28 maio 2020

O testemunho da Ana No. 2 (SPEM Sociedade Portuguesa de Esclerose Múltipla)

This experience is just getting better as time goes by. I feel very integrated in my organisation and I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to get to know better the people I work with. I am getting to know more about their lifes, the challenges they have everyday and their strength to face them. And besides that we are sharing fun and unforgettable moments. I have also started doing some workshops in portuguese, which seemed impossible when I started!

About Lisbon… it's amazing the experiences this city has to offer! I have been in theatres, escape rooms, so many gigs and art exhibitions!

And as the weather is getting better we have also been able to discover breathtaking places in nature! And what I value the most... is the people I am sharing this experience with! I am really looking foward to have more adventures together!

27 maio 2020

O testemunho da Karolina no. 1 (SPEA)

Until recently, I spent whole days in the snowy Czech mountains teaching kids skiing and snowboarding, and now, a few days later, I'm sitting on a beach wearing shorts, digging with my fork into pasta in a plastic box and watching the calm sea level. Tânia is resting next to me, with backpacks full of maps, GPS and all the equipment needed to complete today's tasks scattered around. Both of us have binoculars at hand, always ready to bring us closer to some interesting events from the bird world.

I arrived in Portugal at the end of February as a volunteer for the European Solidarity Corps. Here I joined a new start-up project of the Portuguese Ornithological Society called LIFE Ilhas Barreira, which aims to protect the island ecosystem in the Ria Formosa Natural Park in southern Portugal. The project focuses on the conservation of three target species - the little tern, the Balearic shearwater and the Audouin's gull. The latter has just flown over our heads screaming his head off which is so characteristic for this particular species.

The lunch break has flown by fast. I try to chase away the thoughts of having a small coffee and a traditional Portuguese pasty treat - pastel de nata – as a dessert. I am hoping that walking around the island, the fresh sea breeze and work will soon wake me up from the "after-lunch sleepy mood". Our task today, and for the coming days, is to map the vegetation on the island. We are orienting ourselves with the help of a GPS and a map which has specific points drawn on it. Expanding a square of 2x2 metres at each stand with the help of bulky plant guide, we are trying to identify everything which grows inside of the square, even the plants in its strangest stage of development.

Working in the field feeds my soul after a week of sitting behind a computer. Although the work of conservationists may seem full of adventure and days spent outside getting fresh air, it is one of the more enjoyable sides of this job for which we look forward to. Everything we collect in the field must also be processed on a computer. For example, previous days were spent sorting photos from camera traps, together with other volunteers Rita and Tânia. Sometimes it is a task that takes only a few hours. Sometimes bush dances in the wind standing in front of the camera, triggering a camera trap at the slightest movement. Likewise, if seagull colonies like to move around the area right in front of the camera trap station, there may be thousands of them to sort instead of a few dozen pictures. And then your eyes and ass hurt a lot from working on the computer.

While working in the sun, the time flies completely differently. We have completed mapping of the last site around 4 afternoon and are slowly moving to a concrete pier. We stop at a wooden cottage. There is a wooden table in the middle of the porch with utensils left untidily around after the lunch feast, and a hammock between two columns which is swaying in the wind. The place looks completely deserted despite numerous signs suggesting one's recent presence. Tânia peers inside the cabin through the widely opened door and soon she manages to lure an older man out of the inside of the wooden building. Sleepily, he sits down at a table on the sun-drenched terrace and begins a friendly conversation in Portuguese with Tânia. I have not bad an eyelid, but my brain has been trying hard to try and understand at least some snippets of their conversation. The feeling of joy due to a promising understanding of parts of their discussion is promptly swept away by another rush of inexplicable phrases. I keep reassuring myself by knowing I would have plenty of time to learn the language - I have yet 10 months ahead of me! After the conversation which has exhausted me more than the two of them together, we say goodbye to Senhor and his picturesque home. The rest of our group and a small motorboat are already waiting at the pier. Usually, there is a large cruise ship which sails to the island and back. However, because of the coronavirus measures, its operation has been interrupted, and a small boat trip back to the island is only available for island workers and our ornithological crew. The cruise to Faro takes about 10 minutes, after which we walk through the streets, which are less and less crowded every day,  and we disappear into a small house spending the rest of the day there.

Today, two months later, I am back home in the Czech Republic. A few days after having that nice lunch on the beach, I got on a plane and flew out of sunny Portugal. Due to the growing pressure connected with the coronavirus situation, I have decided to return home at the last minute, and spend a strange period of uncertainty at home.

Spring is in full swing. The last remainder of snow retains only on the highest mountain peaks. Brooks are teeming with salamanders, there are jays arguing high in the treetops, and deers are running away as they notice my presence. Instead of Audouin's gull with a red beak, I am looking for a woodpecker with a red cap. It's hard to believe that until recently I was sitting in shorts on the beach watching the sea level.

All organizations involved - SPEA, SPIN, Plan B and both National Agencies - accepted my decision to end volunteering with understanding. I would like to thank them all very much for this, and for everything else they have done. At the same time, I would like to wish all the best to everyone who has decided in a similar way or, on the contrary, those who have stayed working on their projects.

It was an enriching experience in ways I could hardly expect despite being funnily short in comparison to what my original plans were.