Short-term volunteering in Croatia

This article has been written by the four volunteers Stylianos Papadakis, Maria Daikou, Giantsiou Maria and Gerogiannis Petros-Antonios of the project Outward Bound, which is co-funded by the European Solidarity Corps of the European Union. The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

‘Hey guy, my sister and will go to Brussels with a project. Are you in for doing something similar?’

Was it perhaps a last-minute decision, a philosophy we’ve been trying to adopt in the last years (you only live once, so why not?), just a pretext for a trip, a bullet in a bucket list, or the ardent lust to join in this immense thing called volunteering? None of us can accurately determine our intentions. One thing is for sure, this experience will be unforgettable!

Our journey until we reach the island seems a bit ominous and long. It took us almost a day to be finally there! Of course, you will tell me – and you will probably be right – “it’s your fault you decided to make the most journey by bus”. “Oh well”, I would answer, “we didn’t want to go over our budget, you see we are students too”. Despite all the tiredness and the suffering that we went through, we finally took the first ferry managed to get to Sumartin. It is impossible to describe the beauty we encountered on the island, but it was enough to eliminate our earlier mischief because of insomnia. Your gaze was filled with the blue and turquoise of the sea, the grace of houses reminiscent of Southern Italy, the smiling faces of the few permanent residents on the island. As we were getting off the ferry, we found our projects trainers – our team leaders, and our later friends – ready to take us to the three different homes we would be staying in throughout the program. Their aim was to share equally the nationalities in the homes so that we could interact with the youngsters from all countries (Greece, Croatia, Spain, Italy). The first day on the island was the day of getting to know each other by approaching the other youngsters-volunteers and having our strengths back in order to work the next day at the shipyard.

Going to a place without any particular expectations has also its benefits, as you are not biased and you are ready to hear, process and then learn new things. Same thing happened to us by doing yard work under Mike’s supervision, by coordinating our actions and efforts and being more than just a teacher for us. Always compassionate, gracious, ready to help and explain whatever we were unable to understand.

The job had several physical requirements and constant exposure to the sun made the situation more difficult, but none of us complained about it, nor did it seem to be hampered due to the existence of the rapidly growing solidarity and cooperation climate. We all did our best to help out where there was a problem, with no jokes and songs throughout the work, so at noon, after work we all left full and ready to relax on the beach until the late end of the afternoon. Who would have thought that in October we will be swimming and will be sunbathing on a beach in Croatia, having a view of the endless slopes of Mount Biokovo.

Certainly not! I believe this was also one of the many highlights of our daily routine on the island, the serenity on the rocky beach listening to the gentle notes of Luke’s guitar in the background.

We used to spend our evenings eating out on the football field. I still have the image of carrying the benches, the table and the various dishes every night at 8pm, so that we can all sit down to discuss our day, talk about our dreams and aspirations for the future, Have fun drinking shots of “rakia” and close the night by singing the Spanish “La flaca”.

Of course, I must not forget to talk to you about the preparation of the Greek evening and the hilarious things that happened. What is important to know, in case you ever decide to fry donuts (loukouma), is that (you should never make them with Maria next to you!) a wrong handling can be fatal! Something we discovered in the hard way, pouring water into the hot oil and turning the kitchen in flames, culminating in the “demonized” loukouma who decided to land – fortunately – on the floor and not in the face of any of us. And while these things were happening in the kitchen, the boys from the Greek team were figuring out – putting in all their art and craftsmanship – how to make the best quiz that helps you to get to know Greece better.

As for the evening swim we tried, after a failed attempt at a soccer match, in a sea scattered with small constellations, because of the plankton that glows in the dark, what can I tell! If you do not have this experience you cannot understand the magic of it, it was so intense that it made you forgot about the intolerable cold. Even the torture, from the cold we were feeling until we returned to our room and had a hot shower to get the body back to normal temperature, was totally worth it!

I could go on and on for hours about our experience of these 2 weeks in Croatia, but I think you’ve got an idea of how was it, so I finish my story here and hopefully affect you a lot and drive you a little bit closer in deciding to  volunteer and to participate in a similar project.