Nearly two weeks ago, I returned from my second workaway volunteering stint. My first was quite phenomenal: I spent one week in the peaceful Andalucían countryside in Spain working for a yoga retreat. My work was so simple and I had tonnes of free time to spend as I chose. You can read all about my time at the retreat here. After such a positive experience, I wanted to do more volunteering through workaway.
So, when I saw the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation and Buddhist Centre listed on Workaway’s website, I knew at some point I’d have to clear my schedule for a week and find out what it’s like to volunteer there. The Buddhist centre is about a 35-minute drive away from my hometown. And I’ve always known it existed, but I’ve never bothered to head down for a meditation session or class. I had a week free at the end of January, and luckily they accepted my application!
Workaway Volunteering at a Buddhist Centre
What is Workaway Volunteering?
Workaway is a website that allows exchanges between companies, businesses, NGOs, families, people, etc. who need work doing and eager travellers who are willing to do it!
Usually, the travellers/workawayers will complete 5 hours of work, 5 days a week in exchange for meals and accommodation. It depends on VISA requirements, but you can volunteer for potentially thousands of exchanges through workaway all over the world! It’s a sweet deal for anyone wanting to travel long term. Your money will stretch further and you can learn new skills as well as meeting new people.
And the type of jobs on workaway is such an endless list. Childcare, manual labour, farming/gardening and hostel work are the most common listings. But other opportunities also include social media marketing, yoga teaching, language exchange… Really, you never know what jobs could be listed!
Application for the Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist & Meditation Centre
I contacted the Manjushri Centre via the workaway listing and they asked me to complete a volunteering application form on their website. They have a lot of volunteers (about 35 on my visit) so it makes sense they have their own system set up. In fact, not everyone I met had applied through workaway first, they just found the centre’s website.
I did have to include a reference which had to be contacted before the centre accepted my application. I’m self-employed so this could have been difficult but luckily I knew someone who responded very quickly. The application was really thorough which I imagine could put the more casual workawayer off, but I suppose if you’re running a business, being thorough is the only way to guarantee you’ll always hire good people.
If you’re interested, this is the workaway listing for the Manjushri Buddhist Centre in Ulverston, UK. They take volunteers all year round. The stays range from one week to months and months! I met one woman who had stayed four months with no signs of leaving any time soon.
Arriving at the Buddhist & Meditation Centre
Since the Manjushri Centre hosts a lot of volunteers, they have many systems and practices in place. All volunteers arrive on Sunday afternoons and receive an induction at 9:00 the next day. So, I arrived around 16:00 with my suitcase and backpack. I met Christian, my contact before arriving at the centre, and he showed me around.
He showed me to my dorm which had room for 10 women via five bunk beds. I was really lucky that one English woman and two Dutch ladies were arriving on the same day as me so I had instant friends for the duration of my stay.
All meals are included in the Manjushri centre, and they’re made and served buffet-style in the kitchen. On most workaway volunteering opportunities, you’ll be required to join in on all household chores. But here, all three vegetarian meals are provided for you every day. So, after a walk along the beach at sunset to check out some of the nearby grounds, we could have dinner that night. I was quite nervous before arriving at the centre that I would immediately assume the role of a mute loner. But, thanks to my fellow newbies, I found it quite easy to settle in.
And yes, we lived and worked with the Buddhist Nuns and Monks. And they’re all as friendly and welcoming as you would hope they are!
A Day in the Life
Various roles & positions for Workaway volunteering
On your application form to the Manjushri centre, you could specify what kind of jobs you’d be interested in. From what I remember, these are the roles: housekeeping, kitchen staff, painting and decorating, art studio, gardening, working in the publishing house, working in the café and office work. I wasn’t too fussed what I did at the centre as I was mainly going for the experience, so I helped with the housekeeping.
We could grab breakfast any time before work started at 9:00. Again, it’s a buffet-style deal. Once, before breakfast, I took my camera through the woods and down to the beach before sunrise to snap some pics and that was pretty nice. The estate is set in about 70 acres of woodland, including the beach, so there’s a huge amount of land to cover.
First shift: 9:00-11:00
Usually, in the mornings, I would vacuum the main staircase, clean the bathrooms or tidy up after breakfast. I was always given new tasks which helped keep things interesting and all the jobs were fully explained. After a day, I cottoned on to the fact that a lot of the housekeeping staff were wearing headphones, so I started listening to the Zero to Travel podcast while getting my work done which helped pass the time.
First break: 11:00-11:30
The kitchen served tea and coffee all day which was nice, but we’d always head in for a cuppa during the morning break. Oh, and sometimes there would be biscuits and cake. And when you’re not living at home and don’t know when you can next eat biscuits, you get very excited about biscuits!!
Second shift: 11:30-13:00
Again, I completed whatever tasks the housekeeping staff assigned me. They were always super low-stress, easy to complete jobs. Sometimes I would clean the glass in the doors and the windows during this shift! I know, I bet you’re absolutely gripped to hear about what I’d do during my last shift of the day…
But I want to paint a realistic picture, you know? You actually have to work on your workaway volunteering shifts!
