Environment

Greener Park - Greener Future

Portugal

Portugal

Workcamp

Written by Sarah from Belgium

September 2023

My name is Sarah. Last year, I was hosted by the BioLiving and Verde associations in Valongo, near Porto, Portugal, for a volunteer project. How did it feel to spend two weeks trying to control invasive species?

 

Greener Park – Greener Future: an ambitious name 

The project in which I took part, Greener Park – Greener Future, was mainly focused on controlling invasive plants in Parque das Serras do Porto, a protected natural reserve. Of course, we weren’t going to change the world in two weeks. As we’ve pointed out on several occasions, preserving nature is an ongoing process. This need for continuity sometimes frustrated us: what’s the point of doing this if you have to start all over again in a few weeks anyway? But that’s where the activities organized by BioLiving and Verde really made sense: presentations by international volunteers on biodiversity in their home countries, seminars to raise awareness of the decline of flora and fauna in Portugal, educational games and activities… Not to mention all the activities that forged strong bonds between all the volunteers! 

Volunteer holding a crab covered in mud.

Intensity and friendship: two outstanding weeks 

I will have to admit that there was a busy schedule. Waking up with music at 07:00 and beginning at 8:30 sharp a full day of work in the reserve, cultural or sporting activities at the end of the day, meals, a seminar or a game activity… It wasn’t a relaxed programme at all! But these two condensed weeks forged some wonderful friendships, friendships that had an invasive tree that’s hard to uproot, a horse ride or a few drinks as witnesses. Because that’s what volunteer projects are all about for me: getting together around a cause that you feel is right, sharing both effort and conviviality, acquiring knowledge and know-how, and forging precious friendships. 

Volunteers Cleaning a River

Panic in Valongo 

When we arrived at the reserve, the campleaders explained everything to us: which tools to use, how to use them, which plants to control, what other tasks we could carry out… However, at that moment, there was this feeling of panic: “What am I doing here?? I’m never going to get it right, I’m never going to remember everything!” This was without having into account the warm welcome and kindness of the volunteers. Mutual aid was definitely the keyword. Actually, a volunteer project means learning a lot about the world, but also about yourself. My lesson was to realize that if everyone contributes something to the group, maybe, in the end, I am capable too.

 Volunteers crossing a river.

Patriarchy invites itself 

I was able to rediscover a precious link with nature, but also, unfortunately, with patriarchal behavior. We sometimes noticed that certain boys positioned themselves as “saviors”, carrying the heaviest tools or offering their help more than necessary. I sometimes found myself wanting to prove to them that I was also capable of doing this physical work. These situations led to long discussions and reflections between the volunteers. My two conclusions, which I’m now trying to apply are, to have confidence in my abilities (I can do physical work) and to stop trying to prove it (other people’s perceptions reflect their way of thinking, not who I am). A theme far away from the one of the project, but one that still resonates in my life today.