Nobody can choose where to be born. However, I think that if it could be possible, everyone would seriously take into consideration the fact of growing up in Denmark. Why? Well, first of all, because if the Danes were so ingenious to invent Lego, who knows what other brilliant toy they hold in store for the future.

Moreover, Denmark is definitely child-friendly. It is a country where it is normal for children to play in libraries, temples of silence and concentration, because there are spaces dedicated to them. A country where it is normal to see road signs warning drivers that there are "legende børn" around. A country where it is normal for parents to spend a lot of time with their children thanks to policies that allow them to combine work and family. A country where it is normal that the hairdressers organise courses for fathers of small girls who all of a sudden have to find out which is the difference between a brush and a comb.

I must admit that, although I've been living in Denmark for a few months now, I still cannot get used to Denmark’s child-friendliness and for me it remains an extraordinary normality. Therefore, I do not miss any opportunity to understand to what extent the Danes want to satisfy their children.

And so, in the midst of my research, which made me inspect playgrounds under the worried eyes of mothers who took me for a potential kidnapper, I came across ‘Film i Skoven’, a film festival created specifically for children.

Since its creation, ‘Film i Skoven’ has been a cultural reference point for the children of Aarhus and their families. From my point of view, it is incredible that children between 3 and 10 years have a festival tailored to their needs, but if that were not enough, ‘Film i Skoven’ has a busy program of films and organizes creative workshops before and during the weekend dedicated to the festival.

Moreover, the cherry on top is the location: the event takes place in the heart of Riis Skov, in the middle of nature.

I think by now you know me and you are aware that recently I have become obsessed about volunteering. So, some questions started to arise in my mind. If NorthSide Festival, Aarhus Festuge and other events in the city are full of volunteers, will it also be like this at ‘Film i Skoven’? If so, who are they? And why are they committed to that?

To find the answers to my questions I did not have to go very far as two EVSes working at the Secretary of the European Volunteering Capital volunteered at the latest edition of the festival, on 19th and 20th May. Francesca and Uliana, respectively from Italy and Ukraine, were glad to share with me their impressions about the event and I started asking them when they started to volunteer for ‘Film i Skoven’.

Francesca: “We started collaborating with them in December thanks to an agreement between our project leader at the Secretary and the programme leader of the festival Katharine Simpson. We assisted with the coordination of co-creation projects involving refugee kids and with building partnerships. We had held those tasks until the festival hired professionals to do that and so we moved to other activities which ranged from administration to decorating the location.”

This year ‘Film i Skoven’ was at its second edition. It must have been difficult to respond to the high expectations after the success of last year. How did it go?

Uliana: “We were not present last year but from what we heard ‘Film i Skoven’ was able to reaffirm the success of 2017. Moreover, it was the first time that the festival was independent as last year it received the support of the European Capital of Culture’s team. It meant many challenges but also some changes that led to some improvements of the event.”

What can you tell me about the other volunteers? Who were they and why did they decide to volunteer?

Francesca: “There was a wide variety of volunteers, but I think we can divide them into two groups. First of all, there were the young volunteers, the majority of whom were internationals who just moved to Denmark and wanted to integrate into the community and to create a network. Asking around we found out that they got to know the festival also from the Volunteering Fair at VIA, which was organized in April by SFN. The other group included people aged more than 50 years and a lot of them were Rethinkers, the volunteers who supported the social events which were organised in 2017 while Aarhus was European Capital of Culture. In general, I think that the location was a determinant factor which led so many people to volunteer and indeed everyone enjoyed being outdoors in the forest.”

What activities were the volunteers involved in?

Francesca: "There was a lot of work to be done, both before and during the festival. The tasks ranged from selling tickets and working at the bar through more physical activities like decorating the forest and arranging the stage. Moreover, some volunteers helped the artists with the workshops. In fact, an important part of the festival is the broad range of creative workshops which are organised before and during the weekend. Some of them were aimed at creating animals, masks or cuckoo clocks out of recycled material and one of them was held by Alice Wilson, an English artist who amazed the children and their families with her original ideas. Of course, all the workshops were linked to the movies in the program and most of the time they were a way to reflect on the content of what was displayed on the screen."

Speaking of the pedagogical goal of the festival, I heard that before the weekend there were activities aimed at the schools…

Uliana: “You are right. On Thursday and Friday ‘Film i Skoven’ organised the learning days, which were addressed to kindergartens and to mid-primary schools. Basically, the children attended different activities and workshops reflecting on some issues which had arisen from the movies. They represented the ending point of a process which had started in the classrooms as the teachers received some material from the coordinator of the festival and they had the chance to discuss it with the children before coming to ‘Film i Skoven’.”

What did you gain from your experience at ‘Film i Skoven’?

Uliana: “It was a great opportunity to meet new people and as foreigner I had the chance to look more closely at Danish families. I was surprised by how young Danish parents are and by the large amount of fathers spending time with their children.”

Francesca: “I agree with Uliana. Moreover, it was nice to experience a festival from the inside. Too often we take for granted the fact that an event goes smoothly and we forget about how much effort and commitment it requires to ensure such an accomplishment.”

What is your favourite memory linked to ‘Film i Skoven’?

Francesca: “For me it is the first time I walked along the path which led to the entrance of the festival. That long path surrounded by decorated trees and flowers gave me the impression of not being in the middle of the city.”

Uliana: “I have two memorable moments in mind. The first happened while Francesca and I were helping preparing the location. While we were carrying a heavy ladder under the eyes of some strong men, it came to my mind that maybe they were not helping us because equality in Denmark is so strong that it embraces every daily activity and that situation made me reflect on cultural differences. The second one brings me back to Sunday morning, when I was welcoming people at the entrance. I was impressed by the fact that everyone was smiling at me and was eager to listen to me. It made me feel good that they did not have problems with the fact that I can’t speak Danish and they simply switched to English.”

What are the three concepts that you associate with volunteering?

Francesca and Uliana: “First of all, “diversity” and we experienced that also at ‘Film i Skoven’, considering the different profiles of the volunteers. Then, we would choose a word which is connected to that and it is “tolerance” as “tolerance” is a prerequisite for every volunteer in order to deal with diversity. Finally, “challenging yourself” as volunteering implies you putting a lot of effort in what you are doing and, moreover, sometimes your mind might find it challenging to work when you know that you will not have a financial compensation in return. Therefore, motivation and appreciation are essential.”

Uliana and Francesca in the forest.

I am convinced that every conversation leaves a reflecting point in your mind, a sort of worm which keeps moving in your brain until it finds its peace in a conclusion.

In the days after my conversation with Uliana and Francesca, my worm was alimented by the last words of Francesca and it could rest only when it arrived on the following thought: 

We live in a society which is dominated by profit and by money. However, in this context there are people who escape from the logical patterns of the modern society and do something for free. That is what makes volunteering flourish and that is what makes volunteering something beautiful.

To learn more about ‘Film i Skoven’, visit: 

Are you curious about what is going on in Aarhus while the city is holding the title of European Volunteering Capital? Don’t miss the next stop of my pilgrimage around the city.

Genny Cabas is an Italian taking a European Volunteering Service in Denmark. In February, she started working at Studerendes Frivillige Netværk (SFN) based at VIA University College and she finished her project on 1st October.

To know more about her and SFN visit the Facebook page SFN - Studerendes Frivillige Netværk.