Volunteering at the Äerdschëff – Personal insights of a longterm volunteer
I arrived at the Äerdschëff-construction site with a setting summer sun on a Friday evening in the beginning of August. Volunteers were gathered around a long table and had just munched away on a shared meal. Some were doing dishes or discussing after dinner, others playing games in the chill area. The “Chantier Participatif ” had already started in the previous week and the volunteers got to know each other and by the looks of it, had become a close group of like minded peers. I overheard part of some conversation:
“Why do you like volunteering so much?” – “it’s a chance to try something new and to encounter other people as well as opinions in general” someone says. “in the search for a meaningful experience and to be involved.”, someone else adds to it. “And for fun!”, someone cried out and then a meaningful pause took place that confirmed all of the previous remarques. That sounded promising. It seemed I had joined a crew I could rely on while embarking on this new journey.
Later that evening, I got shown around on the construction site – which at that time was only an open area where machines had excavated the soil and laid the foundations on which the project would rest. Soon after, two tall rising tire walls would be built, rainwater cisterns put in place, a root cellar, a grey water planter and a rooftop to cover it all. I started to imagine what it would look like in the future. Images of a mosaic of light coming in through the bottle bricks and lighting up the magnificent building on the inside, passed in front of my eyes. I could feel the warm and earthy touch from the clay, hemp and other natural materials on the inside.
Projects : a life on their own – the Äerdschëffcase
The project had already lived a whole life before I arrived at the chantier in August 2019. The Äerdschëffconcept got dreamed of back in 2015; Followed by a lot of planning and preparing for the actual construction by the Ä-team and with them many locally involved volunteers and every year two long-term European Volunteers, . Over time, the idea gained body, got attention from wider audiences and reached further distances which eventually led to this month of intense creating and enjoying with volunteers from many corners of Europe.
What I got to learn, is that projects have an aim – a compass that is set on a certain outcome – in this case the construction of the Äerdscheff, an off-grid building that embodies the idea of circular economy and sustainable energy and resource use. A vessel to sail the challenges of tomorrow, according to the founding father himself.
Besides a clear start date and end date, projects have a plan and strategy to become reality. Money, time and risks need to be carefully handled as if it were a balancing act. But projects can be very different, we all know that. They can differ in size, in the impact they have or the range they cover. They may vary from building a DIY garden shed to baking a beautiful loaf of bread or they can be as impressive as creating a satellite program for exploring space. Whether we live in a project-based world I leave in the middle.
In this case, I had arrived at a Pilot-Project which wanted to become reality with the direct help of volunteers while learning together how to construct in a different way. “In the whole process, the idea of learning and teaching is an essential part of it.” One colleague highlights. The educational purpose is as profound to the project as the sockets on which the building rests or the roof that keeps it out of the rain. The sense of continuously learning and evolving together, is reflected throughout the lifecycle of the Äerdschëffand will continue after the completion of the building itself.
“Being a pilot project entails having many grey areas and unknowns which causes many uncertainties. Much patience and flexibility is required from the people in charge. As a coordinator you have to find the right balance between patience and moving forward, also between personal engagement and keeping a healthy distance for your own well-being. It is a continuous process, nothing is steady or certain, thus change and adaptation to changing circumstances is ubiquitous.” – Annick, project leader Äerdschëff
Written by Saul Lans,
Long-term European volunteer at Aerdscheff since August, 2019