Working in the practical team is not only working

My experience working in the practical team at Nätverket SIP.

Hello everyone! My name is Caterina and I’m a 22 year old volunteer from Italy currently taking part in a long term ESC project at Nätverket SIP in Växjö, Sweden. It’s been 5 months now, and I think I have a pretty clear picture of how life is here, and in this post I wanted to focus on the specific position I have at SIP.

I work for the practical team and my work consists mainly of building things. That can go from cutting wood using specific tools like screwdrivers, nail guns, saws, all the way to painting, taking care of the common spaces, fix what is broken in the office, help renovate the villa (the house we live in) and much more. Right now we are also taking part to a beautiful project of re-purposing old bricks from a destroyed school and upcycle them to build a new facility. We also learn how to drive with a trailer, communicate with people that sell specific tools we need, and most of all, lead a team of awesome people!

The head of the team is Martin, he is the main leader(or ✨main bitch✨ as he likes to be called) but we’ll talk about him later on. Me, as a volunteer, I work with him and the other team members, people with fewer opportunities that we very happily welcome to learn with us about construction, welding and building in general.

So, my initial idea was to take a gap year. I had just graduated from university, and plans for the future were extremely confused, or rather non-existent. I found out what ESC was from a french friend, so I started looking for projects that could potentially interest me. I’ll be honest, the project did not fit my expectations when I first arrived to Sweden, but only by living it I realized that this was the great thing about it!

It really pushed me out of my comfort zone, being a girl that was only used to study and having basically no knowledge of practical, manual work. And this was very strange for me: often people take gap years and do things related to what they have studied, or to what they already, at least in part, know. If I could give an advice to anyone is to space up, open up to new horizons, try totally new things even if at the beginning they might not sound very appealing. Jump ! A lot of magic happens there.

This experience is really teaching me to not identify myself with something specific, to keep space for new things, to not close myself in a box but to keep changing and evolving day after day.

But let’s go back to Martin for a moment. So, what to say… I don’t think there are words to really describe that man: Martin is just Martin. What I can say for sure is that in him I found not only a leader but a friend, a confidant, a shoulder to rely on. Martin is always ready to support everyone, he is ready to change his plans in case of need and he is always able to help you somehow.

He doesn’t care if you make a thousand mistakes, as long as you keep trying. Martin is teaching me to become responsible, disciplined, an adult, and he’s doing it by keeping a balance between pushing me to do things, but also listening to my needs. Oh and, with Martin forget about laziness. With him there is only JALLA JALLA! (hurry up man). The things we schedule, we really do (we get shit done, as he likes to say) and that’s honestly very rewarding. This team is allowing me to do something different everyday, and everyday I get a chance to ask myself ”allright, what crazy thought will come out of this man’s brain today? what will the plan be for today at work?”.

The practical team is really giving me tools for my daily life, even (and above all) beyond work. It is teaching me the value of connection and mutual help, to accept help, to be opened to teachings and to face something even though you have absolutely no clue what you are doing.

All in all, this really is a one time experience, and if you decide to embark on this journey, I really recommend to soak in everything you can in every moment. You learn not only about external things related to the work, but you learn immensely about yourself and how you work and handle situations. I will forever be thankful for this experience, and I will keep it in my heart for the rest of my life.