I’m Frieda and from may to october 2021, I was volunteering in Shipka to support a local organisation, Open Mind Shipka. I was the last volunteer for the project, even though a new project and new volunteers will be coming soon. Before me, there was Adel, Adirenn, Axel, Cecile, Daniel, Eileen, Fatma, Hugo, Lea, Lena, Maja, Martin, Michael, Ophelie, Paulina, Pedro, Petr, Sintija and Tamara, and I probably forgot some, I just rely on the blog, the tales and some lists. All of them made there own experiences in this “paradise”, if spiritual, emotional, psychologial, mental or physical. I think, I can talk for all of us when I say that we will not forget the journey we made. Thanks to the European Solidarity Corps, or European Volunteering Service, how it was called earlier, we were able to afford this experience, regardless of background, our financial situation or disabilities.
As the last one, I thought about how it’s possible to create a worthy last post for this website, at least for the next few months, and I figured that I wanted to not just include my experiences, but all of yours in the last couple of years. So I made a question sheet for all of you, concerning your experiences and stories about and with Open Mind Shipka and how it evolved over time. I don’t know if it reached all of you, since I wrote it to your E-mail-Account registered in this website and it’s been years for some of you at this point.
Of course, I would still enjoy everybody who wants to participate in this shared experience to log in and add your own stories to the article or just send me the answers and I can update it then.
I hope you enjoy reading and you can recall your own time in this project!
How old were you during your volunteering experience?
I started on my very last time, exactly before reaching the age limit for Erasmus+ projects.
I was 19 when I started and 20 when I left.
What were your most prominent tasks in your volunteering?
Cleaning the house, foster the garden, support Kalinka in the Golden Apple School in Kazanlak. In descending order.
To be part of a community and to participate in daily life activities (well in others words I mean just to enjoy every day), there were lot of tasks which were important for others and lot of tasks which I felt that I want to do – and everything was equally important for the whole of community.
Maintenance of permaculture garden, various tasks in village (museum, cultural centre, general maintenance), teaching English to the kids of the Golden Apple in Kazanlak.
Funny question, no? Maybe guiding Spanish tourists around Shipka, as they were first (and maybe also last) ones, who rented from us bikes. Or saving five kittens from a mad male cat during night or chickens from a fox attack.
Mostly I was responsible for teaching the children in Golden Apple School.
Taking care of the beings, plants, animals, children.
Did you have other activities outside of the official OpenMind- Tasks? If yes, which ones?
Hiking, walking with Sara the dog, taking care of the other animals, cooking, spending time with other volunteers, reading.
Out of the OpenMind project I joined permaculture project Balkep and it gave me much more – new great friends, meeting interesting people from whole world, parties and movie nights, new interest in gardening and experiences for it.
I spent a lot of time studying Bulgarian, gave piano lessons and also had the opportunity to dance and sing in a choir.
Everything what I did it was connected with OpenMind, because without OpenMind I will not spent time there so I should first say thanks the Universe for OpenMind! 🙂
Well I cooperated little with Balkep (others international project in Shipka), I helped with Tea bar on summer festivals, I helped few times to other people around (mainly friends of our coordinator Tanya) with some activities/ work, I discovered Shipka, surroundings around and actually all country (especially mountains), we were lot in contact with others volunteers in Kazanlak and we spent lot of good time together. I was focus on myself and I was studying of permaculture knowledge. But what I mentioned I mainly shared with others members of OpenMind so it is hard to say something what was really out of the project.
I played violin, baked and cooked and decided what I wanted to study.
What did you like the most about the volunteering experience?
It totally shifted my view on nature and raised the strong feeling in me that it is something we need to protect at all cost.
And I had an amazing moment: When the school opened again after the lockdown I could finally understand the children’s Bulgarian well and my studies payed off.
Tough question. I think connecting with an entirely new place and entirely new people was the most rewarding thing for me. But I value the entire experience, with all ups and downs.
Just the time to be there! Because I could be very close to a lifestyle which I want to live in a rest of my time on the planet :-).
The travels to Rila and to Athens and the nature around Shipka.
I liked the most the on-arrival and mid-term trainings in Sofija, where I found my best friend and met many volunteers from organisations in whole Bulgaria. It created huge network of people living on many places, which I was able to visit during travelling around Bulgaria. This is, how the volunteer projects should work.
Getting closer to nature.
Were there some things which you think could be improoved in the future?
When you are with others minds / souls together under one roof and you are working together every day you should not forget that everyone has different view on the life / different education/ different thinking and everyone has lot of stories which it happened to her / him. So the most important is a good and clear communication and that is something what OpenMind could improve but this applies not just for OpenMind. For every family, every company, every community, every relationship is base communication. Everyone of us is learning it :-).
One thing more, even if sometime communication is chaotic or whatever OpenMind is working thanks to one big reason: members have the same common main values and members know what is a main common dream and this make me to hope that we can cooperative like one human race one day together :-).
Maybe living together and working together gets mixed up too much. It would have been nice to get clear orders and a week plan or something. I missed explainations a lot, I think, I could have been more productive if someone would have showed me how things work.