The food at the Manjushri centre was really, really good. I’m a picky eater so even though I knew all the food was veggie, I was a bit worried about the number of curries/perfumey food on offer. But in reality, we got a huge selection of meals like pasta, curries, stew, soup and even veggie burgers on Friday night!
Guided Meditation sessions: 14:00-14:30
We could either chose to take this half hour as part of our lunch break or head to the Temple for World Peace on site for a half hour guided meditation session. Since I was only at the Manjushri centre for one week, I went to all the guided meditation sessions on offer. The temple is so modern and ornate and the carpet is so soft, you couldn’t help but feel drawn to it. It’s a really special place.
The meditation sessions were great, not too long and not too short. The Buddist Nuns really know their stuff. So, I’m glad I attended all I could. It didn’t matter that I’d never really done anything like that before. A few volunteers were really interested in Buddhism but definitely not the majority.
Third (and final) shift: 14:30-16:00
To make up the whole five hours, we’d work until four. Often in this shift, I would make up the dorms (the Buddhist centre often hosts retreats) or vacuum huge sections of the floors. Using the Henry Hoover would hurt my back so by the end of my stay I’d adopted a rather attractive-looking fencing position in which I bent deeply at the knees. I once bumped into the Spiritual Director of the centre, Gen-la Kelsang Dekyong, whilst in this weird vacuuming pose.
Free time: 16:00-18:00/18:30
Yay, it’s the end of the working day! I’d often not know what to do during this time. Sometimes I’d walk around the grounds, sometimes I’d read and sometimes I’d play cards with the Dutch ladies. I’m so thankful they brought cards, honestly. I don’t know what we would have done to amuse ourselves otherwise.
During retreats, dinner is served earlier but normally it’s served at 18:30. As I said about lunch, the food was really good and always varied. There was more than enough to go around.
Free time: 19:00-00:00
The WiFi gets switched off at midnight, hence why I’ve put that free time ends at midnight. Usually, I’d shower during this time and then read or play cards again. To be honest, the WiFi wasn’t amazing and neither was the phone signal unless you were sat in the lounge or dining room. And because I only stayed a week, I didn’t bring my laptop or download any films.
It’s definitely the kind of workaway volunteering opportunity to consider if you’re wanting to blog, write or take lots of photographs. Because even though you might feel like you’re spending all day working, at night you will start to be stuck for things to do so having a project might be a good idea.
…Or sometimes you can go to evening classes for free! I went to one on dealing with jealousy lead by a super-down to earth Buddhist Nun. Guided meditations and classes are some of the perks to workaway volunteering at the Manjushri centre.
My Overall Impressions of Volunteering at the Manjushri Centre
Overall, I really, really enjoyed my week here! You get the weekends off, so if I didn’t live near I’d probably like to have stayed at least two weeks, three weeks maximum to visit the local area. I spoke to one person who said they’d been there six weeks and that was probably too much for him. However, if you do have a blog and need to stay somewhere for a while in the North of England you couldn’t find anywhere better! Really professional, slick operation and I didn’t meet one person I didn’t like. So that’s two for two on workaway volunteering experiences for me!
Jobs at the Manjushri Centre
I think if I was staying at the Manjushri centre for a few weeks I wouldn’t like to do housekeeping for that amount of time. The housekeeping jobs were easy and straight-forward enough for a week but I think I’d get bored if I continued. The other girls were fixing up and painting in one of the cottages which sounds like a nice project for a longer amount of time.
If you’re interested in one job more than the others, definitely say so on your application. I wrote that I was happy to do anything so I didn’t know what I’d be doing until Monday morning after I arrived. I didn’t know what clothes or shoes to bring so it would have been nice to know. And if you’re not feeling your job after a couple of days and you still have two weeks left, let them know! Volunteers arrive every Sunday so there’s a good chance they can chop and change your responsibilities. They want you to actually enjoy your time at the Buddhist centre, which is lovely!
Top Tips for this Workaway Volunteering Opportunity:
- Be prepared for taking your shoes on and off, this is a Buddhist centre after all. Maybe bring some slip-on shoes as well as work-appropriate shoes.
- Speaking of shoes, you’ll need flipflops to walk to and from the showers because they might be far away from your dorms. At every shower, I was so, so glad I decided to pack them!
- You’ll be asked to bring a sleeping bag but you won’t need a bottom sheet or a pillow, they’re both provided.
- Bring plenty to do! Download any films and TV shows before you go as WiFi can be sketchy. And bring books, your laptop, playing cards, anything to keep yourself occupied with.
- And you might want to bring snacks. Your three meals are provided but if you fancy something extra (nothing meaty or alcoholic, though) you should bring it. I definitely should have brought more snacks.
- A couple of jumpers won’t go amiss, either. It’s a lovely old building but it’s still old, and enormous. I got really cold at night and wish I’d brought a jumper to sleep in.
- Give the guided meditations and classes a chance. They are free, after all, and you could end up learning something really valuable to take with you when you leave.
Do you have any experience with workaway volunteering? Did you have a positive experience too? Let me know in the comments below!