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Jackies' Story - Norway 2007

Keen to try something different to combat her anxiety, Jackie Walton, 38, went to Norway to volunteer on a Eco Farm. Here, she writes about her experiences.

I HAD suffered from anxiety on and off for quite some time and was getting increasingly frustrated with myself. A different approach was called for.

I needed a challenge, but nothing too stressful, to help me move on with my life in a positive way. And so I placed my profile on the volunteer website Help Exchange ( giving details of my interests and skills.

There are so many volunteering projects available on the internet, it can be a little confusing and overwhelming at times. Many want you to pay quite a substantial amount of money to join, but Help Exchange was different - just a 10 fee if you wish to be a premier member. For that, the hosts can view your details and you can search through the hosts' details, and only two days after placing my advert, I received an email from Norway asking me if I fancied volunteering on an Eco Farm. I had a look at their website and jumped at the chance.

The two owners couldn't have been more perfect - he was a Norwegian psychologist, used to working with people with anxiety; she was a Sri Lankan Buddhist with an environmental background. The volunteering works by you providing an agreed number of hours volunteering in return for your accommodation and meals (quite often organic).

Although it's hard work, especially on a farm as it never stops, what with animals escaping and giving birth, it's a natural way to get fit, to get some wonderful fresh air (and where cleaner than Norway?), to do something purposeful, to learn new skills, meet like-minded people and have lots of fun.

I got stuck in to many different tasks, including planting organic herbs and vegetables, making different composts, writing a booklet for the farm, traditional felt-making, yoga, lessons on Buddhism; learning a little horse whispering and the incredible experience of helping with new lambs being born (right up to my eyes in unmentionables at 4am in the morning). I also drove a tractor, learned how to make feta cheese and so much more.

At times I felt as though I was on Big Brother as you're living with other people that in normal life you wouldn't necessarily choose to be with. But this in itself enhances your tolerance levels and your ability to get on with everyone. There were equal numbers of men and women and we had the chance to change roles and I could prove that, as a female, I was just as capable as the men.

Being on the farm really makes you value what is truly important. It brings you back to the simplicities of life, working with the soil and nature. The warmth and kindness of the people make you feel welcome and valued, feelings often missed in our fast-paced society. The seasonal changes on the farm were magical, as were the internal changes I felt within myself.

I spent two months on the farm. It was wonderful to eat the organic salads from the greenhouse, which, when I arrived, weren't even in the ground.

To see the transformation of the farm and the difference the volunteers made gave me so much satisfaction and a great sense of achievement. My self esteem and confidence improved and I came back a different person.

I discovered I had a passion for writing and photography and that I was happiest amongst nature and warm people. And the only costs involved were my time, travel and personal expenses.

I took a couple of trips to further explore Norway, which is stunningly beautiful, but a tad on the expensive side. With some other volunteers, I took the train from Oslo to Bergen on what must be one of the most scenic railway trips in the world. We also spent some time in Trondheim and a few days in Oslo. In this day and age of stress, tight deadlines, people struggling with finances and the pressure to prove yourself, this has to be a great way to take a break without breaking the bank.

For students looking to enhance their life experiences this is an ideal, non-expensive way to do just that. For people wanting to return to work but who either don't have the skills or confidence or just don't know what they want to do, this is a fantastic way to broaden their mind and rediscover their strengths.

Anxiety can be crippling, but by taking little steps and trying different things, I found it can be conquered, making life enjoyable once again.

Jackie Walton from UK

First publshed on The Northern Echo, click here to view that article.


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