling them. The turning point happened when Rogelio gave them his big colorful sombrero to try on. Shiny eyes started to be reflect more interest, sad faces turned to be smiley again and we could breathe a sigh of relief that our attempts were not completely ineffective. ‘Now they didn’t react that much, but we will repeat all the presentations for them so they will remember it and they will start to ask questions.’ – says Evelina. She tries to teach the kids something about ‘the big world’ and to show them what’s behind Lithuania’s border. ‘We are trying to educate them; we’re inviting various people like you to make them meet others from different countries.’ – she adds. 

I love the summertime!

But the activities with foreigners are only a brief and quick entertainment for the children from the orphanage. Usually they spent days at school, doing homework or playing with each others. But in order to make their time as fun and valuable as possible, the supervisors come up with different ideas. ‘Every Wednesday we have 2 ladies who come here and do yoga with the kids. They do it for free. We also have a painter lady, she comes and we do a painting therapy. One day there were bikers here and they took the kids on excursion around the village. The kids loved it!’ – says Evelina as she recalls the past situations. And the kids appreciate those efforts. Olivija and Jelena, who have been living here for few years, both agree that they love this place and they love their ‘housemothers’ who take care of them and with whom they have strong and good relations. ‘We really like the fact that Evelina pays a lot of attention to children's emotions. When she notices that something is wrong, she tries to do everything she can to cheer the child up. – they say, smiling at each other. ‘And even though sometimes she makes us nervous while making us do all the homework, now I consider her as my friend and as a person I can always talk to about anything. Now one of my dreams is to learn English, so she gave me the dictionary as a present and now every time when I am with her she speaks with me in English’ – adds Jelena as she shows us a huge heavy dictionary to prove her words. 

The relationships between the housemothers and the kids were something we discovered from the very beginning. This unique bond they have with each other comes from a very strong focus from the supervisors’ side to create and keep the ‘family atmosphere’ in the house. Still, the orphanage should be just a stop for them and none of the children consider this place as the true home. Evelina is completely aware of that. ‘It’s kind of a home for them, but they don’t feel it and they would never call it a home. I don’t know how to change it or if we even have to change it. But still, we’re trying to keep the tradition that every time we see each other we hug and kiss. And once I saw that if I’m not reminding them of doing this, they forget about it. So I told them: ‘I need more attention, why are you not hugging me?’ After this I disappeared for 2 weeks and when I came back they all jumped at me, hugged and gave me chocolates’ – she recalls as if it was yesterday.

I just don’t want winter to come…

Unfortunately, dedicated supervisors and nice children are not able to do miracles and go back in time when their house was new. 100-years-old building with poor electricity installation, leaking windows, 2 showers and 1 toilet is not enough for 50 kids to live and develop normally.  The condition of the Lapiu Vaiku Namu Paramos Fondas house cries for help and desperately needs to be put down and renovated from the ground.

That’s why Evelina and the director of the place applied for a project to get funds from the European Union which will help them to solve this burning problem. Still, it’s not certain that they will get it. ‘We are waiting till September until they will make a decision and tell us what will happen next. If everything goes according to the plan, we can start to bring it down from January. I will do anything I can to achieve this goal, cause I don’t see any other option. I really believe that this is the best place for them to be here. Because if we will move them to another environment they will be psychologically broken and not only will we have to renovate the building but also we would have to fix the kids too.’ – Evelina explaines.

The drastic condition of the building is something which the children discover and worry about too. Olivija and Jelena kept on repeating that they really love this place and they cannot imagine being separated from the housemothers and other friends. ‘It has become our true home’ – they say. ‘That is why every time somebody starts to talk about the dormitory, its desperate need to be rebuilt and the low possibility that it can happen, every each of us gets sad and almost starts to cry. We are used to each other, we are like one big family and, if nothing is done with the dormitory, we will all have to split and go to different places.’ – and the tears start to show up in their eyes as they imagine the situation of being all split up. 

‘We don’t need anything with golden handles’ – Evelina completes with passion. ‘No, we just want to them make feel like home. I’m dreaming of a state when each one of them has their own corner. Now they don’t have it at all – they don’t even have a normal shower or a toilet! They need to hide their personal things; they don’t have any privacy at all – anything which supposed to be on daily basis. They just don’t have it’ – she repeats.

