The power of words

When you’re travelling, you often encounter strangers that, with their stories, give you power. But only recently did I feel the real power of communication and speech.

In the summer of 2019, I had the chance to participate in a volunteering project as a leader. Being responsible for a team that consisted of people from different nationalities, backgrounds, and cultures felt challenging. Thankfully, the team was all very open-minded and eager to make new friends but also work and explore the new area. But as they were up for an international project, I am assuming they were happy to learn, explore, and understand other cultures.

I had the chance to participate in total in three different international projects. Two as a team member and one as a camp-leader. The two positions can be very different. As a camp-leader, you are responsible for communicating with the local community and staff. But also, you are obliged to create fun and creative activities for the volunteers. Although it was my first time as a camp-leader, I previously, through other NGO work, had the chance to participate and create workshops or games for students and volunteers.

There are several activities that most volunteering workcamps follow. Usually, their pattern is designed in such a way so that they’ll emphasize the importance of cultural exchange, diversity, mutual understanding. Moreover, certain activities try to help volunteers see certain things from different perspectives, such as social exclusion, racism, discrimination, and climate change. But, in my opinion, the best activities are those that help others develop their creativity. Also, activities or games in which you get to share your personal stories that sometimes help others understand specific issues such as vulnerability and inclusion.

There were two activities that I loved during our free time, which usually was around a campfire with marshmallows, sausages, and wine. Firstly, as an introductory activity, if anyone wanted to have wine, they needed first to share a story or something that the rest of us didn’t know about them yet. Sometimes you can be amazed by what you learn. Storytime is always fun, although in some cases it can be sad. During the workcamp, I was apparently dubbed as the storyteller, and the wine was usually passed to me. (I love wine though, so there was no complain). But then again, I was the second oldest, and most of the group were eighteen to twenty, so I guess the oldest ones had the most exciting stories. (I’m twenty-five, and for the first time during the workcamp, I felt so old).  So, my travels, people that I met, and weird situations that I found myself during the last seven years of being on the road became the entertainment of the volunteers.

But the best activity or game that we had was creating stories by ourselves. Someone would start a story with once sentence of their choice, and it would be continued by the next one in whichever way they wanted. I was astonished by their creativity. The story contained rainy weather, aliens, and a zoo. Overall it didn’t make any sense, but that’s why it is a story after all. As we were playing the game, though, it was obvious that for some, it was challenging to find the right words, they wanted because of language barriers. The group of volunteers had a few who had difficulty with English. Therefore often, I would find myself speaking in a simple way or sometimes with only a few words to emphasize what was needed at that moment. Because of that, I once again was made fun of for some of my very ridiculous quotes. I’ll only say one of them, and let’s see if you get it. “Teach. France. School.”

Therefore, since some volunteers had a significant struggle with the language, we played the same game of creating stories, but each of us used only three at a time. Again, the creativity was amazing. This time there was a monkey, a treehouse, a giant fish, a magical island, and again aliens. And yes, all those were in one story. Don’t ask me how we managed to do that because even I don’t know how we did it.

It was undoubtedly my best experience in 2019, and I loved my time as a camp-leader for a group of people from all over the world. And honestly, it didn’t even feel that we were from different countries. We bonded as one very quickly, and we shared stories, experiences, and feelings that I’m sure we wouldn’t share with people of the same nationality. Because in the end, what connects people is not their nationality, race, religion, or background, it’s their heart and mindset. And I felt that with these people, I could connect on a higher level because of our desire to learn, explore, and live.

I’m looking forward to encountering similar or even better people and experiences like this in 2020.

Happy travels, everyone!