The World We Have – Pille Kuus – 12 Months Volunteering in Italy
Name of the project: “The World We Have”
Place: Lecce, South-Italy
Hosting organisation: VulcanicaMente
Volunteers blog: https://learnitshareit.weebly.com
I have been back in Estonia for a while now but I kept putting off writing this post about my volunteering year in the South of Italy. I am not sure whether the reason was laziness or my subconscious was blocking my inspiration but I just wasn’t ready to go back through this emotional year. All the memories, people I met, adventures I had, laughs I had, and I kind of have to say goodbye. I am not gonna lie, I had many difficult moments, for example when our entire home was filled with mold and I ended up with allergic reaction; or when I had health problems and it was impossible to get to the doctor; when I lost my motivation to learn a local language or had some difficulties with my fellow volunteers. But for me these hardships always pale in comparison to good moments that turn over to golden memories, and that’s what I want to leave you with.
My volunteering project was sending me to live in Lecce, a little gem of a city in the Italian region of Apulia, basically “The Heel”. And here I am sitting in Tallinn still, I don’t know anything about Italy or shoes, I still go to a cobbler! Which I had to do in Italy for a pair of my flip flops by the way…totally not worth it!! But more sustainable I guess? Or at least trying to be, and it’s those little victories that I learned to watch out for with this project. Eventually I figured, why not?! I wanted to learn Italian and had thought about volunteering before. A few weeks later, I hopped the night bus to Riga and flew down to Bari. Little by little I unfolded the culture and people, I learned how to do things with patience, how to get over my fear of biking on car roads with reckless drivers. I learned how to make traditional Apulian pasta thanks to the sweet ladies from Sapori a Sud. By the way we, the three foreign volunteers, later taught the local Italians how to make this pasta, it’s called oriecchiette, or “little ears”. The more I learned the language the more I was able to get to know Italian culture and lifestyle. I began to share these just pure moments, like sharing an aperol with friends on the roof. The best kind of milestone was when I was hiking the Amalfi coast and ended up talking with local workmen who carry boxes full of lemons on their heads down the stairs and hills, under the sun! It had to be at least 30 that day!! One box of lemons weighs 56 kg! Even in all that crazy weather and basically walking up a cliff, they still had time to share their stories with me and gave me some huge Amalfi lemons.
Our project “The World We Have” was about sustainability, environmental awareness, and climate change. Throughout the project we organized non-formal education workshops for local students. Online campaigns, zero waste public workshops and beach/park cleanups were also initiatives we heavily focused on. I was really happy that my long time passion of making videos was put into action to promote our project and activities. Unfortunately because of the virus, most of our work was online, but as soon as the COVID restrictions loosened we were able to organize in-person events again. Because of all the online work we did I learned how to use Canva and different Google functions. I learned so much about sustainability and plastic usage, which pushed me to launch my personal project, “Planet Pille” (https://planetpille.wordpress.com/). We also helped out in the local community by giving English classes to elderly people at EduVita and these ladies were so sweet! One of them baked us traditional cookies already by the second lesson and invited us to cook lunch together one Sunday. We basically adopted an Italian grandma, she even sent us packing with a huge bag of food but we were already so full! Italians!!
I consider myself to be quite a big traveler but never ever have I met such kind, hospitable and nice people as in Salento. One day I had just dragged my broken heap of a bicycle back into town and thought, I need some freakin’ pastries!! But when I go to pay, this old lady with flour all down her apron says, “oh but you took so less” and tosses in a bunch of sweet pastries, I was full for hours!! Oh Salento…I was so happy to see how much people value their local culture and traditions. Practically all the parties we organized with our friends involved the local dance Pizzica. On my last days I had the opportunity to take part in the most beautiful event when my friend Fabio invited me to go trekking with his pizzica friends. The hike and views were absolutely amazing, after every 15-20 minutes there was a stop to play music and dance. Even all the tourists and people around us joined in on the dancing. I was so moved that I had to secretly dry my tears of happiness. I also learned what a real coffee culture means. How it is normal to eat gelato at midnight?! I learned what the real Apulian summer means and how to adapt to it…get comfortable sweating!! I swam at all different kinds of beaches, went scuba diving, kayaking on the sea, ended up babysitting young Italians. At the end of Eurocup 2020, I actually made my way to Rome, timed it perfectly so I was there during the finals! Ended up celebrating the Italian football team Euro2020 win with thousands and thousands of others in the streets of Rome on a warm summer night. Unforgettable memory!! I hung around for a few days and was rewarded with being able to see the team, Azzurri, and the trophy!
During my volunteering year I solo traveled all around Apulia, and when COVID restrictions got better I traveled around Italy mostly by train and bike. Together with other volunteers in Lecce we did a 60+km bike trips around Apulia to see more of its beautiful nature. I tried pretty much all the local dishes and drinks, I ate a lot of gelato and pasticciotto and of course pizza! I got excited when I saw exotic fruits and vegetables growing and picked them. At least they were exotic for Estonians! I got lost so many times, and thanks to that I ended up with some unforgettable memories such as the stunning viewing platforms in Sardinia that are perfect at sunset and many cute cafes and beaches!!
One thing that no one talks about when talking about this kind of opportunity is the emotional goodbye to the city, country and most importantly to all the beautiful people who you meet on your adventure. I can say I fell in love with Italy during these past 12 months. Its culture and people will forever have a special place in my heart! I made many friends and I am excited to see them again!
I left a pizza my heart in Apulia.
Pille also made a video about her hosting city: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS9snccT4fg&t=13s
This Project was financed by European Commission’s European Solidarity Corps Programme