Luckily, in this challenging situation not everything is doomed. There are many people fighting for this good cause, starting with the staff of the orphanage and passionately persistent Evelina, ending with many other friends and people from the village who collect money for the most urgent needs. But one person stands out in terms of the amount of help given to the orphanage. Evelina smiles as she talks about him, her voice starts to get soft again: ‘He is a 70-years-old Englishman and he has been helping those kids for more than 40 years. He’s a foreigner but still he comes here daily. He knows each one of them by name; he takes them to his house and let them work there. He also gathers money to renovate the building and he believes that one day the building will be renovated. He is my ideal angel.’

David himself doesn’t consider himself as an angel though. He took us on a small trip around his possession; told a story about this place, interleaved with occasional jokes and anecdotes. At first he may seem as a regular English gentleman in his 70s, strolling on the field with a dog on his side and a straw hat on his head. But when you actually get to talk with him, he reveals all the outstanding personality and incredibly fascinating life. And why he has been helping the orphanage so much for so many years? ‘I think that we all should feel the responsibility towards other people. These are lovely children, put in a situation where none of this was their fault, and we just need to do our best to look after them, tell them what is right and wrong – and love them. That’s what we do.’

This is my place and they are my family

Because this is not ‘just’ a roof. Everything what’s below it – the amazing relationships between them, the nice and open kids and the dedicated supervisors who know exactly how to raise them up and prepare for the adult life – is on its right place. And the impact of this good upbringing seems quite enormous. Both Jelena and Olivija declare that they would like to be like their housemothsers when they will grow up. ‘I would like to adopt a child and to make his life better than mine was.’ – says Jelena and Olivija completes:  ‘Me too, I want to share my love with others and to make some other person happy’.

Helping, teaching, loving – this is what all those people, with Evelina and David in the front line, have been doing for many years. Still, the condition of the building is getting worse and worse every day and without an urgent help the future surely doesn’t look colorful. So hopefully, one day their dream will come true and they will have their ideal home. Evelina’s eyes lights up when she talks about this place in 5 years time. ‘It will all look beautiful and everything will be new and renovated. I will just sit there on the ground, relaxing, and the kids will be playing outside. Some of them will just have to come here occasionally, because they will be with their proper families. You will also come back here to do your presentations again! It will all be all right.’

On one sunny Sunday afternoon peaceful Kretinga village’s roads got occupied by a hippie white bus. It left the old small building with wooden windows. 9 young people sitting in the bus started a passionate discussion on what they’ve just seen and heard. Surrounded by the impressions of the place, they started to share the impact they’ve just experienced.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Here comes the sun. The RoadTrip diary, part 5

The sun was sneaking through the windows and slowly filled the room full of sleeping people. 7 different nationalities, various looks and characters, but the same desire to still stay asleep. But as the sound of alarm clocks filled the air, all people got up from their beds. Time to start another day of the RoadTrip adventure!

Have you ever imagined how is it like to be on the roadtrip? How do we spend our days, where do we eat, where do we sleep and how is it possible that we all fit in this tiny van? Well, welcome to a brief description of the RoadTrip life. Last few days, shorten in 24 hours? That surely will be intense.

11 am. We entered another Day Care Centre. Another…? Same like the past ones…? This feeling was gone after approximately 10 minutes spent in this unique place. Cyrulikai Day Care Centre was set up by Mrs. Vanda, whose goal was to take care of the kids and teenagers from troubled families. Her mission is to ‘keep them busy all the time and provide as many activities as possible’ – as we heard while having a coffee with her. We all sat around the table with our flags, feeling like VIPs, and we talked about their institution and our project, because Mrs. Vanda was very curious about what we are doing. After this pleasant introduction we started to make our presentations and play with kids. All of them were incredibly kind and sweet, they listened to us calmly, and when it came to the games, they joined with all the joy and randomness typical to their age. Funny that at some point we turned into kids ourselves; entertaining and playing at the same level as our new friends. The only difference was the age – but who cares about the age when there are so many cool games to play?

Cyrulikai is worth mentioning also because of the dedication of the people who work there. All the ‘supervisors’, who actually are like ‘aunts’ for the kids, commit all their hearts into it – every day, every minute. Our project provides us an amazing experience of meeting incredibly selfless people on our road – and once again we discovered that Plungė (the city we stayed that day) is also full of them. 

