Interview de Wim sur les plataforms de volontaires (anglais)
What is this workaway? What do we do here?
We have a mill here with four big buildings, 5 acres of land, and this is an open place for people to experience life, yoga, tantra, self-consciousness. And all the volunteers that come here, they give hours of work and they get in exchange a bed, a meal and courses. And that can be tai chi, that can be arts courses, or yoga, tantra, shibari, and all those consciousness courses. And that’s basically the exchange we do right now.
Since when did you start here? Where did you start workaway?
We bought the mill in 2012, in September. And we knew immediately we would need volunteers for this. We stumbled on the website workaway, and we did not know if it was big or small. There were also other websites, like woofing or helpX. We kind of found out that workaway was kind of a big website. So, when we bought the mill, in 2012, we went immediately to workaway and now, it’s 2019, we had between 300 and 350 workawayers that worked here.
Have you ever been a volunteer in workaway?
No. So the process is, you need volunteers to help you, and so you go in your network, you go on the internet and you search, and then you find workaway. Like the other websites you find, forums, travel forums, volunteer forums, you know? You go on all those forums and then, you kind of find out that, as you go, workaway is the best. That’s how we found workaway, not the other way around.
I was never a volunteer on workaway. I did a lot of volunteer work, but was never as a workawayer. I think when I started volunteering, workaway did not exist. Because it is one of those websites that is big now and in two years, this website is gone and comes another one. It used to be woofing. Woofing was the big one.
And you did woofing?
So, how did you find the places to volunteer?
Oh, I basically went to ashrams and centers, and then is just like you do your thingy.
And the deal was more or less the same?
Yes. You volunteer and in exchange you get something back. Usually you get like a bed, meals, and some courses. And usually the volunteering is for free.
If you had to give an advice to workawayers…
Yeah, everybody call them workawayers, but let’s call them volunteers. I mean this is just a forum, this is just a platform.
So, do you have any advice for volunteers or people that are thinking on doing volunteering?
There’s not that much to give as a good advice. For one, make sure that you know where you’re going to. I know there are places and it goes from 8 hours working to like 3 hours or 4 hours working. There are places that as a volunteer you have to pay. 5 euros a day. 10 euros a day. Find out for yourself what you want. Like do you want to go to a small community, like in an house, do you want to do some babysitting, or do you want to go to a big community, and be part of a team? So, know what you want yourself. Go on workaway, on websites like workaway, and you’ll find out that there are two thousand hosts in France, so pick the nicest.
As a host, had you had bad experiences with volunteers? What did they do or didn’t they do that made the experience bad?
Yeah. I mean, if I take 100 people, then there were one or two that I actually sent away. And that’s usually that english guy that was just in a big depression. He did not know it himself, he did not admit it, but he came here, and it was such an outer environment that he was used to, that he just slipped into the depression, while he was here. We ended up calling his mother, and his mother came from England, and his mother picked him up at this place.
We lost him at some point. He was gone. And we had a phone call from the police like “we found a volunteer from you in La Châtre, just like 30 km from here. He was just lost, just crying and sitting there. You know, this happens, i mean, people sometimes just don’t have it all straightened in their head.
And for instance, another guy. He was so dyslexic. He just wanted to do everything his way. That kind of does not work in a community. In this case, I’m the owner, I have efficiency and we all go to this one solution. And if you want to paint walls pink, then I’m going to stop you. And this was for him like “no, I want to paint walls pink”. You know? Actually this happened! So, yeah, I sended him away.
So, I think this happened, with the 300 or 400 volunteers, three or four times. That actually for a volunteer, I had to say like “oh my god, this is not working. I’m asking you now to go to a better place that fits you better”
Can you name 3 things that volunteers absolutely shouldn’t have when volunteering?
If you know from yourself that you’re not happy in your skin or if you have some mental issues. Like if you know by yourself that you are not able to work with people, to work in a team, then you should not search for a team. Because when you go workaway or you do volunteering, you’ll find yourself always in a, for you, strange environment, doing strange work, with strange people and this can be so much input, that if you’re not flexible, you’ll so not like this. So, then, protect yourself, don’t do it and go to a small place or don’t do volunteering, and just go couchsurfing. (laughs) Go just crash on a couch somewhere.
But you know? Those three, four that I sent away were the worst case scenarios, I had a lot of volunteers, and this would be approximately 15%, that they just are not able to do the work. For instance, we need to work with wood. I’m just saying, we always have different kind of jobs. But, in this example, they are just not able, they just do not get the message. It’s just not going to happen. This is like mission impossible to teach them how a hammer works (laughs). This I have a lot. Not a lot, but specially young kids.
But young kids are in the process of learning. Therefore, we learned that we would not take volunteers under, say, 25 years old. Also, we don’t take volunteers above 45 years. Except some cases, when we really need people and it’s a good fit. Basically, it’s because they are too young and they don’t know enough, they don’t have enough life experience or they’re too old and they don’t fit in the team and they have their own way of thinking. And especially with us, with the tantra and the yoga, it asks for a lot of flexibility, a lot of live energy. And I just keep on pushing. And what I usually do with those people that I see like “ok. you are in my team now, but you’re not functioning the way it should be?”, like if I put you in the kitchen and it’s just not gonna happen? Then I usually put them on a job that they can do by themselves. Easy job, that they can do by themselves. It’s not always the most useful job, but gives them a feeling of “yes, I’m adding something to the community”.
