I must admit I was quite nervous before starting the project. I was worried that the level of my Czech would not be good enough to interact with the locals. I also felt a lot of responsibility for the project to go smoothly, both for the participants and the villagers.
I knew that leading a camp would take me out of my comfort zone, but I also expected to develop some new skills and hoped to gain leadership experience.

I luckily had a chance to visit the location of the workcamp some weeks before the project start, and I fell in love with the green valley at first sight. This preparatory visit made it easier to give the volunteers accurate information about the project, and helped avoid surprises when they arrived and the camp started. The first days of the camp were used getting to know the volunteers and introducing them the area and the work. The main aim of the workcamp was to renovate little cabins in the recreational area where we were staying.
I was leading the camp together with a Czech co-leader, Jirka. It took some time to figure out our roles and the division of tasks, but I was happy to have a local to support me.
After some days we got into a routine and I slowly started to trust myself and the group. Learning about the area and its history helped to motivate the volunteers. Jirka’s presence was of course crucial for communicating with the locals and as he took a lot of the responsibility of organizing the practical work I was able to enjoy painting the cabins with the volunteers.

Before the last day of the camp the mayor of the village organized a celebration for the volunteers and it was touching to realize how much the locals appreciated what we had done. The event made the participants feel there was meaning in their work which had been hard to convey at times because of the language barrier. All the participants were invited on the stage to receive gifts from the villagers and a local band played for us.

Looking back at the camp leading experience, there was definitely challenges but also a lot of lessons learned. Communicating with different people with different backgrounds and interests can be hard and the language barrier can make it even more difficult. Sometimes unexpected things like weather would make it hard to plan the days – both the work and the free time activities. When leading a diverse group with various interests sometimes it is impossible to keep everyone happy. I learned that some things will simply be out of my control and everything will not go smoothly no matter how much you prepare. People will behave in unexpected ways and because of this, the camp environment is great for developing one’s flexibility. Yet people are also what makes the experience worth it, and getting to know the participants and their unique stories was definitely the highlight of the camp. In addition, I was really happy that I learned a lot of Czech during the project, as the situations I faced weere different from those I was used to in my everyday life.

Sometimes it was necessary to get creative and use body language for support because
I did not know some words, and that made it all the more fun.

Despite the challenges, the experience of leading a camp was well worth it. These 10 days ended up being among the most intense and the most rewarding of my volunteering this far.