Nature of (EVS) Sermugnano

By now, if you are following my posts and adventures, you know that I like a good story. The week I am going to describe has all the elements of a good one: an inspiring place, an interesting cast of characters, a good solid plot, and a mystery to solve.

It was the second edition of “Nature of EVS”, training course for ex volunteers, mentors, trainers and coordinators of the European Voluntary Service programme, which we wanted to explore in a number of dimensions.

You can find the course description in detail here,  or read the story of the first edition, which happened in July 2015 in Czech Republic, here.

So what was different, this time? Well, first of all, we were in Italy. And it wasn’t July, but November. And the people were (well, almost everybody) different. These are the perfect conditions, I guess, for a different experience, right? And for us in the team it was really supposed to be like that. We dived into the week not having a precise programme defined, just a few fixed ideas; and even more, we knew we didn’t want it to be anything like the first edition.

Meet the team: Bara, Honza, Helena, and me. Hey, it’s the same bunch of Nature of EVS 1, just a few months after. What did you expect?

It’s a bit risky as an approach (and it certainly implies a lot of flexibility… and a few more late evening meetings), but for us it’s a central aspect of our work. A programme in “non formal education” must be centred on people and on the process, so we really try to do it. I think it’s basically impossible to calibrate a week-long programme on a group,  before you actually meet the people. Yes, you can make assumptions, and have a few things ready in advance. But there must be space for flexibility. In so many programmes you see everything already decided from the beginning – to the fine details. Even things like “team building” or “party”. How can you guess if the group will actually turn out to be a team? Or if people will be in the mood for a party exactly that night?

 But enough with my speculations. So, especially when working in a team where there is a high degree of trust and a good communication, we are trying to follow this fluid, more organic approach to designing the schedule. Which leaves some people confused, because by the time the programme is (almost) definitive, it’s also almost time to leave. But allows us to respond to the group’s needs and requests very fast, and in some depth.

The four (plus one, NATURE) elements of the course, explained and displayed in the centre of the medieval Sermugnano.

 We knew we wanted to provide a fresh and original look into the matter of EVS, by taking in consideration its complexity and in at least 4 dimensions: Work (the professional aspects, networking, information), Spirit (reflection, art, inspiration, spirituality), Tools (learning and sharing skills, methods, how tos), and the Social dimension (learning through emotions, sharing, and feelings). Plus Nature to connect them all.

Ah yes, Nature. It was one of the main components of our programme (it’s even in the title), and at least half of our activities were aimed at developing a deeper understanding and connection with it. Nature, not only seen as the natural environment in which we live; but also as our inner nature, the complex of our own feelings, perceptions, conflicts, thoughts.

The village of Sermugnano looks like this incredible open-air, perfectly preserved museum!

We were in our hostel in Sermugnano, again. The place feels like home by now, and it’s lovely. Hosted the group nicely, and the warm weather allowed us to spend as much time outside as we wanted. Long siesta breaks after lunch where people were resting and talking outside – it felt like a complete gift.

Yes, it was that nice. Except for the neighbour’s cats poo, that sometimes turned out just under the wrong pile of leaves.

And once again, another big element of our course was Service and Care. It’s a fixed space in the programme, every morning, where the group takes care of the place, of itself and of people’s individual needs by performing a number of jobs. Kitchen in Sermugnano is always one of everybody’s favourites:

Johanna say “Hiiiiii”!

As well as garden, which is also the opportunity to leave a mark and improve the place for the next generations to come:

The garden team did a fantastic job, supervised as always by our ever so resourceful Francesco.

We enjoyed the possibility of having once more as a guest trainer our friend Vania Castelfranchi, author and director of theatre Ygramul in Rome. With him, we explored a few tecniques to get to know each other and to learn how to interact in a playful and authentic way

Building bridges between people, for real.

and one of the most interesting parts was probably catching people who were jumping off a table exploring trust in the group,

Claire said she couldn’t wait to jump into the course. But not like this!

followed then by a night walk exploring the concept of “Totem“, which we had to find walking in the forest, blindfolded.

Guiding others in the dark, and blindfolded… does it feel anything like EVS?

The session ended in the local cemetery. No wait, I didn’t mean in that sense. Anyway, it was a very strong experience and brought lots of learning opportunities and reflections.

BOOO! Very appropriate, near-Halloween.

