In the serene surrounds of Coolagh near Callan, Camphill Kyle has been quietly working its magic for the past two decades.
From its first house that brought together people in care and the volunteers who lived and worked with them, to the newer houses, therapy building, farm, garden and various activity areas, the setting is now a flourishing place where some 45 people from all parts of the world live and work.
The public is invited to learn more about Camphill Kyle on its annual open day and craft fair fundraiser on November 6 from 2-5.30pm, at which there will be games, barbecue, music, tea, coffee, raffles, tours of the community and information on how people can get involved.
In advance of the event, long-term volunteer Inga Schmager offered a glimpse into life at Camphill.
On a recent morning as we toured the various buildings, we were greeted with warm, inviting smells in each house as food was being prepared for later in the day.
The houses were also in the process of being cleaned, the cows hand-milked and the large garden and pesticide-free farm tended to. Those in care take part, too, including responsibility for doing their own laundry and tidying their own rooms, for example. (“We all need a reason to get up in the morning,” Inga joked.)
At Camphill, those in care can also undergo physiotherapy, massage therapy and hydro-therapy. They range from people who are very independent to others who need full support.
On the day of this visit, some of the 14 who are in care at Camphill Kyle might be out participating in KCAT, L’Arche or King’s River. There are signs of their lives throughout the buildings, however, with pieces of artwork adorning the kitchens and sitting rooms, and pianos and guitars taking a rest from their frequent communal use.
Music, art and community are also central to life at Camphill Kyle, Inga explained. They also gather in the hall every morning to share what’s going on during the day, to sing a song and hear a verse or line of inspiration – “just to start the day and say good morning, and off we go!”
It is, you could say, organic – as are many aspects of Camphill. The large garden is organic and produces much of the food eaten by those who live there, and the community has its own woodchip heating system and sewerage system.
Inga herself, a native of Germany from close to Berlin, arrived to Camphill Kyle as a 19-year-old volunteer and has now been there 12 years.
“There are usually 15 to 18 young volunteers coming from all over the world. They usually spend a year with us and some people like myself decide to stay longer,” she said. The volunteers live together with the people in care, a total of about 12 or 16 people in each house – “we live as an extended family.”
The mixture at Camphill Kyle includes a retired couple and a couple of families with young children.
“It is nice to have children and older people, 18-year-olds volunteers and middle-aged people – a melting pot which adds a lot to the flavour of the whole thing,” Inga said.
After her first stint as a volunteer, Inga did return to Germany to further her studies but soon found herself lured back to Camphill Kyle. Her parents were a bit surprised by her decision but came to understand after they visited.
“They couldn’t imagine it until they saw it wasn’t a hippie life,” she laughs.
The appeal, she said, is that people from all walks of life are mixed in together, contribute in whatever way they can, and learn from each other.
“There is a way of including people and getting them to their full potential. It is not about giving people care constantly. If they can give back, they have a right to give back,” she said. “It is a give-and-take situation. We learn from each other constantly.”