Oct 6, 2011

The biggest challenge of my life – so far!

Fairly said, I couldn't add much to the big and detailed testimony of Cris, but it was such a good and enriching experience that even if I tried to write a short text it wouldn't be the same thing.
At first everything seemed surreal. We had already looked for an exchange program with Chisoka for the summer, but all the registration dates had passed, and my favorite destination was always Croatia. So when the opportunity appeared and I decided to go, I still couldn't believe it actually happened. But day after day the stars shined upon us, and I think we only started to believe we will participate in the Yia-YEAH when we arrived on the Croatian soil.

So far this was the biggest challenge of my life. My bad English, the fear of everyone else being older and more experienced, not knowing the country well, nor the organization “in charge” of us for the week, the certainty of fatigue appearing numerous times – these weren't the only inconveniences going through my head.

The first day there, an extra one for us comparing to the other participants as we arrived early, showed us that the organization wouldn't leave us in incapable hands. First Tomi, who took the flight with us from Frankfurt to Zagreb took our luggage to the city where we would stay for the night. Then Robert, who picked us up from the train station in Zagreb, took us to see the capital. Afterwards the whole organization held a reception just for us and we had a coffee in Marof and a ride to Varazdin. Finally, we spent the evening in Varazdin, the best evening of one of the best weeks of our life.

We still didn't know very well where we'd go when things started to happen. After arriving in Marof we met some Romanian people with whom we connected from the very beginning. The evening greeted us with a series of dynamics which, referring to Cris’ words, allowed us to remember all the names of the people with whom we would spend the next week with.

From there on we were stripped from all the fears and prejudices, talking and living together were necessities. Every day we teamed up in different groups which in fact made us know everyone. For this we always used various and funny dynamics. In addition to the presentation dynamics and strengthening the group work, the program was divided in three parts- as Cris already explained.

I was chosen to dance in the “Folklore Society Marof”. At first I wasn't pleased, I associated folklore with our popular dances and garish symphonies. But I ended up loving it. I had the opportunity to dress up in traditional 20 kilo suits in 40ºC, and dance all afternoon. But it was great, really great. It was also my task to visit an association called “Sports Society Klujc” where a series of traditional games were organized. We had the opportunity to play football against the women's team and afterwards we got to know some traditional games that were, at the very least, original. It was really fun. On the third day we had the opportunity to visit an art gallery, where I could finish a gouache canvas and listen to the owner play guitar. Furthermore, we visited the house of the most famous painter of Croatia, Ivan Rabuzin.
The last days were reserved for a project prepared by us. It was an example of true team work, but we managed to make a calendar presenting all the associations we visited, make a video we could show to the entire community that night and plan an event, a special party with several workshops and sports, for the whole community to see some of the things we did and learnt during the week. We also connected a little better with the ones who welcomed us, always a good thing.

Apart from the days, also the nights were always planned out. From an intercultural night where we could reveal a bit about our countries, through an oral presentation and a stand with typical, regional goods from Portugal, passing on to a typical croatian dinner with the community, and yet to a night in Varazdin where we could dance and have fun until the early hours with all the people who hosted  us for the week. We danced immensely and we were visited by the police who wanted to stop the music after receiving complaints in an area (believe me!) of deserted houses. But they were soon convinced that they couldn't stop the twenty-five outsiders who only were there for their satisfaction and happiness. 
It's obvious that after such an intensive week we want to stuff all the new friends we made in our bags and bring them home with us, and that realizing the impossibility of this brings tears to our eyes. But we brought other things and turned into more capable people. With me I have a notebook full of dynamics that I wish to present at Juventude one day, the contacts to all the participants with whom I wish to stay in touch and practice my english, a better acknowledgement of what volunteering really is and the value it has for small communities that do everything to grow, and the excitement to do a similar thing in Braga.

Inês Sarmento

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