Antonio: Good leader steps back a little bit

What does it mean to be a project leader and manage a group of international volunteers? Read story of our volunteer Antonio, who leaded large amount of our projects in Wales.

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Antonio initially came to Wales from Italy to volunteer on our Carmarthenshire programme of environmental volunteering. Following a return visit for a second volunteering experience Antonio was employed by UNA Exchange, co-ordinating a large programme of work in Carmarthenshire. Now living in Ammanford, he has remained a very active volunteer up to the present day!

ANTONIO’S STORY

“I started in UNA Exchange in 2008 as a leader of mid-term project in Wales and organized by Carmarthenshire County Council Leisure Department. It was environmental project which took place in different parks and groups I leaded were working with rangers, cleaning parks or making fences.  Every mid-term project included between 5 and 7 workcamps. Every project was different and every volunteer who was coming to the project was different. Of course you learn and you get some experience, but every time there is something new that you have to learn. And that is quite nice and interesting challenge.
It was really hard work for leader to manage and to find a good harmony in the group. We had fifteen volunteers in totally different ages, background, experience and expectation on the projects. Just imagine, that you have to organise the group, make sure that the work is prepared for work, managing all the daily activities and set up the rota cleaning and also try to encourage them. That was what the most difficult part was probably. You need to encourage the volunteers to be more independent. I think that the perfect project is when the group lead themselves and you don’t have to do anything: but not because you don’t want to do anything-because you just step little bit back and just leave the group to lead themselves. You grow with the group and you leave the group to lead themselves.

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The power of volunteer comunity
I was amazed by the power of volunteers and the hard work they are able to do: I saw Japanese girl that can nail wooden footpath… (even she was very dangerous with the hammer☺) I saw group of volunteers to build a massive bridge. I think before that people don’t realize the power they have.
I gained that probably in bad situation you can turn up. It is not easy and if you are alone it is even more difficult. But if you are surrounded by people, all together, you can just go through. On my first winter project we were once working in the park replacing old wooden shelter. It was freezing cold and drizzling snow around and we needed to bring very heavy and long planks. We needed to go on the other side of the park with this planks and it was like walking half a mile from one side to other. But with this group we started to make a race singing. We started to sing and it was “hell of a life.” Instead of complaining to walking half a mile with plank in awful weather. This group was amazing because I didn’t say anything and they just started to enjoy and sing. I can’t explain and I can’t forget.

“The volunteers share the same feelings, they share the same times, they cry together, they share the same music, they play together, they share the same food….I think it is amazing.”


The boundaries between every single volunteer is getting so strong that is going even after project. I think it is because the volunteers find probably that they are similar: even if they are coming from different countries quite far from them and they don’t know each other and they are different backgrounds, they have different studies and experience. But there is completely different environment on the project and every volunteer starts from the same level. They share the same feelings, they share the same times, they cry together, they share the same music, they play together, they share the same food….I think it is amazing. Can you imagine someone from Muslim country and catholic country just live together for two weeks? And in the end of the day they realize all the process and they feel the same. When I realized the power of volunteer community on project it rewarded me all the sacrifice all the time and all the energy. You can see the results and see from where did they starts and where they are now. I like to imagine where they will be in few years.

Volunteering is an addiction
Volunteering changed my personal way and my life and old surrounding and I finally found more balance and I understand people quite well now and I am more patient. After they shut down the project I decided to stay in Wales to keep going working with young people and started to work with kids. Most of the time I work with problematic kids who have problem with antisocial behaviour, domestic violence or abuse. It is quite common, that people expect the worst of them from the beginning. But during my leading experience I learned very important thing, which is really useful for work with this kids: If you assume the best from someone, you will probably get than best.  

Volunteering is an addiction. When you start, you will never finish the volunteering. Somehow in different ways, different places, different time you will do it probably for all your life. It is kind of journey. It is journey outside but also journey into yourself and you discover things you didn’t know about yourself. But you can discover just while you can share with someone else who is completely different from you.”

FOLLOW ANTONIO!

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  • Would you like to become a leader of one of our International Volunteer Projects in Wales this summer? We are always on the lookout for project leaders and we offer special training to develop leadership skills. Find out more about our training opportunities and get in touch with us to discuss your possibilities: exchanges@unaexchange.org