From 1st to 8th August, I had the honour and privilege of being the team leader for the YFCU team on the Rural Youth Europe European Rally which was held in Lambach in Austria, writes YFCU president Roberta Simmons.
The week kicked off in the early hours of the morning of Saturday 1st August when the YFCU European Rally Team, which this year consisted of Jane Kilpatrick (Donaghadee YFC), Christina McCollum (Lylehill YFC), Geoff Thompson (Annaclone and Magherally YFC) and Mark Gibson (Trillick YFC) along with myself, met to head to Dublin for the plane to Frankfurt then from Frankfurt to Salsburg then we had two train journeys to Linz in Austria where we were met by members of the Austrian prep team who transported us by mini bus to our destination for the week in Lambach which was a fairly new agricultural college.
First of all we were welcomed, checked into our rooms and then given a tour of the building which was our home for the week.
Saturday evening consisted of getting to know one another from the various 14 countries present with various ice breaker games. When everyone was accounted for there was 14 European countries present with 90 participants.
Sunday morning kicked off bright and early with breakfast between 7.30am and 8.30am. After breakfast everyone was asked to change into the national dress of their country and meet in the foyer of the building to head to the venue for the opening ceremony. The opening ceremony was held in an old Abbey not far from the college where each country was welcomed by the Rural Youth Europe chair along with local dignitaries and prep team members. Each country presented their flags and their national anthem was played during this ceremony. Local YFC members formed a choir which also sang at the ceremony. After this it was back to the college where we were split into different teams for workshops. The workshops were “The importance of Education in rural areas”, “What makes a happy farmer”, “What you know about Rural Youth Europe and the importance of same”, “Technology and it’s advantages and disadvantages”, a trust workshop where all participants were blindfolded bar one who had to guide them round a gym and obstacles in same and a workshop on “the aim of the rally”. After these workshops it was off to the local farm of a pig farmer. This farmer had 120 pigs on the farm who then each had around 26 piglets each year. There was a computerised system in place at the farm which calculated the amount of food for each pig according to its size. The farmer also owned around 98 acres and grew wheat, barley and rapeseed as well as running a contracting business harvesting around 700 acres each year. On return to the college it was teatime and after this there was a range of team building games and an Austrian evening where each participant dressed in red and white colours.
Monday morning again started off bright and early and after breakfast three workshops ran throughout the day until 3.30pm which were entitled “Team”, ”Volunteers and Motivation” and “Leadership” – focusing on good and bad leadership and “Similarities and differences” with our country to Austria. After these workshops and because of the sweltering heat of the day we had the opportunity to attend a local outdoor pool to cool off. Monday night after tea we had the opportunity to set up in our own teams for the international buffet. This was a great opportunity for our team to show some of the fine foods that Northern Ireland has to offer the world and a chance for us to sample some local delicacies from throughout the rest of Europe.
Tuesday morning once again everyone was woke with the ding of the rally bell at 7am. After breakfast it was out to the local community in Lambach where we had to observe and interview local individuals on their knowledge of the local town and facilities in same. Back to the college the next workshop was our input on work situations in rural areas and conclusion of the morning task. After lunch in our own country teams the next workshop was on work situations in rural areas. On Tuesday evening we were taken to a local Austrian Tavern for a traditional Austrian meal before returning back to the college for an après ski party where we all dressed in ski gear although wearing woolly hats and ski gear proved difficult in the 30oc heat.
Wednesday morning again the ding of the bell rang throughout the college and everyone was up for breakfast. After breakfast we had a workshop on project management before heading out on excursions and case studies. These consisted of visiting an organic farm owned by a family which produced their own product of milk, yoghurt and cheese. The son attended an agricultural college and then done a Masters degree. The farm consisted of 50 hectares and both cows and pigs were farmed.
Twenty years ago the family decided to go organic which they believe is much more sustainable but needs more planning and organising. Our second visit of the day was to a 100kw anaerobic digester plant.
The family went into biogas in 2005 as it wasn’t sustainable to continue in the dairy industry and for this plant they received 20% EU financial support.
For myself and the rest of the team leaders on Thursday it was off to the General Assembly of Rural Youth Europe. This was held in a hotel in Linz.
The General Assembly consists of representatives of all member organisations and meets at least once a year. The Assembly elects the members of the board. The member organisations are divided in four regional groups:
Group 1 - United Kingdom and Ireland
Group 2 - Central Europe
Group 3 - Nordic Countries
Group 4 - Eastern Europe
Each of these regions has a representative in the board. The countries in the regions take turns in nominating a board member. Besides the four regional representatives, the board has a chairperson and a vice-chairperson who are independently elected. The term of office is two years. The board meets at least three times per year.
Everyone returned back to the college building on Thursday evening for a European evening where each country put on some entertainment representing their countries cultural songs and dance.
On Friday it was up again to the ring of the rally bell where after breakfast it was onto buses for two trips for the day. The first was to Five Fingers which is a viewing platform in the Dachstein Mountains of Upper Austria, on Mount Krippenstein.
It was named Five Fingers by virtue of its hand-like shape. It has been called the “most spectacular viewing platform in the Alps” and I have to say the views were totally spectacular.
The second trip was to the village Hallstatt. Again this was such an unbelievably spectacular place that even the Chinese have created a copy of the ancient salt mine village.
After this it was back on the bus to the College where we had an evaluation of the week after which everyone went and dressed in their national dress and met in the dining room which had been transformed and a beautiful Austrian meal was served after which all participants were presented with a certificate of participation for the week and YFCU was presented with the rally bell to take home for the rally next year in Northern Ireland. So in 12 months time it will be our turn to host this spectacular event and if anyone would like to support us financially or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Saturday morning it was up and everyone said their goodbyes to people they will remain friends for life with. For our team after 14 hours we reached damp Northern Ireland.
The European Rally was an intensive week and by no means a holiday but all of the team agree it was a superb experience and one we would thoroughly recommend to fellow YFCU members. The rally is one of the most enjoyable weeks that you are likely to have in your time in YFCU and next year we have the privilege of being the hosts here in Northern Ireland.
We as a team, and an organisation, would like to take this opportunity to once again thank our generous sponsor, Danske Bank for their financial contribution enabling us to travel to Austria for the European Rally and we are very much indebted to them.