Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interactive nature exhibition in Palūšė

Giving new ideas, new inspirations, learning from local people and between each others, and having fun. I guess the main goals of this day were achieved. On the 22nd of october, Edouard, with the great help of some Park's staff members and together with ten volunteers, organised the so-called "interactive nature exhibition". Plenty of workshops were offered for anyone to discover different manual activities.

Paper making with leftovers of eggs boxes...
It was beautiful to see that 60 or 65-year old lady arriving from the neighbourhood and being so playful when it came to make rice-based juggling balls, before kids could try them out. She was very keen as well to learn how to make paper, an activity on which great attention got focused, especially from Edmundas, our work colleague, making it with so much care.

Beside juggling activities, kids as well as adults loved paper boxes and paper wallets workshops, or how to make your own beautiful wallets with simple paper, plastic foil, and thread.

Au menu were :
  • Coloured Eggs
  • Nettle Pancakes
  • French cheese : comte, beaufort, tomme de savoie
  • Drinking suggestion : natural mint syrup
PS : Be aware that mint syrup is not supposed to be flashy green like in the shop, but brown!)
The star of the day : the compost toilet!

After such a great meal, what's best than a beautiful compost toilet? Undeniably, the compost toilet was the masterpiece of the day, and kept four or five volunteers busy for more than half a day. The little extras of it : the sweet pine tree perfume, the water bottle, opening like a tap to wash your hands after doing the job, and the extra chair, just in case someone would have had the idea to support the main actor.

Although more workshops were expected to take place, and despite the slightly messy atmosphere, this day was a success. Only one major regret : a calendar coincidence that made this nature exhibition happen at the same time than an important kids theater festival in Ignalina.

Red cabbage painting : beautiful and tasty!

A very simple toy to make : juggling balls!

You can find online an article about the event :

Gražutė Regional Park : A european-made Youth Path

Sabrina, painting the swing
Let's appreciate the movie of nature!
32 young people, 4 nationalities, 10 days of hard work, and a project that took shape, the shape of a Youth Path. All this happened in the village of Salakas, heart of Gražutė Regional Park, located about 60km north of Palūšė.

The two EVS volunteers of the Park, Sabrina from Germany and Rocio from Spain, organised this event, contacting 32 youngsters from Germany, Spain, Italy and Lithuania (eight of each), who became themselves short-term volunteers for this great achievement.

Some pretty hard work
The idea was born when seeing plenty of local young people spoiling a beautiful area near the largest lake of Gražūtė, ten minutes walk from Salakas itself, by coming and drinking there, sometimes with not much respect for the environment.

There was a need for them to get a place that they would really like and respect, so Sabrina and Rocio thought. They put their ideas into action and built different wooden structures, forming like a path, a way to follow. These constructions are useful, artistic, informative, or even philosophical. The nature cinema, for instance, is a wooden frame without a screen, facing the lake, with big wooden mushrooms to sit on and watch. The movie is definitely a slow-motion one, with, as main actors, some birds flying in a distance, or a unhurried fisherman on his boat. The idea is, in our speed-based society, to take more time to appreciate the beauty of nature and what surrounds us.

Altogether to create a better place...
... with love for well-made work

The Youth Path is here to provide informations about the main issues that local youngsters might find on their way, like alcoholism and unemployment. And by clearly showing that it was all handmade, and on a voluntary basis, by youngsters from different countries including Lithuania, with for most of them no experience whatsoever in this kind of projects, it delivers a strong message of optimism to the local community.

One day off to discover the neighbourhood : Aukštaitija National Park!

Cooking for 32 people is something not so easy to manage. And yet, the four countries took turn to propose a great variety of dishes. And italian food was definitely the most appreciated one.

Lentil soup for a start...
... eggplant parmigiana and...
... a memorable tiramisu to finish

Thursday, October 20, 2011

EVS life in Palūšė

Festivals, part of volunteering life over summer
The other day, my mentor Linas told me : « In your blog, you desbribe lots of events. But there’s really something missing. There’s nothing about your everyday life in the Park, with the staff, your life as EVS volunteer »… And he is right ! So I’ll try to correct that now with this post.

