IMPACT suggests three different ways to spend your summer holidays.
I found a family from the mountains; they interviewed me with an irresistible backdrop – a sunset over Lac Léman. It could easily have been a strange man in a beige overcoat who welcomed me at the airport, but a tiny blonde child shyly presented me flowers and ushered me towards the rest of her family. Small children will worship anyone who is not their parent; and you are doubly as fascinating if you have a foreign accent – even watching a cup of tea being made is a strange new game to be played.
French families are remarkably similar to the British; blasting dance music in the car to keep the kids from falling asleep, who then get inappropriately overexcited when relatives come over for sophisticated dinner parties and bicker over who gets the most time with this brilliant new toy that has been employed for the summer.
Advice? Jumping around on a trampoline with three people of such different sizes will result in the smallest being launched metres in the air from the momentum of your own bounces. Crayons may seem identical but have an indefinable life-force in them, using them out of turn is a grave infraction. And a fact which is relevant elsewhere in life: Monopoly never ends in a civil manner.
I could talk for hours about the KCC Slum Project, a teaching project in Kenya that works to aid and empower slum children. The experience was wonderful in all the ways you would expect, but for this little snapshot of a summer spent volunteering, I wanted to share a story.
I was invited to attend Sunday service in the slum, and the locals greeted us with their usual open arms. The church was an 8x8ft corrugated iron shack, packed to the metaphorical rafters, where we sat like sardines with a child on each knee.
The rhythm of African music and dancing was amazing; I was so grateful that they had shared a piece of their lives with us. To thank them, albeit with coercion from a fellow volunteer, I offered to sing.
The only song I knew all the words to was ‘Amazing Grace’ and I tried, with my basic Kiswahili, to explain the meaning. To my embarrassment, I ended up shakily singing into a microphone, being amplified across the whole slum.
Between the nerves and the humidity I must have sounded absolutely terrible, but I saw a woman brimming with tears by the end. For all the hardship of life in the slum they were there to give thanks for what they do have, and it was humbling to know that on that particular day, they counted us in their blessings.
Like the rest of my stories, it was an unforgettable experience made wonderful by the generosity of the volunteers and locals I met; they were what made a summer spent volunteering so worth it.
Willing Workers On Organic Farms (WWOOF)
The first farm that I wwoofed at, in the mountains near Granada, was so remote that it didn’t even have a name. For the few months I was in Spain, I spent time on five different farms, doing everything from gardening to clearing irrigation drains, building chicken coops, even learning how to dig a well from a spring.
The more local the hosts, the harder they tend to work you. At one place, Pilar (the owner) worked us from 10am-7pm, but then gave us amazing gourmet meals and as much Spanish lager as we wanted, so it evened itself out.
One night, Pilar went to visit her mother and left myself and another wwoofer, Florian, in charge of the house. There were loads of wild dogs roaming about and I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of vicious barking. I leapt up, stumbled outside and saw Florian there in his underpants, brandishing a machete, shouting, “Where are they?”
Wwoofing is a really cheap way to see a country and the best bit is that you get to see the place from the locals’ point of view.
Tom Kemp was speaking to Ben McCabe