Volunteering Week 2023
As I returned home to Prague at the end of this year’s Volunteering Week, it felt a little as if I was returning to prison. I am not sure if other participants felt that way as well, but for me, after a week of incredible freedom in nature, amazing community and meaningful work, returning from the forest to the ‘concrete jungle’ was especially challenging. But the moments spent together with nature and creation enthusiasts from all corners of the world, all ages and all denominations will keep me energized in future weeks and perhaps even longer.
Just like last year, the A Rocha team had prepared a lot of work for us, as well as many inspiring trips and lectures. Many people may have wished that the day had a few more hours (and they had a lot more energy) for sharing, praise and prayer together, for these were the greatest encouragement.
Of course, knowing Milan, he probably would like to use any extra hours for work, as there is no shortage of work at Krupárna. We are happy we managed to complete the long list of tasks, and the praise from Milan warmed our hearts as much as the feeling of a job well done.
So when Team 1, who had been working tirelessly on the new floor in the upper room all week, announced at lunch on Friday that the floor was finished, they were rewarded with a victory shout from all of us, as it was clearly the most challenging job! Judge for yourselves: in five days they ripped out the old wooden floor and laid a separation film, a leveling layer of sand and fireproof boards. Then came the soundproofing insulation and OSB boards glued together. Everything had to be accurately measured and leveled, the outermost boards cut to fit, the material carried upstairs, with careful clean-up after each stage. The team did not shy away from the difficulty or the amount of work and the result is a professionally prepared floor for the final layer.
The others certainly did not slack off and their work was not at all easy either. Nails were removed from the original floor so that the wood could be reused. A group dug the foundations for the log shed extension, which they then built and stacked with chopped wood. Other technically experienced participants cut planks for birdhouses. Meanwhile, a group of younger and energetic volunteers took part in the ‘great move’, shifting items (books, specimens and similar treasures) from the Krupárna attic to the cleared hay loft.
Those who volunteered to clean out the hay loft deserve special honors. It was a job no one wanted to do, with the prevailing heat and the dusty hay that had to be removed. Those who were involved in this work must have felt they were back in the days of covid, as they had to wear masks (and, for some, ski goggles for eye protection).
Throughout the week, volunteers prepared wood for the next year, cleared weeds from the beds, ponds and various corners of the garden that really needed it. It’s a good thing so many of us came this year – 47, at times, compared to about 30 people last year.
Several dedicated volunteers also helped in the kitchen each day, as it took a lot of energy and work to prepare food for so many hungry mouths. Not to mention washing the dishes! Work and water were saved in the second half of the week by Dan’s ingenious mug experiment, where each participant had a spot on the windowsill marked with their name for their mug, allowing them to use only one mug throughout the day.
On Wednesday, we had a visit from the Czech Television crew. Pavel caught a beautiful Kingfisher for them and we released ten doves together from Petr’s flock. Through a series of short interviews, we were able to show the public what makes Krupárna so unique for many people.
Afternoons and evenings were devoted to relaxation, sharing, trips and exploring the beauty of the Eagle foothills. On Sunday afternoon we visited two beautiful churches – St. Joseph in Šediviny and St. Matthew in Deštné. In the former, we listened to the local administrator’s talk of the history of the church and its benefactor, and sang a canon ‘Sunday morning light’ / ‘Gottes Stimme lasst uns sein’ in Czech and German, to the accompaniment of a mini organ. The same song was then sung in the second church, where after the church tour we were treated to rest in a meadow with a spectacular view of the countryside, while the younger participants swung on two grandiose swings suspended from a majestic ash tree.
During the week we took a botanical walk with the botanist Josef Kučera, who then gave a lecture on the plants of the Eagle Mountains. Next, we enjoyed a mushroom foraging trip, during which we collected delicious mushrooms for dinner as well as some interesting specimens, which Petr taught us about. In the heat of the afternoon sun, we sheltered in the shade of the valley of the Janovský brook and enjoyed a beautiful walk to the waterfall and the Zákraví dam, and walked along the Metuje River to Peklo (Hell). We also enjoyed activities in our beautiful garden – the opportunity to listen to Pavel tell stories about the life of birds, to visit beehives with Jana and get to know these very important creatures, to explore the beasties from the ponds and to learn from Filip how a natural living garden differs from an ordinary garden. We also visited the pilgrimage site in Rokole, famous for its spring that never runs dry and which now serves as a home for the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. From there we walked to the nature garden of Mr. Kubíček and his extremely friendly dog, Ferda.
Our evenings were marked by education and culture. In addition to the already mentioned lecture by Mr. Kučera, we also listened to zoologist Václav Pavel about the fauna of the Orlické Mountains, particularly the local wolves. The most instructive was the lecture of Ing. Milan Hluchý about the loss of biodiversity and other pressing problems of humanity. With practical examples we could see the positive effects of organic farming in the vineyards of the Pálava region on nature and wine yield and the spiritual dimension of the ideas of famous personalities were presented to us in a beautiful and memorable way. A spiritually enriching cultural insert was the Thursday concert by Slávek Klecandr, with whom we sang psalms. Slávek also included several songs in English in honor of our volunteers from abroad, thank you! There was also the traditional campfire followed by praise, prayer and sharing.
You may think our programme was so busy that it was hard to find moments for silence and prayer, but this was not the case. Each morning, and sometimes after the evening programmes, we reflected together on God’s purposes, the protection and struggle for his creation and our human debt not only to nature but to God himself. We heard many encouraging parallels and life stories and gave thanks together daily for the opportunity to work together in this beautiful place, united in our love for the Creator.
Although we don’t know what will happen with Volunteer Week next year – whether there will be a major reconstruction of the centre or whether we will once again contribute our bit of work to the restoration of this unique place – we do know one thing for sure. While we have been working on the Krupárna and its garden, the Lord God has been working in our hearts. He has been teaching us how to look at the world and the people around us with his loving gaze, how to trust Him even in the uncertainty that often threatens to engulf us and how to keep bringing our stumbles to him and accept his forgiveness.