Sharing family life with our colleague Edmundas

First, being a volunteer is not all about work. We surely helped a lot over summer with the visitors. We were arranging accomodation for them, giving them advices about what to see, what to do in the Park, selling maps and postcards, and sometimes showing them around Paluse. Other jobs were for instance putting up signs in the campsites and sites of interest all over the Park for better information, picking up rabbish left behind by unrespectful people, helping to clean up the campground and the tourism center in Paluse, improving the visibility of painted symbols on trees, showing the way to follow on the botanical trail. And the translation of the Park’s website into french is still an important ongoing job.

Our everyday walk or cycle work/home

But being a volunteer is about discovering as well. Culture, traditions, language… I believe some of the traditions are already a bit described in all the events we’ve attended and written about. Culture is a large concept. It encompasses people’s daily routine, way of life, way of thinking, beside others. Far from being a culture shock, Lithuania still offers us a different view over people’s behaviours, and opens up our minds to the diversity of Europe.
We enjoyed our gardening results all summer
One of the firsts

The first weeks, I was a bit disoriented, not knowing what to think about people who would hardly open their mouths or show any emotion whatsoever. Are they all shy ? Why don’t they smile ? Why don’t they reply when we expect at least some kind of reaction while daring speaking up our firsts « Laba diena » ? But then we understood. The soviet period is not that far away still, and people were not so communicative then, because they had to take care about everything they would say, and not to tell anything to anybody, cause such an attitude would cause them soon some big big trouble. So communication remains, for many people here, something that they don’t excell in. But actually, we started to find more and more really nice people to talk to, and locals started to be flubbergasted when hearing our timidly spoken lithuanian. Only a few words and they would already be like : « Oh you speak such a good lithuanian ! » Funny !

Like Columbo
Our colleague Roma and us

With the staff members, we became more and more able to communicate in lithuanian. Especially Florence. Following the opinion of all other volunteers and EVS trainers, I think she’s probably the best starting from zero word lithuanian-speaker volunteer of all time. Sometimes, it almost seems like she is more at ease with lithuanian than with english ! I feel like crap compared to her. The reason for that is very clear : I didn’t put as much energy as her in learning this challenging language. I felt I could follow her for the first few weeks, but then, I was just left behind. She is like Columbo, always having some kind of piece of paper with her to write any new word she would hear. Then, at the end of the day, with the greatest seriousness of all, she would copy all these words again on her little self-made dictionnary. And learn them. She is definitely the only Park volunteer doing that. And we can only have admiration for such a great involvment, passion and motivation. It is explainable. She loves this country so much that she wants to stay here. Forever ? Well, maybe, so she says...

Having a good connexion with our colleagues at work is definitely part of our EVS, and with her lithuanian skills and her capabilities to speak about nothing and everything with anyone, Florence is managing it really well! So well that from time to time, she now spends some nights in Ignalina, the closest little city, hosted by Irena or Asta.

I am probably much more shy in that sense, and don’t dare talking to my colleagues that often, by lack of confidence and frustration of not being able to share what I’d like to.

I don’t feel as much attachment with Lithuania as Florence does, maybe because I always tend to compare with my uncomparable previous travelling experiences, especially New Zealand. But I honestly like this country. Some really great people, especially the staff members we spend much time with. A very interesting culture, with this odd mixture of paganistic and religious influences – Lithuania was the last european country to become christian, that was only in the XVth century ! Some beautiful landscapes, with a such a rich and fantastic nature. And we can’t complain with the place we live in !
With another colleague...
Neighbouring the forest, we’ve been able to go quite often mushroom picking and berry picking (I was really amazed at the amount of blueberries you can find here over summer, they form like a gigantic carpet covering the whole forest, picking options are unlimited!), and to get some vegetables from our lovely home-made garden. For volunteers keen on fishing, our place is fantastic as well, with this little “pier” we have just down the stairs.

Interactive nature exhibition
With our bicycles, named “Ugnis” (Fire) and “Mėlynės” (Blue), we’ve been enjoying some nice chilling out rides throughout the Park. We actually used them a lot, to go to work everyday (a lovely ride along lake Lušiai) and to go to Ignalina, 4 kms away.

The delicious and typical cold beetroot soup
And the less typical snails (but we're french!)

