Adventures+entertainment+activism = The Valaam Island

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Frankly speaking, choosing the suitable event for a blog turned out to be more difficult than I had expected. I have been racking my brain for some time trying to find the experience that would meet the necessary requirements and be worth an article. And suddenly it dawned on me – volunteering on the Valaam island was the example I had been looking for! Indeed, our stay prolonged for three weeks and could inspire me to write a dozen blogs as each day on the island was really unforgettable. But to put it in a nutshell, this is how I found myself a volunteer…

Initially, I associated the opportunity to volunteer on the Valaam as unconventional tourism. The necessity of daily manual work did not put me back – on the contrary, after teaching throughout a year with inevitable piles of papers my body was anticipating to deal with something heavier than a pen or a piece of chalk. Plus, I expected to escape from hectic city life and quit civilized lifestyle at least for a while, feel myself in the shoes of Robinson Crusoe.

But hardly had I boarded the transport vessel when my adventurous thoughts vanished into thin air. Almost immediately I felt seasick and remained completely indifferent towards the romance of a voyage over the Onego Lake. However, the sight of land on the horizon helped me pull myself together. An hour later I was unpacking my suitcase in the volunteer room and curiously gazing around. The place was unlike anything I had seen before. The comfort was limited to minimum: a dozen beds, bare walls, several benches, the simplest cutlery. Nevertheless, the atmosphere here seemed incredibly peaceful; despite lack of conveniences the shelter appeared really cozy – perhaps due to the icons decorating each corner and Bibles on each bed.

Getting to know other volunteers was also a pleasant surprise. Since the very beginning we managed to establish friendly and caring relations. I could hardly believe that it needed neither ice breaking nor team building to start behaving not as co-workers only but rather like a house on fire. Indeed, everyone appeared to take mutual understanding for granted. Throughout the whole stay conflicts and clashes of opinion were very scarce though there were 50 totally different people together – with various backgrounds, habits and lifestyle!

Perhaps our constant cheerfulness was the result of doing a great deal of physical work outdoors. The duties were numerous and versatile: cleaning the territory, cutting wood, planting trees. I noticed that an hour of digging ground in the garden in a pair could be the beginning of a very firm friendship and replace days of getting acquainted by any artificial means – self-introductions, presentations, group discussions. On the Valaam age and gender barrier hardly existed - we stack to each other and shared everything we had, be it a piece of bread or a secret. Many times during our stay did I remember Leo Tolstoy with his famous appeal to give up false benefits of civilization for the sake of simple, peaceful rural lifestyle.

But despite hard work we always found time and energy for entertainment. A few hours before sunset a dozen volunteers would gather in the hut a few kilometers from the base. It was the habitat of the Elk Master (this honorable title was given to the guy who lived here and was responsible for night watch in the field, otherwise elks would destroy the plants). Never would I forget our evening get-togethers. We spent whole nights sitting around the fire, making toasts, telling jokes, playing with the dog – another prerogative of the Elk Master. Sparks of our bonfire mixed with guitar tunes and rhymes of our songs rose to the sky with stars scattered all over. Here hours flew like minutes and only then would we remember about time when the first dim rays of sun in the East would mark the beginning of the new day. At such moments the laughter ceased and everyone stood up marveling at the gorgeous sun dawn. And as if a response to our silent prayers the remote church bells all over the island greeted the morning with their melodies. Another day of work was waiting but nobody felt exhausted although we did not sleep a wink the whole night. Solemnly did the volunteers walk back as if united with an invisible bind, now members of the mysterious selected circle. Never was the feeling of unity and brotherhood stronger than in such moments.

Beyond all doubts, our stay was full of enjoyable and memorable moments. Along with frequent bonfires we killed free time by visiting the most remote places of the island both on foot and by bikes. During one of such hikes we met a group of tourists and had a thoroughly enjoyable time in a joint company where strangers treated each other as most welcome guests. Another weekend a group of enthusiasts including me went kayaking and returned back wet to the bones, tired to death after several hours of rowing yet in high spirits. As already stated, each day of volunteering was so fruitful and inspiring that I could highlight any of them in a separate blog as the events to describe were really numerous.

Therefore, this article is only the first step. At the moment the most active “veterans” of our volunteering period (July 2015) have joined efforts and created a group to continue keeping in touch, sharing emotions, giving feedback, planning further joint ventures. As a person with a considerable experience in the field of journalism I find it necessary to highlight the value of this Project in my blog, let young enthusiasts get the information straight from the horse’s mouth. I would be really happy if my own inspiration would one day convince at least one activist to apply for the Program, thus becoming a part of the Valaam network that unites hard-working, energetic and enthusiastic people on all the continents.

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