Volunteering in Provence: APARE
Hilary volunteered with APARE, a European youth organisation based in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in the heart of the Mediterranean, in her summer holidays. Here she explains what's involved and the benefits of volunteering in the south of France on your year abroad.
What do you get if you add: 6 Frenchmen, 3 Turks, a stonemason, a Dane, a Brit, a couple of wheelbarrows, assorted tools, many tonnes of stone, a large dose of sun, speaking in French, kayaking, swimming in lakes and cooking for 12? – APARE!
Every summer APARE (Association pour la Participation et l'Action Régionale) runs about 18 volunteering projects in the south of France. Most of the projects, or 'chantiers' as they are known in French, last for three weeks (there are a couple of two week projects for those who want a slightly shorter stay). Up to twelve volunteers of assorted nationalities (although there are always some native French speakers in the mix) work together, guided by a professional, to rebuild and protect some of Provence's not-so-famous but still important heritage sites.
What you get up to
In the mornings you could find yourself building a dry-stone hut near Mont Ventoux, or a wall next to the sea in St Tropez. Work starts fairly early to avoid the extreme heat later in the day, then stops about 1pm. Each day two of the volunteers stay back at base to do the cleaning and cooking. After lunch, and possibly a small nap, the afternoons are free to explore the area and do fun stuff, organised by the group leader: in the past I've done things like acrobranche (similar to Go Ape), rafting, and a weekend at the seaside.
The cost of the three weeks is about 130 Euros: included in this you get all your food, board, and activities. APARE is financially supported by various regional funds which means that you get more spent on you than you pay - it's a pretty good deal! Travel costs are not included.
The whole experience
Projects like this are an ideal way to fulfil your year-abroad time-away quota and to boost your French, especially if you're spending the majority of your time in another country. APARE projects are always intense, you're chucked together with loads of people you don't know, but you get to know them really quickly, a bit like during Fresher's week. I'm still in contact with some of the people I did my first project with 4 years ago! Being of different nationalities the projects are also very much a cultural-exchange; you'll probably get to eat some awesome food as well as discovering other things about different cultures.
I've loved the projects I've taken part in. I really hope that you do too if you decide to go! Bon chantier!