Volunteer Review – Anouk Kraakman

You know that feeling that something isn’t right, but you cannot really figure out what is? I’m quite familiar with that feeling I have to admit. 😉 It’s not always present on the foreground, not at all actually. Often times I even completely forget about it, yet it never stays away for too long. This feeling is two-sides, partly it stems from some unresolved personal issues and I’m quite focused on doing my inner spiritual/personal development work to get to know these parts of me. Another part of this feeling is more about not being able to find my place in current society, maybe even not fully wanting to find my place. I have lived a city lifestyle for quite some time now and lately I cannot really get the same satisfaction out of it as I used to before. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy many comforts that city life has to offer, but the fast-paced lifestyle just doesn’t fully cut it for me anymore. I feel a sense of disconnection to life, to myself and to what not. 😉 So what to do next? I have to figure out what lifestyle doesfit me!

Searching the web only helped me so much; I realized I have to get down and dirty in this figuring out thing. Long story short; this resulted in me boarding a plane from my once so beloved Amsterdam to Lisbon, Portugal. The final destination is Pául, a small town in rural Portugal. I am going to volunteer at a project called Ananda Kalyani. Ananda Kalyani is a development project run by an international team. Its goal is to develop a model of sustainable living in response to modern social, economic and environmental challenges.

The Ananda Kalyani project was born from the dream of a group of people who aimed to create a better world together. The focus areas are deep-ecology, personal and spiritual development, art, all-round social service and social activism. They found the perfect valley (and it’s so pretty!!) for the development of a vibrant settlement, a service-hub and research-center where individuals can fully realize their inner potential, in harmony with each other, nature and all.

I arrived October 1st , just a few days before one of their events started: The Spiritual Warrior Camp (SWC). The SWC is a 4 day event and it is a beautiful mix of meditation, contemplation, yoga , obstacle run like challenges (jumping out of a high tree, slack lining over the river, climbing a high, almost vertical wall, etc) and other pretty tough physical and mental challenges. One of the motto’s of the SWC that I loved was: Face your fears and your mind will change! Me and a couple of other volunteers helped with the last preparations for the event and many friends of the project arrived to help out, so there was a bunch of happy open minded people together, all geared towards one goal: making this event rock! It was the perfect time to arrive for me because of the good-spirited atmosphere, it made me feel part of the group quite quickly.

Once the event was over life at the farm was quite different, we were left with only around 12 people and my work changed to mainly working on the land (picking berries, vegetables, processing tomatoes, cutting wood, planting things etc). I enjoyed a lot to spend so much time outside and being physical.

The Ananda Kalyani project in it’s current stage has no private houses yet. In the summer time people either camp or sleep in the big communal building, but when the nights get too cold they move to the nearby village of Paul where they rent 2 houses, one of them named ‘Casa Ananda’, this is the main house where everyone comes together for meals, meetings, movie nights etc.

After 2 weeks volunteering we moved to Casa Ananda because the nights got really cold. Living in a house with a group of people is quite different from living on the land where there is so much space. It’s still beautiful but a lot more challenging, that’s for sure and very good for personal development. 😉 The house is about 4,5 km away from the land and each morning we either drive or bike to the land.

With the winter coming the daily work has changed a bit, for example finding and cutting wood for the fireplace to heat the house. I learned to operate a chainsaw and little did I know how satisfying that is, I loved it. 😉  Also with the change of weather and the fact that I decided to stay a while longer, I’m getting more into office work; I’m going to shine my light on the topic of fundraising, very interesting and I’m looking forward to get familiar with this. Last but not least, I had my first real massage gig here in Portugal (I was a massage therapist back home)!

So far about the work here at the Ananda Kalyani project. It’s time to address another major thing that happens here. As I mentioned before, one of the focus areas of this project is personal and spiritual development. The hope is to make a contribution in the shift from a more mind based ‘more more’ approach to life, to a more balanced and sustainable heart/mind based approach to life, Individual mental changes are highly valued as a basis for larger societal changes (change starts with one person). Within the team, including all the volunteers coming and going, they promote an environment open to personal development. Think of; daily meditation, sharing meetings, constructive feedback, discussing/contemplating more philosophical topics, giving space to individual expression etc. It’s beautiful to see how the focus of this part of the work is so much bigger than just this project, they are really planting seeds in every volunteer that joins them, for whatever period of time. Some love it, some a bit less, but it always makes people think and reflect upon themselves and their life.

As for myself; Ananda Kalyani and your gorgeous people, what a katalyst you are! I participate in meditation almost every day, this together with the 180 degrees change of life and living and working together with a group of people get me out of my comfort zone so much. It’s really not just fun, zen and beauty here (I realize I may have made it sound a bit like that 😉 ), but this is where the growth happens, right?? 😉 It makes me see some of my beliefs and patterns and I’m trying to let go of the less functional ones.

So what about this feeling I described before that something isn’t right? Is it gone? And did I figure out what my lifestyle is? Well… ehm, the answers are no and no, at least not yet. Being here does help me put life in another perspective and it shows me that there are different ways of living together and it helps me to find that sense of connection again and maybe the answers to those questions will follow with time. 🙂

Obrigada Ananda Kalyani 🙂