Last week I had the opportunity to participate to a European Union project called NordPlus.
Four countries are part of this project, Sweden (us), Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The project has for topic, « Active Citizenship » to promote active learning and the initiatives of citizens in those countries.
A couple months ago we were visiting Lithuania introducing the main topic and last week in South Estonia the topic was still the same but focused on volunteering work.
So all the places we visited was based on volunteering and local intiatives.
Arrival in Riga and transfert by bus to Põlva in South Estonia.
We were staying at a hotel certified with the internationally recognised ecolabel Green Key.
- Visit of Hanikase
A community center in an old school where they organise handicraf & cooking workshops, as well as the possibility to use the equipment on your own (weaving equipment, sewing machines, embroidery machines..) and a library.
Estonians are very close to nature and try to use as less chemicals as possible.
All the yarn use is colored with flowers and plants.
They also paint on wood homemade colors from local clay and sand.
We had the opportunity to do a handicraft workshop and weave bands.
In the Põlva region where we were in South Estonia it seemed like they were quite far away from this mass consumption world we live in and it’s quite common here to own a cow, pigs, gens and grow y our own vegetables. But this way of life is not as common in the Northern part of Estonia.
- Visit of Piusa
We we brought to the visitor center of Piusa still in the Põlva region.
This visitor center has been created to welcome people interested in visiting the old sand caves that now are a protected area because those caves are the homes of 3000 bats of 5 species hibernating in those caves.
The center is a museum, a café, a place of seminars and has a handicraft room for children.
We also build a game together with stones (see picture).
- Workshop 1
The first workshop was held by the Estonian participants and was about teaching us more about Estonia with a Quiz.
Then we were taught about the Smoked Sauna tradition that is now inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It is a very important tradition in the Võro community in Estonia.
Here is a link with a video if you’d like to know more about it : here
Then two Website portals for volunteering offers in Estonia was presented to us http://talgud.teemeara.ee and www.letsdoitworld.org .
Marcus and Robert on the left, also from our school!
- Visiting the local community of Meremaë
Meremaë is community located at the frontier of Russia.
There, we were show different local intitiatives organised my citizens.
First, a local fire fighters initiative held by about 20 people from the area that were tired of not being able to help the houses that were burning down as it takes too much time for the official firemen to come.
Then we we brought to an old house in renovation that will become a culture and handicraft center where they will also be practicing local singing.
The last stop was the school in Meremaë where we were warmly welcomed by Seto singers.
The Setos are anethnic and linguistic minority in south-eastern Estonia and north-western Russia.
We got to dance, play and sing with them as well as try a very strong and homemade alcohol with some local delicacies (smoked pork, pork in jelly..).
- Visit of the municipality of Räpina
The first stop of our tour of Räpina was the town hall where the mayor was waiting for us with a very interesting presentation.
Back in Soviet times, Räpina used to be a separate county but it now belongs to Põlva county.
The very room where we were used to be the office of the Communist party then the town hall became a hospital and it was a room for women to give birth.
Räpina’s lake is the 4th largest in Europe and in the town you can find the oldest paper mill of Europe still working.
It seemed that they were doing a lot of the community, developping education with many different schools (gardening, music, sports....).
The age structure in the town is very balanced and in this town is the oldest lady of Estonia that will soon be 108 years old.
Then we went to visit Räpina Loomemaja a creative house.
It was created from the idea that the people or Räpina deserve a place where self-realization, and revive your inner creator.
It is a place where you can come create and where some local artists work.
Our next stop was to meet people involved in developing Seto tourism and Seto culture in general.
We got a lot of information about how they are proceeding and what actions they are organising.
If you are interested I would recomed going to their Seto Folk music festival (wwwe.setoffolk.ee) and Seto Café Days!
We also had a workshop about volunteering and how to keep the volunteers motivated.
More information on www.visitsetomaa.ee.
In the same building was a handicraft association located to keep the local handicraft traditions alive.
Those women were amazing, such technique and talent !
The last stop was the Seto museum, an authentic and time travelling place where we got to understand the way of life of Seto people in the old days.
In general we were surprised how open and willing to share their culture and handicraft the Seto people were.
- Visit of Tartu
We left early from the hotel that day to go to Tartu, the second largest town of Estonia after its capital Tallinn.
Tartu is also called the bohemian capital of Estonia and has many student because of its university.
It is a charming town that we got to discover.
- Visit of Põlva’s local football club « FC Lootos »
This football club was created by citizens to have a place for children to play football with the values of not pushing the children and let them be kids.
They are not pressuring the children to win or to bring back trophy after trophy, it has to come from the child.
They want to have healthy children both physically and mentally.
With ambition and positivity they even managed to have partnerships with clubs in England, Sunderland and Newcastle.
They have been running for 20 years now and have a beautiful club house and football field.
To learn more about them : http://www.fclootos.ee/
Departure day ! As we were flying from Riga in Latvia, we managed to get a couple hours in the town to walk around. What a treat !
This trip had been an amazing experience and taught me that with hope and ambition, you can really make a difference in your local community.
I’ve been touched by all the people we met and inspired.
For more photos follow these links :