Take time out to volunteer
Time out Volunteering in France an article written By Caroline Grace O’Brien A British Volunteer at La Giraudière April May 2013
Read how volunteering helped Carrie at a very confusing time in her life. Carrie writes about her stay and reflects on what she has achieved for both herself and La Giraudière.
A confession: this is the first article I have ever written. I feel I have things to say, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and temporarily forgetting any anxieties about my clumsy wording being available for mass-consumption on the World Wide Web – internet audiences are rarely associated with the word ‘forgiving.’
Time Volunteering goes to quick
I write this as I reach the end of my six week stay as a volunteer at La Giraudière (six weeks apparently an insufficient time frame to become accustomed to the French AZERTY keyboard layout). For the moment, chez moi is a traditional Charentaise master’s house dating back to the 18th century, situated in the beautiful village of Brossac, south west France. In this short time – and it has flown by – I have learnt a great deal. For those already familiar with post-‘gap yah’ tales of voyage and discovery, fear not; I won’t be waxing lyrical about how volunteering has significantly improved my communication skills, how I’ve learnt to be a real team-player or how my time abroad has made me generally indispensable to future employers.
Instead I’d like to try to provide a little insight into what my stay here has entailed what exactly I have learnt and why I am convinced that volunteer projects abroad like this one at La Giraudière are seriously good for the soul. As an aside, to those who are aware of some of the more ethical questions surrounding the gap-year craze that is ‘volunteerism,’ come to LG, where the only thing that will be exploited is your liver once you develop a taste for the local aperitif, Pineau des Charentes.
Volunteering good for your health
A little about me: I’m 23 and a recent graduate. I enjoyed my time in academia but am happy to admit that from time to time the pressure got to me, things became intense and life got a little more difficult. My first moment of clarity, after watching the evening’s hot pink sun disappear behind the endless Charentaise hills – the feeling of mounting stress that I experienced in my four years as a student is part of a more widespread epidemic felt by most of the western world; the expectations we place upon ourselves, our desire to succeed and to fit in – particularly in our working lives – stems from the attitude that being unhappy and succeeding is a better option than failing. Enough studies already exist informing us that this culture is not so bon pour la santé.
Time out to find oneself
Time out to travel, to find me, to find my route and to escape
To labor the point, consider my decision to come to France for six weeks. Yes, I wanted to travel but there was also a rather overwhelming (and on reflection – disconcerting) feeling that I needed to run away from the real world. I wasn’t unhappy as such but at less than a quarter-of-a-century old, with ‘the best years of my life’ just behind me, should I really be so desperate to escape? The answer is ‘no’ and it has taken me six weeks of participation in the good life to conclude that much of the stress back home is not needed and can be eliminated.
So, suddenly I find myself in the heart of beautiful Charente, in Brossac, a place where skies reveal thousands of stars at night, birdsong never ceases and it’s normal to see deer exploring the garden at breakfast time (I‘m hoping for a third sighting before I leave). To sum up the magic of La Giraudière: the house works as an ongoing project; visitors stay from as little as €20 per day and in return give 21 hours of their time per week to the various happenings on site. Both skilled and unskilled workers are welcomed. After nearly 6 weeks, it remains painfully evident that I am in the latter category – but it doesn’t matter. I have dipped in and out of jobs since being here, working on the computer and preparing the house for the peak season. Most recently I have turned my hand to gardening, something I hadn’t really done before and now love. Despite my inability to render a wall and my ignorance of the restoration techniques of 19th century French woodwork (fairly niche), I have achieved a great sense of satisfaction from knowing that I’m contributing to the success and aiding the continuation of La Giraudière.
Time out to find ones’ direction
Volunteering my time for a worthwhile project like this one makes me feel very good indeed. Of course, there are countless studies which argue for the health benefits of volunteering, which probably should be referenced here. The social interaction that comes with volunteering in a group and the feeling of well-being gained from the awareness that you are helping others are strong factors in why volunteering positively contributes to the health and happiness of participants. With LG, the added factor of being in a new and incidentally beautiful place – apologies, Manchester – away from the pressures of daily life, has enabled me to think clearly, reflect and discover a lot about myself. I now realise just how much of my quarter century I have wasted fretting about things which, as the French would say, “n’est pas grave”.
What did I want to achieve in writing this article? I wanted to share my own experiences and appeal to the stressed and overworked, to let you know that you can get more from the world if you just find the time to try a little of something new. Volunteering in France has worked wonders for my outlook on life. I believe it has brought some real benefits to my health, which hopefully far outweighs any damage done by the copious amounts of red wine consumed since arrival. I will leave Brossac feeling refreshed, prepared and excited for the next challenge, which happens to be teaching high school math’s in the north of England – now what was I saying about pressure and stress?!
Take some time out to volunteer. Even if you can’t make it over to La Giraudière in France (though you must try your hardest), doing something new in your area which provides escapism from the hustle and bustle of the rat race is something I implore you to do, even if it‘s just an hour a week. You will be happier. You will be healthier. You will not regret it.
If you enjoyed this article then take some time out to also read Unique French Experience another volunteers article.
Many projects are undertaken by La Giraudiere this video is about volunteers working on a EU project
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