What sort of people go to Sunseed? All sorts! And all ages – from babies to our so-far oldest visitor at the grand age of 87. Children are welcome, with a supervising adult (volunteers between the ages of 16 to 18 should provide consent from a parent or guardian if volunteering without them). Everyone is linked by a common interest in the environment and sustainable living, but beyond that, there’s a huge range of interests and characters. One of the best parts of Sunseed for many people is the opportunity to get to know people you may otherwise not have met and it is a wonderful cultural experience
How long do people usually stay for? Some people stay for two weeks; others for 6 months or more. Many would say that the longer you stay, the more you get out of the project. We recommend that people stay for at least two weeks – it can be difficult to understand everything that’s happening in less time.
What goes on outside of work hours? It all depends on the energy of the group of people currently at Sunseed and their interests. It’s a friendly community – there are always people to talk to and frequent fiestas, but plenty of space for solitude, too. There are often evening activities. Some nights we have a ´Green Speak´ event covering an environmental hot topic. Sessions in the past have included biofuel, genetically modified agriculture and sustainable travel. Other evening activities have included the weekly jamming night at the Agave school down the road, circus workshops and of course the solar powered cinema. We live in a beautiful place for walking, bird watching, sunbathing, etc. There´s also the Rio de Aguas river and pools to swim in (together with the terrapins); and excellent caving and climbing nearby. We have a big selection of technical and non-technical books and games such as playing cards, chess, etc. There are lots of good bars in our nearest town, Sorbas (7km away) for beers and tapas, as well as the excellent visitors’ centre. There is no bus into town, but it’s a lovely walk (about 1 ½ hours) or cycle (25 minutes). There are sometimes people driving to and from town who will be happy to give you a lift for a petrol contribution.
As a long-term volunteer do I have to do my own project? No! If doing your own project doesn’t appeal you can just work with the departmental co-ordinator on whatever projects are ongoing at the time. Rather than a project some volunteers take responsibility for an area of the gardens or a repair job on one of our houses. If you´d like to plan a project before you arrive please get in touch with us stating what you think you´d like to do and we´ll put you in touch with the appropriate member of staff.
How is the work decided? Everyday morning after breakfast, jobs are allocated for the day. Volunteers can focus on one department or chop and change – we try and find a balance between what needs doing, and what visitors want to do. For those involved in mucky work we have a free store of old clothes.
What kind of jobs are people given?
We have a rota for cooking and cleaning duties; everybody is asked to choose around two rota duties a week. In addition to this, examples of typical jobs across the departments are:
- * Preserving products from the Sunseed gardens, and wild products, in a variety of ways, including in the solar dryer and on the parabolic dish solar cooker
- * Experimenting with solar cookers – solar cooking a cake, for example, when it’s your turn to cook * Creative artwork such as making lampshades or sign writing
- * Irrigation line clearing
- * Maintenance of water supply
- * Sowing and transplanting seedlings
- * Turning compost heaps
- * Assistance on specific projects e.g. roof repairs
- * Work in tree nursery and tree maintenance
- * Work on dryland terrace renovation, for example helping with dry stone walling
- * Working with caña (bamboo), cob, building structures, etc…
- * Maintenance of our 4 houses which could include repairing cracks to walls, decorating rooms, experimenting with ecological products – roofs, straw bale houses
- * Soil care and maintenance including the use of compost, animal and green manure, hoeing and weeding
- * Writing an article, or translating material into other languages
- *Researching and, if you’d like to, presenting a ‘Green speak’ session. In the past these have included discussions about biofuels, genetically modified food, population control, sustainable travel, sustainable childcare and micro hydro. Is there an environmental issue that you think everyone should know more about?
Do I have to arrive on a particular day of the week? Arrival days are Mondays and Tuesdays, when we give guided tours and an induction to community life and the Sunseed project. If you can’t avoid arriving at another time you’ll be welcome anyway, but you might have to find your own way around the valley and the project!
How basic is life at Sunseed? What do I need to bring with me? We’ll send you full details of what you need to bring; communications at Sunseed and with our local town, etc, when we receive your Booking form. One important thing to realise is that the living and accommodation here are simple. It’s a bit like indoor camping. We are off grid, so internet access, hot water and electricity in general is limited. Many rooms are not heated in the winter so we have blankets, sheets, and pillows stored for cold nights. However, we are currently undergoing major improvements to insulation of the main house. We also have a very small store which we keep stocked with organic toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner, and feminine products. There is also an opportunity to go into the local town for any emergency products, and there is a market on Thursday’s with food, blankets, clothing, etc.
What is a typical working day for a Volunteer? Everyone is woken up and starts work at the same time (around 8:15am for a 9:00 am start in the winter, and a 7.00am for a 7.45am start in the summer.) Everyone does five hours of work, with a mid-morning break. Lunch is at 1.30pm, and after that, those not completing projects have the rest of the day to do anything they like. Those carrying out projects have 3 hours in the afternoons to get these done. Dinner is usually at 9pm in summer and 7pm in winter. Household rota duties are shared by everyone at the project – usually two each week and include cooking, cleaning and washing-up. It’s great, unless you choose to, you only have to wash up once a week! Living and working in the same space as part of a community of people does mean that there’s no neat end to the working day. Sometimes we´ll be chopping firewood in the evening, or collect water on the weekend, etc. A staff member is on duty each weekend. See also A Day at Sunseed.
