Being a WWOOFer is many things to many people. Participating in WWOOFing is traveling and maybe a little bit of touristing but by far mostly traveling. My point being by living and working with and helping out local residents in a foreign country you are getting your hands dirty. It is not always easy; it is not always fun but the rewards are real and the impacts again for better or worse will stick with you for the rest of your life. There is nothing like the mix of helping people do meaningful work while experiencing a new culture and environment. WWOOFing has brightened the lives of countless people all over the world. In this time of great social/political/environmental upheaval programs like WWOOF are sorely needed. People living and working together under one sky sharing good will and practicing by example what the world needs to know. Working together to build a peaceful, sustainable world where cultures bridge and we understand the only way to really survive is to practice acceptance, compassion and mutual support while protecting our one and only global environment.
I have experienced four WWOOFing placements in my career. The first was in New Zealand about 20 years ago. I am a carpenter by trade and I was able to help a widow on the Bank’s Peninsula rebuild a barn that had been disassembled into pieces. At first it was
a bit overwhelming but with patience and time we were able to recreate a working structure. What really burned into my memory was the tears of joy that my host had when she came home from a trip to Christchurch and she saw her barn standing again. No money, no fame, no 5 star hotel could ever surpass the feeling of really helping someone who was struggling.
I returned to Alaska after that and got married, taught school and raised a child. I spent 22 winters in Alaska mostly in an isolated town on the southwest coast. After I retired, a veteran of so many LONG WINTERS I wanted to try WWOOFing again. I did my research and thanks to the amazing website organized by Australian WWOOF I located and contacted three placements. I corresponded with each of my hosts way ahead of time. Maybe sent them a few too many e-mails but I wanted to make sure that my time in Australia was well spent and that the work I would be doing for them would be compatible with my skill set.
My first placement was on a very large sheep station outside of Broken Hill NSW (Hosts Matt & Sara) It was everything that I wanted. Hot, dry, and mostly flat. Another exotic planet away from the cold, wet, mountains of my home. I arrived in the middle of the shearing season. Of course, I was totally out of my element. i’ve never ridden a dirtbike before and the dry heat and dust were at times unbearable. My sense of direction is wacky at best. But I stuck with the sheep and learned right there on the job. Training by doing. To ride a dirt bike and look over and see a large gray kangaroo hopping along right next to you for kilometres is a incredible experience. The host was one of the most amazing people I have ever met. A true inspiration. He had such a can-do attitude and never ever got negative or flustered. We got up at 5 AM and sometimes didn’t get finished until 10 pm at night. It was extreme but I loved mostly every minute of it. I learned to blend and to find ways to support without being an imposition to the incredible responsibilities involved in running two stations on a 170,000 acre station. Lots of stories, lots of experiences. All shelved neatly in the neuron library of my memory bank.
My next two placements were in the beautiful rural Huon Valley of Tasmania Host Michael & Host Kermandie Ridge) huge transition from the hot dry outback. Cool, green (so many shades of green) and verdant. Although both host families were super cool what I really enjoyed on these placements was spending time with the animals. We don’t have a lot barnyard animals in Alaska. After spending some time with and getting to know the animals I could soon recognize them as individuals. I found them all to be quite entertaining and humorous. I always read EB White’s Charlotte’s Web to my students at school, and here I was now, talking and hanging with animals that could talk back to me in their own idiosyncratic way. My favorite was Boris a huge hog. I would take afternoon walks after work into town and collect apples off the ground on the way back. I would feed them to Borris. Needless to say we became very close friends. He got so excited to see me. And to watch him crunch those apples with such delight in his little beady eyes!
I could go on and on about stories and recent memories of my visits with such colorful wonderful hosts. I guess, the point is, I will now leave Australia and head home with a pocketful of new memories. Memories that were experiential not static visual. Like the difference between sticking your toe in a lake and taking off all your clothes and plunging head first in. WWOOFing does that for you if you are open to it.
Tom, Haines, Alaska USA