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We had the opportunity to catch up with two recent volunteers from Everything is Possible in Leeds. Molly Gannon (18) and Joel Ireland (20) took part in a wildlife conservation European Solidarity Corps project in Croatia in the summer, and they shared some of their adventures and thoughts on volunteering with us!

Beginnings

Moving abroad can feel like a massive step into the unknown. Molly had never travelled on her own, but when she heard about the volunteering opportunity at a meeting in her college, she decided to give it a go. Joel was reassured that despite “everything being completely different to what you know”, the four-week project was well-organised right from the beginning:

“At the pre-departure training we met others and learnt more details about the placement. We also did team building activities.”

Work and rewards

The wildlife conservation work proved to be both challenging and very rewarding, as well as rather unusual!  “In the first two weeks, we did construction, repairing, and enrichment for bears,” explained Joel. For both participants it was a great opportunity to make a difference. “Working and seeing the change was incredible,” said Molly.

“The highlight of my placement was when we released a bear back into the wild after it had been in a zoo for 40 years.”

Community and culture

Another aspect of the placement that Molly enjoyed was going ‘back to basics’ such as learning to cook on a wood-burning stove, which also gave her a new perspective on everyday life back home. A very important part of a placement is being part of an international group, who quickly bond through their shared experience and teamwork: “I learnt that being in a team, with the right people around you, makes everything better,” says Molly. “I felt comfortable talking to different people from all over Europe. Being in a big group was good”, added Joel.

Volunteer's handwritten 'thank you' note to the organisation

Molly’s ‘thank you’ note to the hosting organisation

The hosting organisation plays a key role. “They want you to experience as much culture as you can, but they don’t force it,” Molly told us. “The most challenging situation was after about ten days. The volunteers had been working in 35 degrees heat and were really tired; some people were also feeling a bit homesick, so the organisers decided to organise a campfire, which cheered everyone up. Ivan, the host, was always there to support the group. He really wanted us to learn about the Croatian culture and language; he would create a shopping list with us and would only put items that we said in Croatian onto the list!”

Future

Both Molly and Joel loved their experience volunteering in Croatia, and it enabled them to decide what kind of work they’d like to do in the future. “I got from this experience what I wanted”, said Joel. “I now know for certain that I want to do conservation work. It was an incredible experience, and I would definitely recommend it to others.” Molly agreed with Joel:

“I would 100% recommend doing a volunteering placement - I did not want to leave!”

Before she went on her volunteering placement, Molly was unsure if she definitely wanted to do a degree in veterinary science, but now she knows she would like to pursue this and get more work experience in conservation too. “I’m really impressed with myself for having done the placement and travelling on my own. It has increased my confidence, and I feel more comfortable about going to university now. I want to continue working with wildlife conservation in the future.”

Volunteer with his Youthpass certificate

Joel proudly presenting his YouthPass certificate

Quotes: Molly Gannon & Joel Ireland

Images: Erasmus+UK National Agency & Everything Is Possible


Thinking of volunteering and interested in similar opportunities? Register on the European Solidarity Corps portal to start your adventure straight away!