“We Live Together” was an amazing camp I embarked upon this September, in Filip Jackov, Croatia. All I knew about the camp was that it was situated next to a rehabilitation centre which cared for mainly adults with physical and mental disabilities, and we would be doing some socialising with the users, as well as manual labour.
I initially travelled to Split, Croatia, where I spent two nights in a hostel enjoying the beautiful scenery, boat excursions, delicious food and meeting new and friendly people. I then took the bus to Filip Jakov, which was much scarier for me as it was outside the main tourist destinations. English was more of a barrier here, but I muddled through! Upon finding the camp, I settled into an evening of getting to know the camp leader and the other volunteers (of which I was the only Brit!), enjoying mountains of the local food and relaxing into the comfortable accommodation.
Pretty quickly, the days went by and I easily adapted to camp life and the daily routine. We would start our manual labour from 9 o’clock, have a lunch break complete with afternoon swim and chill by the sea, then continue work until tea time. The work involved redecorating some of the user’s rooms- it was hard work, but putting the radio and my Beatles CD while singing and dancing along made the work very enjoyable! By this point, I had become good friends with everyone there, felt comfortable to goof around, and even taught them some classic card games (which got very intense!). We all had roles within the camp too- some of us would collect the food from the kitchen, tidy up, and wash up. We had also already established a countless number of in-jokes, and I had learnt many games to bring home with me!
As the days went by, we became more involved in socialising with the users. I especially enjoyed this aspect to the camp as I really felt like they were so happy to see and talk to us, even if I couldn’t speak their language. We got involved with a birthday party, and a ‘Muffin Day’! The Muffin Day involved being split up into teams where we each made a batch of muffins with the users and staff at the camp and performed a dance with some of the users to everyone at the centre. Even though my dancing ability is somewhat limited, my friend Ivana and I enjoyed creating a fun and silly dance, teaching it to others, and seeing the joy of everyone at the centre as we performed it. I was so impressed with all of the staff too- they treated the users so well, and it was clear they genuinely cared about their well-being. Even though I know there were many users who could not walk, talk, or even go outside, I know we made a small impact on those who were more able, which made it all worth it.
We also had some ‘rest days’, where we went on excursions as a group. For instance, we hired bikes one day and cycled alongside a beautiful lake. We also took a trip to Zadar, a beautiful historic city where you could hear the ‘sea organs’. It was fantastic to explore the local area and see some truly beautiful sites. I also got the opportunity at the end of the trip to spend some time with my new friends in Split, before going home.
Personally speaking, this trip really benefited me in many ways. I became more confident in myself and my abilities through travelling alone and enjoying two weeks of being independent. I also feel like I’ve made some lifelong friends, who I look forward to visiting in the near future. I miss the users and the staff at the centre and will send pictures of England to a certain user who enjoyed lots of photographs.
To anyone who’s thinking of doing some volunteering abroad, definitely, do it. There are times when it can feel lonely and really scary, but even if you don’t know anyone, or there’s a language barrier, there’s always someone to help. Remember, the other volunteers are similar to you, and the camp leader is always there to help you. Yes, it took me a while to save up, but there’s not a part of me that regrets it. Even if it’s a different country, Workcamp, or accommodation, the rewards will be the same.
By Lara Bracey