5 pm. After few hours spent in a social institution we turned into a group of tourists and went to see a magic labyrinth. Seriously, it was something special about this place! Energetinių labirintų ir geometrinių figūrų parkas – because that was the name of it, happened to be huge spacious field full of occasional but not accidental mazes, hidden in trees, bushes, curved in the flower meadows and built into an iron net. We wandered around, spent almost an hour in one of the labyrinths, jumped on a trampoline, played giant chess and simply enjoyed this place together. The magic maze, with its mysterious but friendly aura let us relax after work and gather new strengths for the upcoming adventures.

9 pm. The new adventure was waiting for us just after the next turn. Our Eleonor climbed up the hill and, through her dusty windows, we saw one of the prettiest views in our trip. Big, calm, navy blue lake, reflecting a clear sky, surrounded by a shady forest, almost covering the endless horizon. And - in all that wild landscape – there it was: our next place to stay, a small cute wooden house, situated just by the lake. Welcome to Saulės slėnis!

We got the whole house just for ourselves and of course for the first ten minutes we were running and jumping around like crazy people, choosing the best bed, hanging flags on the wooden bars and booking a line for the water bikes we had just for our use. After those few moments of excitement we got hungry and so, like one big family, we sat around the table downstairs and we ate another team dinner. This time it was fusion of a Chinese and Portuguese cuisine, prepared by Li and Zé. Imagine 9 carefree young people, eating a delicious meal after an intense day, gathered in a wooden house with the view of a sunset by the lake. Sounds like dreamy holidays, doesn’t it?

This is our life during RoadTrip Lithuania. Working as volunteers, representing our countries, getting to know new cultures, discovering this beautiful country, dealing with unexpected situations - and enjoying every minute of it? This is the essence of this amazing project!

The sun was slowly hiding under the tips of the tallest forests and the room sank in darkness. 7 different nationalities, various looks and characters, but the same desire to finally go to bed. Talks and jokes, resounding all around the room, started to finish one after another and soon everybody fell asleep. Time to end another day of the RoadTrip adventure.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Walk on the wild side. The RoadTrip diary, part 4

6 strangers, walking in a line… Looking at houses, rivers, forests. Travelers, who will do anything for a new adventure and a new place to visit. Exploring, discovering, gaining new skills – this is what we do here. 

After a weekend spent on a summer camp we headed to another destination of our journey – Telšiai. The city has its own special charm, which we felt from the very beginning. 2 days spent there showed us that this intuition was true – we met a lot of kind and nice people and saw lots of new amazing things.

What exactly? Well, our first meeting with Telšiai happened in the place where we were sleeping – a guest house called Pas Stefa. The owners prepared it for us and we felt like very special guests, when we saw our rooms. The hotel is situated in a city centre, so we could immediately start our tour around Telšiai. The city is quite small but spacious, with a big lake in the middle and beautiful surroundings, where you can rest, walk or… use a water bike, like we did. Apart from the lake, there were some very interesting churches, parks and houses, which we saw on our small discover-the-city trip. But above all, Telšiai happened to be a city with friendly people, and we could see that in various moments. From random situation near the church, when an elderly woman asked why are we speaking English, and then told us a story about her granddaughter, through funny conversations with the guy from the water bike place, ending with a talk with young hitchhikers on a highway. Again and again we could discover the kind part of Lithuania, represented by its people.

Telšiai story continued in a wilder side of the country. We visited a park, where two charming gentlemen told us stores about the woods, rivers and swamps nearby. After visiting a small but lovely museum we saw the exhibition in real – we walked in the swamp field, climbed hills, went through the forest, where we discovered old pagan statues, and discovered Lithuanian nature one more time. We could seem like a group of strangers, walking in the meadow, singing funny songs, picking up flowers and creating incredible stories about this place.

We are changing our roles almost every day. Once we are group of tourists, walking around the city and taking lots of photos. The next day we’re turning into a bunch of villagers, wiping out new routes and running through the bushes. But the next day we are changing into a team of people who come to a social institution and present their countries and share their stories.

This is what happened during this trip. We visited an institution for people with the Down syndrome. Surely we didn’t know what to expect exactly – we just came there with smiles on our faces and flags in our backpacks. We met kids, teenagers and adults with the Down syndrome, accompanied by their mothers or sisters. From the very beginning the atmosphere was really friendly and peaceful; we could see this true curiosity in their eyes, while we were talking about our countries. When we started our games, it turned out to be much easier than we expected. Our new friends trusted us completely and engaged in our activities with all the joy and commitment. Soon we run out of the games we prepared, so we kept on inventing new ones – and still they were waiting for another one with smiles and this amazing positive energy. They opened to us to the maximum – we were talking, playing, singing and painting with chalk together. For one day we became a real part of this place, like we would never have to leave.

