Why volunteering is the way…

By Eveline Mimpen

“How does it feel? All that clay between your toes?”

– “Like a new way of life, for sure!”

It’s my friend that answers. I have her dancing in one of those big black plastic tubs. She is new to clay plastering and total joy results on her face. While she dances, she mixes clay and sand to cob.

We find ourselves on the Danish island Orø with Cathrine Dolleris, our host for the next 10 days. I got to know Cat one month ago during a PEC (Permaculture Educators Course) given at Friland, a community next to Århus. Together with Andy Goldring (Permaculture Ass. UK) she demonstrates future educators tools for teaching. Cat is a permaculture designer, consultant and teacher and came to the island 1 year ago. In her classical Danish house from the 1870s she is developing a small business Geoliv and a Permaculture LAND centre, meaning a site where Learning, Activities, Network and Demonstration takes place. The house shows some deep cut wrinkles of age and poses opportunities for retrofitting and aligning it to a sustainable lifestyle.

So, basically, that’s exactly what me and my friend are doing. We help Cat slimming down her ‘to do list’ in and around her house. Today is about repairing a wall with cob and giving it a clay plaster. The beauty of building with natural materials is immediately obvious. Where cement mortar would have been ready for the dump, we collect the scraped off lime plaster to put it next to the apple tree, who doesn’t mind some alkaline lime rock/powder. The 150 year old cob mortar coming out of the old wall is rewetted and, after some squeezes, goes straight back into it. Awesome.

Cathrine doesn’t work on her dream alone. She gets help creating her LAND centre from both the Danish permaculture network and the Workaway network. Workaway, like WWOOF, is a website, where volunteers and hosts can connect. Bed, board and a learning experience is available to the volunteers when they deliver 4-5h a day of work for their hosts. This work could be focused on organic gardening or animal husbandry (WWOOF) or covering a more broad range of activities like helping in a café, baby sitting, but also cleaning or fixing things (Workaway). Another source not yet explored by Cat could be the POOSH.org, which is focused on natural building.

Next to us Dutch girls (both 27), there is a family from Hong Kong staying ( 10, 22, and mum 47) together with a 24 year old Aussie man running away from university. This mix could mean a recipe for chaos, but we all find our place fairly naturally. Only a few times do we need to put our Aussie to work for morning porridge. The rest of the food is being prepared by either us two, ‘the family’ or the barbecue which does most of the work the later that week. The campfire at night does its thing and brings us closer together. We talk a lot. The difference in culture and where everyone is at in their lives, is as interesting as it is inspiring. There is just some magic happening when different cultures come together to work on a common goal. I love it. We all have something to bring to this concert and we all harmonize naturally.

The days are relaxed, the 5h a day we need to put in feel like a breeze cause no one is watching the clock and the work is enjoyable. One does what one feels like. Cat has a major list of chores to be done. So if you feel like demolishing pallets, go do it. If you feel more creative, go and make a wooden frame to hold the firewood (which we did). Feeling cold? Go weed the greenhouse. Feeling hot? Go water it. Or just chill out with your book under the old ash tree, who keeps a watchful eye on all of us.

Author: Eveline Mimpen (27) is a traveling permaculturalist and natural builder. She enjoys the small things in life and is always open to new opportunities. Follow her on deepgreeninspiration.com or just email to e.mimpen@gmail.com