Great Baikal Trail
Seminar May 2009
Each year, Great Baikal Trail hosts an end-of-the-year seminar in preparation for the summer projects. This year, I was lucky enough to participate in this seminar, lovingly called a "mini-project," to help build a 150 meter walking trail in the Botanical Garden. I have spent this semester preparing and training as if I were going on a summer project as a translator, group leader, or a helper of a group leader. This seminar was my chance to feel as if I went on a summer project.
We arrived on Saturday morning at 9am, to register for the seminar and gather together in the Botanical Garden. Around 10am, we gathered inside the greenhouse for icebreakers due to the drizzly weather. We learned each others' names and even asked the gods of the Botanical Garden to grant us better weather. We split into groups to learn about safety procedures while building a trail, and luckily, Natasha decided that the weather would hold for us to begin working on the trail.
Each group of volunteers then took a section of marked trail and began to dig within the parameters. We contently shifted and shaped the soil, some of us learning for the first time how to best handle each instrument. After working for a few hours, our volunteer cooks invited us back to "camp" for a hearty lunch of soup, bread, tea, and cookies. Our translators, after lunch, gathered all the volunteers together in the greenhouse for a cultural program. I was trained this semester as a translator, so I participated with them in a skit about language barriers on the summer projects.
After the cultural program, our volunteer coordinator, Natasha, decided to try an experiment and asked me to be the 'brigadier' (or group leader) for the rest of the day's work on the trail. It was an honor for me to feel as if I were a brigadier on a project, even for half a day. I feel like I learned more by trying to be a group leader, and I'm very grateful for the experience. We all worked together, and as group leader I called out our five minute breaks, checked the evenness of the trail, and made sure everyone stuck to our safety rules. We had another break for dinner, and then a program on native flora and fauna. Some volunteers chose to stay the night in the Botanical Garden, while others went home for the night.
The next morning, we returned for another day's work on the trail. This time, I was asked to switch groups to fill in for a brigadier's helper that had fallen ill. I helped a group of new adult volunteers learn to work on the trail, explaining all the rules of safety and parameters of trail-work. A group of children from the rehabilitation center came to help as well. They pushed wheelbarrows of gravel and helped to spread it over our neatly dug-out trail. By lunchtime, most of the gravel was spread, and after lunch, the work was finished with a final layer of earth. Meanwhile, two of our volunteers had been using chain saws to craft a bench for the visitors to the trail. The seminar concluded with reflections from proud and satisfied volunteers, sitting on a bench along 150 meters of even trail.