But the ‘good bye moment’ eventually happened, and once again – it was really sad for us to leave this unique place. We waved for the last time and as the bus started to gain the speed the RoadTrippers finished another chapter of their journey, only so they could open another one.

6 strangers, walking in a line… Looking at people, situations, places. Travelers, who will do anything for meeting new interesting people and getting to know new places. Learning, making an impact, developing ourselves – this is what we do here. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Summer camp story. The RoadTrip diary, part 3

The next destination of our journey was a summer camp called Virvytė in Mažeikiai. The children who participate in it are from 6 to 16 years old, and a lot of them come here every holiday for the past few years. The minute we arrived, we realized that the atmosphere is really warm and nice, and the kids are very open and eager to talk with us. Welcome to Virvytė!

We would like to describe the camp from one of the partcipant’s point of view. Tadas is 12 years old, he speaks fluent English and he agreed to answer us for few questions. Here is the summer camp story, seen through his eyes.

Karolina Waligora: Could you tell us something about yourself and the reason why are you here?
Tadas Ceckauskas: My name is Tadas and I’m 12 years old. I came here because my mom found this summer camp on a website. It looked really fun, so she suggested I should come here, and that’s why I am here now.

K.W.: Is this your first time here?
T.C.: Yes, this is my first time.

K.W.: And are you planning to come here also next year?
T.C.: Yes, I think I’m gonna come here next summer.

K.W.: And why would you like to come back?
T.C.: Because it’s a lot of fun here! The supervisors are really nice; they create funny games, like auction for example.

K.W.: How does your usual day look like?
T.C.: We get up at 7.55 am, we do the morning routine at 8.10 am, and then we clean up our room do everything we need, and then we eat. This is the morning. Then you can choose what you would like to do - football, baseball, basketball. In the mornings I prefer yoga. In
the afternoon, when everything ends, we can do all the activities again, and
after this we have free time.

K.W.: Which activities are the most attractive for you?
T.C.: Actually, I really like all of them.

K.W.: How do you feel about people here? Do you keep in touch with them after the camp too?
T.C.: Yes, one of the kids from here was actually my friend already. It was actually a coincidence, that he was in the same room as I got.

K.W.: So what was the most attractive for you so far, what was the best moment?
T.C.: When I met all of these people I guess, when I met the supervisors that speak English. I enjoyed that a lot.

K.W.: Here you are around people all the time. So do you feel that this type of community is good for kids like you?
T.C.: I think it’s very good, because you improve your communication skills, you make more friends, and you are not that shy any more. For example when I came here I was very shy, because I knew that it will be more than 50 people. But it turned out to be really nice; I have met a lot of people and became friends with them.

K.W.: Here you have a lot of foreign supervisors who speak English. Do you think it’s a good idea for a camp like this to hire international staff?
T.C.: Yes, that’s a very good idea! Foreign supervisors bring something more than Lithuanian ones, for example games, activities. But they also bring something new from their own countries.

K.W.: How would you recommend this camp to your friends?
T.C.: I would say that you have to come, it’s really fun, and you will meet cool people and nice supervisors. You will never regret coming here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

First footprints. The RoadTrip diary, part 2

How can you organize a unique volunteering project? Take 6 people from 6 different countries, put them in a classic hippie bus and let them travel across Lithuania. Add lots of new places, a dozen of new skills and a pinch of adrenaline. Is that all what it takes to create a perfect space to promote responsible tourism? Let’s see if there’s some ingredient missing.

Our trip continued in Šiauliai, the fourth biggest city in Lithuania. We stayed in a charming hostel called Simona House, very close to the city centre. ‘So, what’s the plan?’ Well, the plan was to discover and learn new things.

We started to complete this task when we saw the famous Hill of Crosses, a place near Šiauliai, where, from 1831, Lithuanian people started to put

crosses. Of course it didn’t survive the Second World War, because of Soviets’ attempts to destroy every religious act. Luckily however, the crosses continued to show up, and today’s Hill of Crosses consists of more than 100 000 crosses from all over the world. Wait, 100 000…? That’s a lot, how can you fit all on a small hill? Well, as we could find out during this trip, it is possible, and the crosses are still added there every day. Visiting The Hill of Crosses is definitely an experience worth recommending to anybody, no matter if one’s religious or not.