Why is Sunseed different to a WOOFing farm? Firstly, Sunseed does not farm to generate income. Sunseed is an educational charity NOT a WOOF farm. The rates for staying at Sunseed cover accommodation, food and project costs. In Sunseed volunteers can choose the area they would like to work. Long-term volunteers choose a project that interests them from the project pack, or devise their own with help from a staff mentor. Every department has a budget that is available for its projects. This can be spent on books, equipment, materials etc. Volunteers are encouraged to be ambitious and innovative, and experimental. Pushing self projects forward is one of Sunseed’s main objectives. As long as the methods are being thoroughly documented and assessed, we believe that learning comes from both failure and success. Sunseed also offers workshops and courses (sometimes residential courses) run by the staff for visitors as well as volunteers, usually in the Spring and Autumn.
What are the eating arrangements? We have a vegetarian/vegan diet, with fresh local eggs and cheese usually only once a week. Unfortunately our gardens do not produce enough to feed 20+ people so a lot of our veggies are purchased from another local gardener from a nearby village. Please also note that we sometimes aren’t able to buy eggs and cheese but there is usually soymilk and regular eco milk. We do not own any farm animals and we ask that fish and meat are not brought on to the project. Majority of our food is organic (the food from our gardens and some of the food we purchase), but not all because of limited access. Also due to the lack of rain our filters no longer provide enough drinking water so we must drive to a nearby spring about 5 minutes away. The sustainable living department bakes wheat/rye/sourdough bread two times a week in our oven. All staff and volunteers eat together. There is a rota for cooking – preparing a meal for 15 or 30 people is a new experience for many volunteers, but most people enjoy it. Help is always on hand when needed and there are solar cookers available if you are interested in learning how to use them.
What’s the accommodation like and how is it organised? The accommodation is basic, if you imagine indoor camping that will give you some idea of how we live. In the winter it can be cold and not all the rooms are heated. The nature of the local habitat (semi-arid) means that there is a lot of dust around and it can be difficult to stay clean. If you prefer to stay very clean and in northern European style comfort you might prefer to choose a different project. Accommodation, and all communal living spaces, are basic, and we work hard to keep them clean in our dusty village.
Staff have their own rooms. Depending on the number of volunteers we have, other rooms are shared – between 2 beds, up to 6 beds. Our dorms are mixed gender so privacy is limited. If you want a room on your own, or a double for a couple, we’ll try and arrange it if you ask well in advance, but it can’t be guaranteed and this might make your stay more expensive.
What are the sanitary arrangements? We have urinals and shower block by the main house, and a compost toilet in the gardens. The compost toilets in the gardens require squatting – no toilet seat or basin, but have lovely views. We use fresh river water for washing (brought to the houses by our water-powered ram pump), which is solar heated, so you should be aware that in winter hot water is often limited and in bad weather the water can be quite chilly! In the days of high heat we use our solar oven to heat up the cleaning water and water for hot beverages.
Are there many opportunities to speak Spanish? Due to the international nature of Sunseed the operating language of the project is English. But several coordinators are Spanish and those wishing to practice Spanish can join the weekly Spanish lesson and also chat with friendly neighbors in the village with some knowledge of English. Also you are welcome to help with the weekly shopping trips – very few of those living in the centre of Sorbas speak English.
How do I get to the project? You will be sent some travel information when we’ve received your booking form. Usually volunteers call or email to let us know when they are arriving to Sorbas so that we can arrange a pickup, be mindful that if you do not alert someone ahead of time it will be harder for us to come and get you. However, there is a taxi service which costs approximately 20 euro from Sorbas to Los Molinos.
Sorbas is about one hour by bus from Almeria where there is a train/bus station and an airport. We encourage overland travel. We recommend the Alsa bus line.
Do I have to pay? Yes, paying is mandatory and non negotiable for volunteers. Sunseed operates as a non-profit organisation and we rely on the contributions and donations of volunteers and friends to fund the project. We run a very low cost project, with assistants volunteering freely, and longer-term co-ordinator-staff being expected to subsist on a very small weekly allowance. The volunteer’s donation helps to sustain the project by paying for accommodation, and food.
What if I want to work in one particular department? We will be very happy to put you in touch with the appropriate coordinator if you would like to discuss details before you come. If you’re a long-term volunteer you can also visit our project pack, which has a list of different projects we are offering at the moment in each of the departments.
If I wanted to become a long-term volunteer after 1 or 2 weeks of being a short-term volunteer, how would I do that? If this involves extending the length of your stay, as long as there is space available this shouldn’t be a problem. If you are interested in doing this you would need to talk over the practicalities with the Administrator co-ordinator and the co-ordinator of the department in which you wish to work.
Is it more group- and teamwork, or is it more individual? It depends on the number of visitors, time of year and the work being done. Volunteers often work in small groups, and usually work alongside the co-ordinator of the department they’re working in. Department coordinators always supervise work.
Can I come with Erasmus & Leonardo da Vinci Grants?
Erasmus and Leonardo da Vinci EU education programmes are ideal for Sunseed as they fund a long stay and therefore increase the amount you will be able to learn and do. There are a number of staff with academic degrees and/or professional qualifications in their subjects who can provide support and supervision for the completion of the academic work (Erasmus) or practical projects (Leonardo da Vinci). For general information a good place to start is the EU Learning and Training page. If you are a university student then there is likely to be a person at your University who is charged with supporting EU applicants. For those interested in Leonardo da Vinci (this programme is accessible to everyone who isn’t an undergraduate) then you will need to establish which institutions in your country support EU applicants and this can be done easily on the Internet.
If you would like to make early contact with a coordinator to discuss your project work please visit the contact page.
Due to the international nature of Sunseed the operating language of the project is English. But we currently have two Spanish staff members and those wishing to practice Spanish will find friendly neighbours in the village to chat with and are welcome to help with the weekly shopping trips in Sorbas.
Any other questions? Please contact us.