Volunteering week 2023

When I was returning home to Prague after 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), that in addition to work, trips and fun there was even more time and energy for sharing, praise and prayer together – for these were the greatest encouragement.

Of course, knowing Milan, he would probably like to use these extra hours for more work, because there is no shortage of work at Krupárna. We are happy that we managed to complete all of 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 in the upper room all week on the new floor, announced at lunchtime 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 5 days they managed to rip out the old wooden floor, lay a separation film, a leveling layer of sand and fireproof boards. On top of that 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, all that followed by a 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 by the skilled participants so that the wood could be reused; a group of able-bodied men dug the foundations for the extension of the log shed, which they then built and stacked the chopped wood into. Other technically experienced participants cut the planks for the birdhouses according to prepared schematics. Meanwhile, a group of younger and energetic volunteers took part in the ‘great moving event’, carrying items (books, specimens and similar treasures) from the Krupárna attic to the cleared hay loft.

And those who volunteered to clean out this storage area deserve special honors; it was a job that no one was wanting to do, not only because of the prevailing heat, but also because of the dusty hay that had to be removed. Therefore, those who were involved in this work must have felt that they were going back to the days of covid, because it was simply impossible to work without a respirator (and, for some, ski goggles to protect the eyes).

Throughout the week, various groups of volunteers were also preparing wood for the next year, clearing weeds from the beds and ponds and weeding various corners of the Eco-centre natural garden that really needed it. It’s a good thing that so many of us came this year – compared to about 30 people last year, there were 47 of us at times!

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 and they’d always put it back there after drinking, thus using one mug throughout the whole day.

On Wednesday, we had a visit from the Czech Television crew. Pavel caught a beautiful kingfisher for them, we released about ten doves together from Petr’s flock, and during a series of short interviews we took the opportunity to show the public what makes Krupárna so unique for many people.

Afternoons and evenings were devoted to relaxation, sharing and mainly trips and exploring the beauty of the Eagle foothills. On Sunday afternoon we visited two beautiful churches – the church of St. Joseph in Šediviny and the church of 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 both 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 a few dozen minutes of 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 an amateur, yet very experienced, 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 not only enough delicious mushrooms for one of our dinners, but also some interesting specimens, which Petr then told us about in a very engaging way and pointed out the similarities and differences between individual species. From the heat of the afternoon sun, we hid in the shade of the valley of the Janovský brook and enjoyed a beautiful walk to the waterfall and the Zákraví dam, or we walked along the Metuje River to Peklo (Hell). There were also activities right in our beautiful garden – we had the opportunity to listen to an engaging story about the life of birds from the mouth of Pavel Světlík, to visit the beehives with Jana and get to know these very important creatures in more detail, or to explore the beasties from the ponds and be taught about how a natural living garden differs from ordinary gardens by Filip. One of the destinations of our trips was also 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 and his talk about the fauna of the Orlické Mountains, where we focused on local wolves, among other animals. The most instructive, though, 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.

It would almost seem that our program 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 as well, we reflected together on God’s purposes, on the protection and struggle for His creation, on 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.

And 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 was 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.

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Looking back at Volunteering week 2023 27th August 2023
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