Christopher arrived from Austria to Athens to join ELIX spring Voluntary Workcamp "Neon Chora II Recycling for Good" from 20th of March till 2nd of April 2016.

The aim of this voluntary programme was to rebuild and reuse old furniture which was not any more in use and after to distribute them to families which face difficulties because of the economic crisis.

The project was funded by eea Grants – “We are all Citizens” throw the Bodossaki Foundation in Greece.


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Written by Christopher Nenzel:
Experience report about my workcamp in Athens, spring 2016

This text is about my workcamp in Athens with ELIX. Writing about such an intense experience, there always needs to be some emphasize. I could write about the psychology of the group, our work, our daily routine, the food or whatever. I decided to take some small parts of each, mix it all up und add some personal input.

I have done four workcamps so far and whenever people ask me what it is about, why I do it, and what I like about it, I answer them: “There are three things on my personal checklist that make up a good workcamp: The country with its culture, the project and most importantly the TEAM“.

Well, so what did I expect before I arrived in Athens? I based most of my expectations on the experiences I had collected in the workcamps before: some interaction with the locals, some work in the nature, maybe some maintenance. Oftenly a kind of spontaneous and not necessarily consistent. That some things were going different that time I realized the first evening, when the whole group was gathering for a first meeting.

“Welcome to Athens“, we were told by our team leaders Eliza and Yorgos “This workcamp has a plan. Well, it has two plans. Plan one is the duty list for cooking and cleaning. Plan two is the REAL plan. We are using the upcoming weeks to produce, renovate and restore furniture in order to give it to people who really need it“.

Restoring furniture: sounds more plain than it actually is. The most important thing I learned in terms of the practical work is: the world needs sandpaper! Whenever you are not sure what to do, use some sandpaper and when you want to apply any of the numerous techniques we learned, you mostly need to start off with sandpaper.

There were many aspects I liked about our work, I want to mention the two most important ones: Firstly, I really had the feeling of CREATING something. We made tables out of pallets, chairs out of bulky waste. The main resource was our workforce and our brain. That’s what the second aspect is about: we were given the freedom of realize our own projects and ideas. It was not only about putting wood together, but as well about creativity.

As I stressed before, the team is always the best part of a workcamp. In this terms Athens was not an exception. Just to mention some statistics: 18 volunteers, 9 countries, 1 shower, 100% cooperation, maximum of fun. Yes, indeed pretty impressive. Participating in workcamps and working for an organization that enforces European integration made it one of my passions watching people with different cultural backgrounds pulling in the same direction. It is hugely fulfilling to see how easily and quickly people with partly totally contrastive habits, ways of thinking, interests and food tastes (don’t underestimate that) come together, get united and have fun. This interaction and understanding of each other is the core of every workcamp and is the reason why I consider them as a tremendous enrichment.

Athens is not Athens these days without the crisis. It is omnipresent and therefore it needs to appear in this text. A short story out of our daily life embodies all this pretty well: Around the corner of the apartment where we were hosted there was a Souvlaki store. Quickly we figured out that it was better and cheaper than the average, so we got regular customers and went there every second night. As it took a while to make the whole bunch of Souvlakis, we had some time to chat with the man behind the counter who worked at the store. The first day we knew his personal recommendations, the second day we knew his name was Dimitry and the third day he knew most of our names. The sixth day we asked him: “Dimitry, you are here every day, every time. Don’t you have a free day? “, Dimitry answered: “I am here nine hours a day, seven days a week. All the time making Souvlaki. I don’t have a weekend. But at least I have a job”.

One of the most memorable moments I experienced, happened the last but one day of the project, when we started delivering the pieces of furniture to the families. Together with Yorgos and two of my volunteer mates we loaded two chairs, a small table and chest of drawers in our van and drove to a family, which had been chosen by the organization to receive our furniture. The apartment was on floor 4, the elevator super tiny. We needed three shifts to bring everything up. Up there we met a woman and her son, about 6 or 7 years old. Without understanding much of what they were saying, we felt warmly welcomed. As a passionate football fan I directly noticed the boy was wearing an Olympiakos shirt, so I asked Yorgos to ask him if he supports them. The boy answered “No, I am supporting AEK. But that’s the only one I got for an affordable price“. Everyone football fan knows what I felt in this moment.

So far, so good. I could write another five pages about the great experiences, but it is time to close the cycle and come back to my workcamp checklist. Short proof that the volunteering in Athens was really as cool as it seemed.

1. Country and culture: all the Greek people I met were super nice and welcoming. About culture in Athens there doesn’t need to be said much. Thumb up.

2. Project: Very well organized, diverse and challenging. Thumb up.

3. The team: for sure the highlight. Thumb up.

Overall: Many thumbs up!


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