The experience didn’t fade away as the sun did. Excited but frozen - Lithuania was challenging us every day with its changing weather. Still, this way we were able to develop the sense of predicting the weather (‘it’s gonna rain today!’), and also a skill of adjusting to any conditions, such as for example walking bravely in a hail. 

Of course we had more important concerns than the weather. On Wednesday we visited Agapao Rehabilitation Center, where we were supposed to give presentations about our countries and ourselves. To be honest, we were quite worried about what exactly we can say to our audience. We didn’t know how and what to communicate and how to behave. As we saw however, it turned out to be completely different than we’ve expected. Imagine this feeling, when you are standing in the middle of a classroom full of adult strangers, and you have to deliver a quality presentation that should interest them. I guess this is what they call ‘being out of your comfort zone’. So yes, the first few minutes were quite challenging. But as soon as we all started to give our presentations, we found out that it is going to be much easier than we suspected. We talked about our countries, about ourselves - no pretending – and it worked! Somehow we managed to start this curiosity we wanted to achieve. Our viewers started to ask questions and interact with us; we could feel that they are truly interested in what we want to tell them. At the end of the meeting we just sat there and asked about their stories, names, professions, interests. This impact, happening at the spot, was simply visible and we could experience and enjoy every second of it.

A similar situation happened in the afternoon the same day, when we visited an Šaltinio Orphanage in the city. This experience was also very intense, because those kids didn’t speak any English, so we could communicate with them only by gestures, looks and few Lithuanian words we already knew. But, as it turned out, the language barer was not able to interrupt us with having a proper communication with them. Again – we just started our job. Rogelio, and Li played basketball with the older ones, and Kamia, Cate and Karo were playing some funny games and songs with the younger children. And it took only few moments for them to bond with us! After just 2 hours, when we had to leave, they were really sad, and so were we. This feeling, when you know that you’re probably not going to see those kids again, was quite devastating - especially when we realized how much this kind of visit means to them.

The next day, when we visited Agapao Day Care Center, the situation looked quite the same. At the beginning there was a little prejudice, shy looks and not that much interest, but once we all sat on the floor in the circle and put out our flags, traditional candies, jalapenos and other gadgets, the spark turned out into a curiosity flame. Those kids were hungry for our attention, and as soon as we started to talk to them individually, they opened to us completely. Again, it was so hard for us to leave them, but at least we can be sure and calm that we gave them a pleasant and nice time, made them interested about something different and, hopefully, started a wave of positive changes in their lives.

In the evenings, when we were all summing up those days, I could see that they were very impactful for every each one of us. I realized that travelling and meeting new cultures is just one part of the ‘recipe’ of the project. Our presentations and games with kids and social impact we could experience is another thing – and this is what makes the project unique and fully meaningful.

But what about the team itself? Well, after 2 days spent on delivering presentations and organizing activities with kids, we had one day when we could focus on discovering the beauty of Lithuanian nature. On Friday we had a canoeing day and it was very… interesting. Quite challenging too, because we didn’t expect a lot of what may happen - from the weather (yes, it rained a little), through the adventures in the meantime (being stuck in the rocks with the water inside the canoe), to end with a fact that we did almost twice more kilometers than we thought we will do. We spent almost 7 hours in the canoes, but it was perfect for our team bonding. Even though we were canoeing in pairs, we created kind of a common trip; helping each other to get out of the rocks, randomly sharing cookies in the meantime…

At the end of the day, exhausted, wet and hungry, we went camping in the forest. That was not the most comfortable situation in the world, especially after a tiring canoeing day, but as soon we all sat by the campfire, it was all OK again. Adventurous day ended like from one of the Jack London’s stories; staring at fire, telling stories, enjoying each other’s company.

The next chapter of our great RoadTrip adventure came to an end. It was a very intense week, full of changing landscapes around us, kind people on the road, unexpected situations and impactful moments. We discovered the other part of the project’s recipe and we enjoyed it, so we are waiting for other opportunities to positively change the environment around us.

How can you organize a unique volunteering project? Take 6 people from 6 different countries, put them in a classic hippie bus and let them travel across Lithuania. But also, add a lot of scary situations, when they have to challenge themselves and interact with completely new people. Let them do the change – and is that all? Let’s wait and see how it’ll go!