Bonjour! After a 14 hour overnight flight from London Heathrow, with a change in Mauritius, we landed into the airport in St. Denis, the capital city of French island and our Leonardo Da Vinci Mobility home for the next few weeks, Ile de la Réunion!
Very tired but very happy to have arrived, we stepped off the plane into the mid-day 30 degree heat and were greeted warmly by Philomène, our contact here for Mission Locale – the charity we will be working for during our stay. The journey wasn’t over yet; a two hour drive taking us to our hostel in the southern city of St. Pierre followed. We skirted by the sea along a coastal road, mountains of indefinite height towered over us from inland, their peaks obscured by thick clouds. We pass deep ravines coated in green foliage, forests composed of trees we’ve never seen before, men selling exotic, multi-coloured fruit stacked in piles by the roadside.
We make a quick stop for food by a busy beach, white sand and turquoise blue crystal clear water, a marina filled with well-kept boats, hundreds of holiday goers eating in a plethora of restaurants.
One of the things that first strikes you about Reunion is its multi-cultured-ness and variety of religion, and more so, the mingling and mixing of those religions and cultures. People from many different backgrounds have settled on the island and live together with little segregation. Indians, Africans, Malagasy, Chinese, Europeans, Christians, Muslims and Hindus alike have all made this place their home and it’s common here to see families and groups of friends made up from a mixture of all the above.
We awoke early after a welcome night’s rest at our hostel Pension Ognard and gathered our things to move to our accommodation for the next two weeks. The hostel we had originally planned to stay at was full due to the touristic season, and by a stroke of luck, Mr. Ognard, the owner, offered us two spare rooms in his home in the nearby city of St. Joseph. The house was wonderful; we didn’t expect to live in such luxury – a garden surrounding a swimming pool, our own bathroom and rooms with two very big beds.
On Monday we were introduced to Mission Locale South for the first time, everyone here at the office has received us with a warm welcome and we’re already feeling at home. We have to give special credit to Philomène for being such a fantastic host, she has guided us through our first days here with incredible patience, taking us to places, introducing us to her culture, and she always manages to do everything with enthusiasm and a smile on her face.
The Mission Locale charity has 5 branches all around Réunion and works with young people in difficult circumstances, helping to arrange opportunities to work, to volunteer locally and abroad, to get involved in various activities and to give them a space where they feel free to follow their pursuits.
Before our arrival there was a major concern about how useful we would be, especially for Fin with his limited French. The previous two volunteers felt that their time here wasn’t as fruitful as they would have liked, and there were worries that we would face the same problems. We soon realised that our fears were ungrounded; there are many opportunities to do something good here – from English lessons, multimedia workshops, designing and creating promotional posters and videos, to helping to write CV’s in English.
On Thursday we worked with Mission Locale at a huge event, AKS (Alon Koz Santé – Let’s Talk about Health) at St. Joseph’s School of Sport and Culture, attended by various charities and organizations and with over 700 young participants from local schools.
Stands were erected to promote healthy diet, sexual health awareness, drug and alcohol responsibility, road safety and more. A mass-scale Zumba took place in the auditorium, tournaments were held for a new sport named Franc Balle, taekwondo black belts sparred, drumming Maloya acrobats showed off for the crowd, a theatre group performed a play about responsible living. Aurélie’s role was to present the Leonardo organization to potential trainees; Fin spent the day taking photographs of everything (almost literally) for use in promotional material.
Our weekend included a difficult 7 hour hike to the 2600m top of one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Piton de la Fournaise. We hiked uphill following white dots painted on rocks over the wrinkled and furrowed lava flows from the previous years; the last eruption was only 10 months ago. A sign in three languages told hikers not to stray from the marked path, as vaults created by lava could be hidden under a thin layer of unstable ground. We reached the summit safely, (except for being a little sweaty and sunburned) to find an incredible view of the volcanic crater and the surrounding caldera.
It’s the end of our first week here in Réunion and we’ve already fallen in love with this island. We’re feeling very optimistic about the work we’re doing and the weeks to come, our only concern is that there isn’t enough time to do everything!
Aurelie and Fin, short term Leonardo Da Vinci Mobility Trainees.
Leonardo Da Vinci Mobility project part of Gaining Through Training
and supported by ECORYS UK
and the Lifelong Learning Programme
of the European Commission.