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Fun in the Sunseed: The First Week of My Work Placement for an NGO

It’s been a week since I arrived in southern Spain for my NGO work placement with the Sunseed group and I’ve hardly had time to take a breath. From planting sessions in the organic gardens to solar oven seminars, both volunteers and staff alike are kept on their toes. Fitting in my project might be harder than I thought.

The Sunseed outfit is situated in a tiny isolated village, which lies in a valley deep in the hills of Andalucia. We arrived late in the night, but awoke to one of the most breathtaking views in all of Europe, experienced from the seat of our hilltop compost toilet. That’s right, all the human waste is collected and used as fertiliser on the fruit and almond trees–just one example of the reduce, reuse, and recycle ethos embraced by the enthusiastic Sunseed collective.

After breakfast and a morning of communal chores, I met with the project manager Jef to discuss my task. He needed a new ‘caña’ bridge to connect Sunseed’s main quarters with it’s dry-land sites over the river. The old bridge had succumbed to a year of heavy tourist traffic, as the area is also a national park, and was in desperate need of replacing. I have decided to take on this challenge as my project, although having never worked with caña as a building material before, I’ll require Jef’s supervision.

Caña is the local name for Spanish cane, or Arundo donax, a tall perennial, bamboo-like plant that grows throughout the Mediterranean. It is considered an invasive species and poses a particular threat to river banks, where it tends to grow in thick clusters, out-competing native plant species. Unlike traditional bridge building materials such as wood, stone or metal, caña is completely sustainable. Not only is it abundant in the area where the bridge is to built, but it is also 100% natural and biodegradable.

Cana!: a clump of giant cane growing close to one of the houses at Sunseed.

Cana!: a clump of giant cane growing close to one of the houses at Sunseed.

The new bridge will require hundreds of pieces of caña to be cut, trimmed and cleaned before they are ready to be used in construction. I will only have time for this in the afternoons, because at Sunseed all staff and volunteers dedicate their mornings to collective tasks, for example: cleaning the house, weeding the organic gardens, or cooking lunch. Only time will tell if I can rise to the challenge and get my bridge completed in the allotted 8 week time period!

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: March 18, 2011, 9:30 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Freddie Harris said

    Thanks for the kind words Shannon. Stay tuned for my latest post to find out whether or not I got the bridge finished in time!

  2. Shannon said

    Freddie, it sounds like you’re having a great time studying permaculture abroad. I enjoy reading your posts as they are informative and entertaining. I look forward to reading more.

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