Fabian is a German volunteer who spent nearly a year in the magical Forest of Dean, living and working in ASHA Centre.
I just had to run through the entire airport like crazy, somehow getting through the security too late. Must have made an Olympic record, I wish someone timed it! Even now, I can still remember my heartbeat as I sank in my airplane seat, barely making the flight. As I was slowly calming down, I started wondering, what would happen in the next few days.
I left Germany to go on a nearly a year long adventure, volunteering at a strange place called “ASHA”. Now, sitting in England, almost 10 months later, it seems to me like all of that happened years ago, when it really wasn’t that long – but time just flew by, and I am about to finish my volunteering placement. I will be continuing my own journey back home in Germany soon.
So today, my dear reader, I would like to tell you about my international experience as a volunteer, and why you should definitely visit this place and maybe, just maybe, spent some more time here, just like I did.
The day after my airport marathon, I finally arrived in ASHA, a charity located in Forest of Dean, in the Southwest of England, a mystical place, where the wonderful forest has been giving inspiration to some of the world’s finest writers.
A set of cottages within a lovely garden waited for us there. But not only that - also a year full of memories, from which I’ll share some with you now, a year of volunteering, a year that was truly life-changing for me.
There is a lot to it, but I think the most important part were the people. Living with 15 volunteers from all over the world was an eye-opening experience – people of different backgrounds, different ages, different ideas – I think you get what I‘m trying to say – and there was definitely something to take and learn from everyone I met.
In addition, there were constantly more people coming, as we would have an Erasmus+ training course with about 30 participants almost every month – time for discussion, banter and good times in the evening. Throughout that period, there were very many people crossing paths with me here, and they have all made me more international, more open.
I am sure some friendships I have made during my volunteering placement, will last for a long time, and it is just so great that I’ve got friends all around the globe now.
Nature and cities
Then, living in the nature, beautiful nature. The feeling of space and timelessness, spending time with strangers, who soon became very familiar, having time for yourself while not forgetting your own interests – getting back what is so often lost in big cities, living with a different set of values and a different routine. Besides the surrounding forest, also being in another country, on the British Isles, was an experience by itself and something new to me.
Seeing a different country, with a different cultural and historical background, was definitely enriching. I loved visiting London, Oxford, Cardiff, and many more.
Last, but probably lying in the heart of it all, the work. Learning all about accommodating people and taking care of the garden, the kitchen and the house. Working way more with my hands than before was surprisingly satisfying, and showed me new ways of thinking, and I have learned many things that will be useful for me in the future.
Hard to believe that I will be going back to Germany very soon, leaving behind the place that I will always keep in my heart and think very fondly of, people whom I started to call friends, and a lot of memories that will stay with me probably for the rest of my life.
Volunteering at ASHA was an experience that made me braver, more self-confident and opened my eyes to the world in many ways.
So, if you feel like you need a break from what you are currently doing, you wish you were somewhere else, with someone else, somewhere totally different, collecting unique memories, then perhaps you should consider coming to ASHA Centre. Maybe not immediately as a volunteer, maybe as a course participant first. But you should definitely come, because this place is just incredible.
In hindsight, it was definitely worth stressing out and running through the airport for this. Yes, looking back, it was meant to be, and the slightly bumpy start marked the beginning of the most unforgettable adventure of my life.
Story: Fabian Lessmann
Photography: Fabian Lessmann & ASHA Centre
Thinking of volunteering in the UK and interested in similar opportunities? Have a look at our volunteering in the UK webpage to learn what you can do, or register on the European Solidarity Corps portal to start your adventure right away!