Volunteering experience and a survey that challenged my prejudices – highlight of the year 2022.

The end of the year is coming to an end and so is my volunteer engagement in the ever so gratifying project ‘Korčulanski Vrtal’ – ‘Korcula Garden’. 

Over the course of nine months, 6 other volunteers and I, visited 600 randomly chosen addresses within Korčula county.  We interviewed household members on topics related to their habits, perceptions, and opinions on various environmental issues, with a focus on waste management in general and bio-waste in particular.

Results of the survey

Although the initial estimate was that each survey would take about 10 minutes to complete, interviewees were often eager to share their perceptions which resulted in many surveys taking over 30 minutes to complete. Though our work took longer than expected, we are excited to have collected so much feedback from the citizens and we look forward to the analysis phase of the project and eventual results. Results should answer the initial objectives of the survey:

  • Estimation of the amount of household waste in the Korčula county
  • Measurement of knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to waste, reuse, recycling, composting, and climate change
  • Measurement of citizens’ willingness to learn and participate in a community composting project

Besides the survey, the “Korčula Vrtal” project will include education and promotion of composting in the City of Korčula through lectures, workshops, educational materials, and media communications. A community composting project is also planned, in which 20 households will participate in composting their bio-waste. All planned activities will serve to inform KTD Hober (Korcula’s waste collection service company) and the City of Korčula in making strategic decisions toward improving the efficiency of waste management in the City of Korčula.

Survey helping indigenous people save their natural resources

What really stands out for me is the intended utility of the software we used for the survey. The software was designed to help indigenous people in places like the Amazon, Solomon Islands, and Siberia protect their natural resources. The protection from poaching, logging, mining, burning, etc. will come from real-time reporting of illegal activities either by members on the ground, monitors on the ground, or remote sensing equipment. Such reporting enables authorities to get information quickly and to react quickly to such threats. The survey we conducted in Korčula helped develop the software further by testing parts of it on the ground. 

I hope the upcoming software solution will empower indigenous people with the necessary tools to guard their environment and resources in a more safe and more effective way. Knowing I have personally contributed in a small way to the development of such a tool, is one of the biggest rewards one can get from a volunteering experience such as this. And it is not the only reward.

A survey that made me fall in love with Korcula once again

Volunteering on this project is definitely a highlight of 2022 for me. Not only do I feel like I have contributed to the development of an application that has the potential to save the natural resources of indigenous people around the world, but this survey has also done so much more for me.

I gave my time and stepped out of my comfort zone. In return, I got rid of quite a big chunk of my social anxiety, and more importantly, I got rid of the prejudices I held against the islanders. Some of the most prominent prejudices I had were that islanders are closed-off, suspicious, unwelcoming people. 

With this set of prejudices and with a certain degree of social anxiety, initially, I did not feel comfortable knocking on random people’s doors and asking for a survey.  I expected to be turned away from a lot of addresses in a rude manner. But it turned out to be quite the opposite! I have never ever in my life experienced my prejudices to be so challenged and turned upside down than when doing this survey. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the openness and readiness of people I didn’t know or knew very little to welcome me into their homes, offer drinks and food, and stop everything they were doing to answer more than 20 questions I had in store for them. Often, older interviewees would share stories from times long gone, their observations of how the climate was 40 or 50 years ago, how much waste was produced then, and the changes they see in their micro locations now.

Finding the right address I had to visit to get the survey was sometimes a really daunting task that got me to explore the neighborhoods, streets, and villages I otherwise would never have ventured into. As an avid amateur photographer, I took photos of some of these areas that made me fall in love with Korcula all over again. Looking back at these photos, they serve me as a reminder of why the survey was done in the first place – for many more future generations to be able to enjoy this beautiful place in a smart, ecological, and sustainable way.

The project holder of ‘Korculanski vrtal’ is the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Civic Activism “KaP” with partners KTD Hober and the City of Korcula.

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