Paul is currently in Latvia doing some ERASMUS volunteering with the help of Be Enriched. Here is his story...
How are you involved with Be Enriched?
Be Enriched supported my volunteering experience in Latvia, providing me with one-to-one mentoring and support for my European Solidarity Corps programme. In particular, they ensured that I was making the most of the opportunities I had on my programme, in particular the community work projects I set up.
What are you doing in Latvia?
I’m currently working at a social home for young people with learning disabilities, known here as ‘villagers’. The social home is situated on the grounds of a biodynamical farm, and villagers have set roles on the farm, from working in the paper workshop to milking cows in the dairy. Most of the work I did here involves outdoor work with the villagers, such as chopping firewood, gardening, and managing the dairy. Other tasks involved assisting villagers with meal preparation and creating scheduled activities, such as a weekly disco evening which I run.
Have you enjoyed it?
It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to work here with my fellow co-workers. Despite the challenges that are only natural when caring for people with learning disabilities, I will leave Latvia with a great sense of achievement.
What has been the highlight?
Going on a group trip with the villagers to Riga to see the Christmas lights was certainly a happy memory! But I would say that the highlight was when I gave a talk and quiz on British culture and Christmas traditions. I put a lot of effort into ensuring that the talk was both informative and enjoyable for the villagers. Hearing such positive feedback from them was very special.
What have you learnt from your experience?
One thing that surprised me upon arriving here is how responsible the villagers were. There is a big focus here to enable villagers to be as independent as possible. Volunteering here has made me appreciate the importance of this if we all truly want to live in a fairer and more empathetic society.
Likewise, I also learned to have more faith in myself and my own capabilities. The responsibilities I was given gave me the perfect opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, whether that was public speaking or simply trying to integrate into a new community. I hope to continue this attitude as I approach the rest of my gap year, and eventually university.
Are you learning any new skills?
Videography - I produced films for both the Christmas Nativity and New Years Eve party. This was especially important this year given that the families of the villagers could not visit due to Covid restrictions.
Construction - I facilitated in the renovation of the stable alongside other various diy projects.
Firewood - Whilst I don’t have much firewood to chop at home, I’m sure my wood chopping skills can come in use for future travel!
Travelling - This volunteering project will be my first time travelling solo to another country. If one thing’s for certain, it won’t be the last! It’s been such a privilege to learn about Latvian culture and history with my hosts, and I’m excited by learning more about our world for future travel.
Cooking - The most challenging aspect about cooking here was having to cook for 25 people all at once, especially when you have about 5 different dietary requirements across the village. It certainly was a handy lesson in time management and portion sizes nonetheless!
What is your favourite dish?
Spicy Pumpkin Soup! I’m definitely going to bring that recipe home with me!