Totems, the way we used them, are the thin line between certainty and doubt; light and darkness; questions and answers. They are things, but they talk about us. They can be the key to understanding many things. People had to find their objects, but the day after they had to deserve them, first by communicating with them,

Experiencing the Totems.

then by actually conquering them against a powerful enemy.

And finally claiming them! Meri shows her, very proudly.

We were going to use this concept again and again during the course, until a very powerful closing activity on the last day. It left a very strong mark on the group.

And on the place, apparently.

Other programme elements included sessions that were more informative about the EVS in general, aimed at those people who had questions and wanted a few answers,

Bara facilitating a workshop on EVS technical support.

inputs on concepts like the “Hero’s Journey“, the Pesso Boyden System Psychomotor, or the Four Shields of Human Nature,

And Helena. Working outside so much was such a pleasure.

with time dedicated also to exploring Ceremonies, Rituals, and their connection with different human cultures and the natural cycles.

People jumping over fire discussing natural rituals connected with change.

We included Open Space and Parallel Sessions to try and meet the needs of such a diverse group.

And as I said, we spent lots, lots of time outside and in connection with the place and the landscape around it,

More inspiring moments at the Sermugnano Belvedere.

Also thanks to the many inspiring insights and lots of time for personal reflection and sharing, we managed to craete, I think, a deep and special connection between the group and the place.

And self-reflection on the Etruscan hill, where a village existed some 800 years before Christ.

A very special activity consisted in one full day of “Pilgrimage”, intended as a tranformative journey, or maybe even a personal ritual. We walked 11 kilometers, from Sermugnano to the amazing location of Civita di Bagnoregio, and it was an interesting experience!

The landscape is always changing, due to weather and erosion. This can make for some unexpected challenges on the way!

The walk was good, the second part of it through the wonderful Valle dei Calanchi, which presented Civita as a wonderful Reward right at its end.


But the view at the end is certainly worth it.

I mentioned a mystery at the beginning of the story. And it’s true. Something unfortunate happened: a few people in the group had to report so some money missing from their wallets.

It is very unusual, I have to say, and I work really a lot with groups. The feelings of trust and safety in the group are fundamental for the learning and community experience. But this time, something went in a different way.

The feeling was that the mysterious thief was a member of the group. Instead of using such a strong word, the group started to call it “the dwarf”, hoping that he/she/it would appear back from the shadows and give back what it took by putting the money discreetly in a box. It didn’t happen. So in the end, the only solution (not shared by the whole group, but reached through a consensus) was to collect money again and somehow repair the harm done.

Well. It felt like a stain on the experience, and I know that some people were really affected negatively by it. But looking at the positive side, it gave us the opportunity to practice (a lot) of facilitation techniques and decision making processes within the group. All in all, it was an interesting process in the process.

At times it felt like a big game of Werewolves, or some other simulation exercise. One person actually thought it was all part of a plan from the trainers to test the group!

Thank you but no. We also play dirty tricks sometimes, but this would definitely have been way too out of line, even for us.

But maybe as a consequence of the unexpected extra thriller in the plot, we got a great karaoke party that night! And it was a treat.

I… honestly what were we singing here, but it must have been great.

A few other things to mention: fruit picking – and sometimes downright stealing not necessarily always within the boundaries of respecting other people’s private property

Do you see the fence, guys? And the barbed wire? Any idea what that means? Oh, whatever.

But it was all part of the general playfulness of the group, and definitely the quality that I keep with me when I think about the week.

Nadia is enjoying her newly found connection with EVS.

Hey, we even managed to have a final evaluation session based on the Italian culture of aperitivo

Aperitivo consists in eating a lot, just before dinner time. And drinking, for some. But seriously, it’s more about eating.

Which was very creative. The results looked like this:

Edgars actually made a food mandala, which brought inspiration to many. Enough with the food porn pictures on your instagram, this is spiritual art!

So… connection with the nature? Checked. Exploring EVS from different points of view? Checked. Developing new contacts and hopefully a few quality projects in the future? Checked. Understanding its value as a personal journey and the way it refers to human myths, natural cycles and rituals? Checked… I guess.

It’s different for everybody.

And that’s the way it is supposed to be, because… that’s the Nature of Evs!

The colours of Autumn, photo taken by Turkan.


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