We go shopping there, and for about three months, and an average of twice a week, we went to visit the greatest teacher of all, Astra. We got very lucky having her as our lithuanian teacher, for many reasons :
-          Her full time job is teacher, which is not the case for most other volunteers’ teachers.
-          She did not only teach us the language itself, but shared with us her great knowledge about lithuanian culture and history she is very proud of.
-          She was very flexible and generous concerning the lenght of the lessons, supposed to last for 1h30 but usually lasting for at least one more hour of pleasure!
-          We shall not forget she is a very good cook, and she would almost always prepare us a yummy dish or some cake to try out. Only once or twice, she did not manage because of a lack of time (she is a very active woman!), and was apologizing so much about it that it became really funny.

Only one and a half month before our volunteering project comes to an end. Time flew so fast! But we’ll make most of our time left. We are currently doing Park exchange, all eight volunteers hosting for two weeks and visiting for two other weeks. A good opportunity to see how it works in other regional or national Parks, what sort of activities our fellow volunteers are doing in their projects. Some more teaching and learning experiences up to come.

The interactive nature exhibition I organise in Palūšė this upcoming Saturday will surely be one of them. All Park volunteers will gather for this event they will run altogether, with plenty of workshops about recycling, making your own paper, your own natural paint, building up a compost toilet, making your own juggling balls, before trying them out of course, etc. The idea is to get local people involved, and to learn from them as well as to try to teach them some of our skills.
Lithuanians are shy... but not always!
This post might have been a bit long, thanks if you managed to read it till the end! :-)

One of the main issues : mosquitoes


Monday, August 29, 2011

Seminar and holidays

Last week-end, we had the chance to cross the whole country to attend a seminar in Nemunas Delta Regional Park with about a hundred attendants : employees and directors of almost all regional and national parks of Lithuania, employees of Protected Areas from Vilnius, and members of the Ministry of environment. The seminar last for a day. Then, on saturday and sunday, with colleagues of Aukštaitija National Park and Labanoras Regional Park, we spent some good time together in Nemunas Delta and near Klaipėda, by the sea.

The director of Nemunas Delta Regional Park welcomed all participants of the seminar :
employees and directors of regional and national parks, as well as the ministry of environment,
Protected Areas (the national institution in charge of all parks in Lithuania) and EVS volunteers of course

Nerijus and Leonas, from our hosting organisation Deineta, said how important it is to
spread the word about volunteering in Lithuania, something still not wellknown enough

Two boats allowed all of us to (re)discover Nemunas Delta


The atmosphere was great during the boat trip on the Delta


Picking up rabbish near the river : task accomplished!

Let's apologize for polluting rivers and be thankful for the water...

...said this group of volunteers, beside the seminar,
 for an association of protection of water ressources.

Ramūnas Lydis, director of Nemunas Delta Regional Park,
thanked in some symbolic and funny way,
with cold water poured over his face and half-naked body
by these women of a folk group


The lutheran church of Rusnė,
little town in the heart of Nemunas Delta Regional Park,
on an island separated by rivers from the mainland.
On the other side of the river : Kaliningrad (Russia).

The bridge separating the island of Rusnė from the mainland

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Here is the very end of Ventės Ragas (literally 'world's edge').
It is a sparsely inhabited area on the tip of the south-pointing promontory of the delta,
which, with its dramatic nature and uplifting isolation, is beautifully wild.

The main attraction here is the Ventės Ragas Ornithological Station,
66km south of Klaipėda at the end of the Kintai-Ventė road.

The lighthouse of Ventės Ragas was built in 1862

No, the bagpipe is not only irish, it is
actually a traditonal instrument of Lithuania.
Gydrius, from Labanoras Regional Park,
is one of the few dozens of people who have one.

Our mentor Linas used to play it regularly
and is actually pretty good at it

Place and time chosen to play were perfect...

On the 6th and 7th of June 2009, 1000 hats were hanged on this tree,
as an original way to commemorate Lithuania's 1000th anniversary.
Every visitor had a chance to contribute in that record. 
A hat on a tree is a symbol which means
"It was good to be here, and I'm going to be back"

It was sunset time at Olando Kepurė (or Dutchman's cap,
in reference to the shape of this 24 m high cliff overlooking the sea)

From left to right : Edouard, Irena, Andrius, Vanda, Linas, Sigutė and Florence

One of the last summer week-ends on the beach. Lithuanian seaside remains
wild and natural enough, with no hotels, houses or restaurants by the beach.
Just sand and mostly pine trees. A big change compared to french or spanish coasts!

The sea was pretty wild on sunday.
A good occasion to have fun in the Baltic waves altogether