Back in the Netherlands, when I was actually doing a working thingy, I was also already group leader. This is what I do. I work with people, with young people and I’m always on top of a group. This is just what I do, half of my life already. So, for me, teaching is actually the comfort zone. Looking at you, who you are, what are your skills, and then making sure that you’re on the right place. Like, these are your skills and then a little bit step more, so you actually learn stuffys. If you are able to find the right point, if you are able to grab the person, you can teach him a lot, but on his level. And some volunteers just have a very low level (laughs). And also some have a very high level! and they know a lot. You have them all. With the volunteering, you have them all and you have to know what to do with all of them. They all need a spot and, at the end, that feeling of like “yes! I added something, I learnt something.”. Like “yes, now I know how a hammer works”. (laughs)
Yeah, we laugh now but for them is like a big deal. I had volunteers, never holding a hammer. I had to do the 101, like “this is a hammer, this is a nail, it works like this”.
So would be the advices that you would give to another hosts like you?
Be flexible. Know how to work with people. And make sure you have the right environment for people. Which means, make sure that they have a nice bed, that they have nice meals, that they have nice work and that they kind of know the rules. What I do here and what a lot of volunteers appreciate is that I’m very strict. When I say we start at 10 o’clock, then 5 minutes before 10, I’m actually calling everybody and one minute after 10, I’m gonna kick your ass because you were late. And at the beginning, for a lot of volunteers, they are like “oh my god. what’s happening?”. You know? People from Portugal or Spain, for example, they kind of are not used to it, but afterwards they thank me and they say like “yes, this was so structured that it actually helped me”. So, yeah, I would advice to build up a structure if you work with big groups. And keep to the structure! Keep to the structure.
From the years of experience from workaway, what was the biggest lesson that you took?
If you take volunteers in, you tend to, if you have a skype meeting or you are talking to them in the beginning and you’re in the point that you’re not sure if you should take them or not, you tend to say to them “ah! just come to us! it will all be ok! we’re gonna do some huggy huggy and then we do also some work. you know what? we’ll see. we’ll see”. No! Don’t do this! When I have an intake with people, I make them really understand very clearly, about the 5 hours of working and you know what working means? We’re gonna kick ass here and it’s gonna be hardcore. So then the expectations are like “oh my god, I have to do so much”. And then always it can be a little bit less, the work. But if you always say like “oh we’re gonna do huggy huggy” and then you have to add, that’s hardcore! Because then people say like “no, I don’t want this”. However, if you do the opposite, and you propose less work than expected, then it’s a present. So, yes, biggest lesson was to tell them that what we’re doing here is hard work and we’re gonna kick ass, to put the rope very high, and you can always do it down.
Actually one of my lines in the intakes is “5 hours working. And you know what working means? But it also means 19 hours of free time. You know what free time is?”
Yeah, you told me that in my interview! And I was thinking “why are you considering sleeping time as free time”? (laughs)
Yeah, of course. But then you have the mindset already like “oh yeah, if I go to this place is gonna be kicking ass and I’m not gonna lay in the sun all day.”
And it makes it easier, because everybody knows this.
Yeah, I understand. And that’s especially relevant here because, for instance, other workaways are families and, there, is much more organic. Here, is a volunteer group integrated in a staff, that is integrated in a group of guests. Much more moving pieces!
Yeah, in this case, you definitely need structure. Structure helps people. Especially young people that just come from university or school. They kind of not know how society works. How working society works. They actually never worked. They were on school and school? Well, if you don’t want to go, then you’re lazy and on a monday you are half there, because you drank sunday night, you know? In a working society, it kind of doesn’t work like this.
So, prepare them before! So, that’s why we do an intake. We, nowadays, do an intake for everybody. And also, we dare to say no to people. Like, if I have an intake and I see you and I think “this is not gonna work” then I’m gonna say like “I don’t want you”. And maybe this is wrong but up to now, we always kind of had a good team.
And yeah, what we also do to make sure that we have a good team? We make sure that you actually want this, so we ask you to pay a deposit. It normally is like 100€. And that gives us the guarantee that you’re taking this seriously and, if you leave at the time we stipulated in the interview, then we give the deposit back. Yeah, because sometimes volunteers they do the classic “oh! I just met this beautiful girl and so, I’m going to Paris now”. No, I want commitment, so we ask for the deposit and also! we send you a contract. And, with that contract, you have to do some effort to come to us. It serves as a filter of people. After the contract and the deposit, we know that yes, this guy is serious, this guy has some brains, this guy actually wants this. So, we make volunteers do some effort. It doesn’t make any sense, the contract says nothing, but if you have to read it, fill it up and send it to me, you have to do some effort to come here.