This summer, I worked with the organization Volunteers for Peace in Ham, a small village in the Picardie region of France. My job was to help restore the Chateau D’Ham, a castle that had been destroyed by the Germans in World War I. I got to Ham on August 1st, quite unsure as to what was in store for me and found that I wasn’t the only one with these thoughts. I was to be working with kids my age from all over the world. I was sharing a tent with kids from Spain, Turkey, Italy, and Mali, so conversation at first was difficult; however, we all were able to speak to each other through a mixture of English, French, German, and Spanish.
After settling in, we began our work, which was mostly all outside, except for some work done on the interior of the castle. I began my work in the garden, building a wall that had been severely worn down. I had to make cement, something I had never done before, which I found quite fun. After working on the wall, I dug. I dug a lot! For about three days, I cleared a giant hill of dirt that needed to be removed so that the wall could continue. Work was tiring; however, the down time that I had with the rest of the group was very entertaining. The leaders of the project helped provide activities that everyone could participate in. Games of soccer were organized, cards were played, and on the weekends there were excursions to many different places.
Our weekends were very informative. We traveled to World War I battle sites, museums, and graveyards, which informed us to the historical context for the work we were doing. It was interesting to learn of the severity of the events that took place in the location that we were staying. Besides learning about the history of France, we also learned about French culture. During meals, volunteers were assigned different jobs. Some cooked, some cleaned, and some set the table. When cooking, two old French ladies helped prepare meals that were both local to the region and also favorites. The French cheese was not something that I would want to take back with me! My favorite trips were to the towns of Amiens and Chambly. Whilst in Amiens, we watched the Amiens Cathedral light show, where the cathedral’s impressive facade was lit up in an impressive technicolor light show. In Chambly, we went to a Ligue 3 French football game. Even though the players were only semi-professional, it was still fun to feel like I was a part of everyday French life.
When my work concluded, I was very happy with what I had done. We had completely rebuilt a wall of the castle and had improved it’s facade immensely by replacing many of the bricks. Others who had worked with the group had massively rebuilt the garden, with new beds for prospective flowers everywhere. This trip was like no other for me. I learned about history, improved my language skills, and also experienced a culture that was almost completely new to me. I will not forget this experience.
website for volunteers for peace: https://vfp.org/