There were a lot of to improve from the side of OpenMind, as well as in the organizing of Erasmus+ volunteers on national or even international level (the network of people didn’t work always). And also from my side – two years after finishing the project I still didn’t find time to make a document with my recommendations what to improve.
I think that the supervision could be tighter because I sometimes felt a little bit lost.
Organization and communication.
Organisation of the project. More clear instructions/tasks would have helped a lot, especially in the beginning of my time in Shipka.
What is the most prominent memory you have from your experience?
Hiking trips with other the other Open Mind volunteers.
I loved spending time at the house of my Bulgarian teacher with her family.
I remember the times when we were four volunteers and spended the evenings together, chatting and talking.
The most precious memories from whole stay I have with friends from other projects – for example relaxing on a beach on the sea, which I learned, it can be interesting, hiking on blossoming mountains above our house, seeing the Pope Francis during his speech in Sofija, visiting catholic church for a service or National house of culture for a classical music concert…
Sharing and loving times with others.
All beings which I met thanks to the project is the strongest memory which will stay me for rest of my life.
What are you doing today? How did the volunteering experience influence you?
I am working for one association in abroad. The activitiy of association is link with reduce of a waste and a solidarity. I am continuing to dream I am trying still to learn more of all relantionship in nature / garden and to live with permaculture values, well I am just experimenting with my life:).
My volunteering experience in Shipka gave me lot – it will be important part of myself forever.
I became more mature and I learned not to care too much about things or people I can’t change. I will do an Aupair starting January (she will be the same age as Boudi).
I am studying Biotechnology. My household is a lot more plastic-free and I care more about the background of the products that I consume.
I am studying at a Liberal Arts and Sciences college. The volunteering experiences broadened my perspective in many ways, and definitely inspired me to keep learning about many different kinds of things.
I’m not doing anything related with the experience in my job. But I became member of our national volunteer organisation and I am thinking to give some effort into making the volunteer community in European countries better working. I also started my own permaculture garden. And I am really thinking to move to Bulgaria if our politic situation would become worse, because I’m feeling like half Bulgarian and I love Sofia like the best city to live.
What would you say to future volunteers? If you could go back in time, what would you advise yourself?
No expectation before you will come, just to be ready to receive, to improvise, to find honestly yourself, to do your best, to love and to open your mind! In other words: create your common “paradise” new members of family! 🙂
Every day we did our best and every morning we are different than yestarday so it is not important what I would advise myself if I could go back in the time – everything what happened was right :-).
If nobody tell you, go and find volunteers from other projects by your own. They are everywhere around you and the best times we experience are always when we are together in bigger and more diverse community. Don’t wait until someone organize it, it can be already late (if your first days in Bulgarian aren’t on the training, like was it for me). The volunteer experience isn’t about work, it’s about meeting new people and learning from them.
Look for a friendgroup outside of the house and find something productive to do when you’re not working. It’s very hard to live where you work. Create a structure and a workplan for yourself, since nobody else will do it for you.
The freedom of activities that you have in this project can be a blessing and a curse. You can do anything you want but it takes a lot of discipline to organize yourself.
I would tell myself that I cannot expect people to act and think like I do and that different opinions are a necessary thing in balanced societies.
I would tell them, and me, to do things you normally wouldn’t do. This is a time to explore, try new things, meet new people. Make use of the opportunity.
How did the volunteering experience change in the time you were there?
Felt like a wild ride, like life.
I got more confident in my tasks and gained a lot of self-reliance.
After an eventful summer, things settled down a bit in autumn and winter. I loved the busy and exciting summer, although it was a little overwhelming at times. In the less eventful winter it was more challenging to organise ourselves.
In the beginning, all the volunteers were together and we shared a strong community, but in the end, everything went really cold and lonely and everybody had blinkers. In the summer, we had a lot of events and things to do in the garden, but then, I felt like resembled a charmaid more than a volunteer in the end.
It was hard from beginning for me because of my very bad english so I was shy to speak and lot of time I did not understand of conversation. But by time it was better and better. There was diversity in activities all the time so there were not linear changes as rather cyclical, like is in the life.
My volunteer experience was changing from a quite boring time, when nobody from our organisation was willing to do something together and I was escaping to visit friends in Sofija or Kazanlak, into a more interesting period, when new volunteers came and pulled me into the permaculture project with many interesting people and events and finally I had some good friends around me.
In three words, what describes your volunteering experience the best?
permaculture – community – Shipka paradise
Zero waste (I consider this one word), community, wholesome
permaculture, culture, together
(permaculture was always around us – in the first half of my stay quite mysterious, in the second half was it our daily life and passion; culture is my main passion and I was visiting culture in big cities, but also almost every cultural event at home in Kazanlak, because there wasn’t many of them; and together is the most important word for me, because I need to be always with somebody and sometimes it happened (but not always in Shipka). And it always happened in Plovdiv, which was European Capital of Culture that year ant the motto of their cultural year was: #together. )
Chaotic – teaching – Karthego
Nature – compassion – hovno.
Nature, community, growth.