The story of our first experience volunteering abroad…
Eco-truly, A Hare Krishna community in Arica, northern Chile
We heard of this place through Federico’s cousin while we were staying in Iquique, a nice coastal city in the north of Chile. He told us of this self-supporting Hare Krishna community one hour away from Arica (Lluta Valley) where people can stay and learn about permaculture, eco-building, and healthy and more sustainable ways of living. We really liked the idea since we both share the dream of being able one day to build our own sustainable home with a big garden where we can grow our own organic fruits and vegetables.
So, we decided to contact them through Facebook and see if they were receiving people at the moment and if they had room for us. They told us they had a voluntary program and we were welcome to stay as much as we wanted and learn about green architecture, permaculture and vegetarian-Ayurvedic cooking. They also told us there was a contribution we had to pay in order to help them with food expenses.
Detailed Voluntary Program:
Volunteers are always welcome and can stay as long as they want with no minimum time required. This program is destinated to those who want to live a harmonious experience with nature, with other people and with themselves, which implies getting to know the ways of life in the community by getting involved in its activities throughout the day. Volunteers of all ages are welcome, the only requirements are: to work with enthusiasm, to be responsible and to be respectful of others.
You can sleep in a shared room (men and women sleep in separate rooms), or you can bring your own tent. You can also rent a private room (additional cost) in case you want more privacy. You get three meals per day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. All food served is vegetarian with vegan options. Breakfast will be served from 7 am to 8 am and the working hours will be from 8 am to 2 pm. The work to do will vary according to the community needs, your skills and your personal interests.
Costs and contributions:
13 USD per day for a private room
10 USD per day for a shared room
7 USD per day if you bring your own tent
We decided to try the experience for a week. We arrived on a Sunday, got to know the place, the permanent residents and other volunteers, and set our tent in the place we thought would be more appropriate. Everybody gave us a warm welcome and the devotee who was in charge of the organization at the community, Hari Bhakti, explained to us all we had to know about the place. After a very nice and delicious vegetarian dinner, we all went to bed, around 7 or 8 pm.
The Hare Krishna Community In A Few Pictures
The first day was a very interesting one, we met Mr Veda, an Uruguayan professor with a vast knowledge of ecological building and green architecture, he provided us with an insight into the different soils and soil combinations to be used for building methods. Our first assignment was to mix soil with cow manure and water in a big tank, with our bare feet! It wasn’t an easy job, the mud was cold and lumpy, and we had to leave it as smooth as possible so as to use it as a fine plaster to cover the walls of the different constructions. It took us about 5 hours to accomplish that task, and about another 40 minutes to get rid of the mud in our legs and feet. I must say it wasn’t a pleasant thing to do, but it was a very interesting experience.
The second day we used the mixture we’d prepared the day before to plaster the walls of a building recently constructed, so we had to carry big buckets full of water and mud so as to wet the walls one by one and cover them with mud using only our bare hands. It was during that activity that I met Teresa, a happy, lovely, funny, outgoing (I could go on an on with the positive adjectives forever) young woman from the Czech Republic who was also volunteering at the community with her partner, Christian, from Spain. We had such a great time working together! We talked and laughed while we covered the walls and ourselves with mud, it was a really nice morning.
We had lunch at about 2 pm, which, by the way, was delicious. I don’t know why but Hare Krishna food is really exquisite. In the afternoon, Mr Veda gave us all an informative tour around the community to show us the different building methods in every construction in the area, and also to show us the community organic garden and other future projects they were working on. After the tour, the cook (Mandaras) asked Teresa and I if we could help him make pizza, so we continued talking and laughing all evening until dinner, which was really good and abundant.
On the third day, we finished plastering the walls of the building and started doing the same in an old house at the back of the community which was built long ago but never finished. It was an exhausting job and, by lunchtime, we were all covered in dust and mud, and very hungry. After lunch, we all went to a quarry near the community to collect the material for making the mud, it was an amusing but tiring experience for me since I’d never done anything like that before. After a hot and rewarding bath, we all got together at the dining room to celebrate the birthday of a member of the community with a delicious vegan chocolate cake. And then we stayed there chatting with Teresa, Christian and other volunteers, it was a very pleasant moment.
The fourth day was our last working day since the next day we were travelling to Peru. We kept working at the old house and we also ground the material collected at the quarry in order to make more mud, Mr Veda helped us while he taught us many interesting things about eco-building, it was a very nice day full of information.
We left the community on the fifth day with mixed emotions: we were very happy about the experience and all we had learnt, and all the wonderful people we had met; we were also pretty tired from all the hard work; and we also were a bit sad for having to say goodbye to our new friends. But when you’re travelling you get to understand that every goodbye is a nice memory that will stay with you forever, and every encounter is a unique and enriching opportunity to share with others.
All in all, we enjoyed this experience thoroughly and I must say that I learnt a lot about many things, especially about myself, which is the best gift that this volunteering could have ever given me. The community will keep receiving volunteers that will help them finish the projects we started and that will begin new ones, we’re very glad to have been part (at least for a week) of such huge and warm family.
We are deeply grateful for that experience and for every person we met in that volunteering: Teresa, Christian, Rafael, Mr Veda, Mandaras, Hari Bhakti, Boris, Camilo, etc. Thank you for sharing with us.