From the 1st to 10th of August, 2013 the Religious Youth Service project took place in Estonia, Johvi. The project was supported by the Lutheran church of St. Michael. Main purposes of this social project were improving the building and grounds of the Lutheran church, improving and cleaning the memorial cemetery for German soldiers of the World War II, and assisting with other work.
Representatives from all other the world (from 13 countries), participated at this RYS projects, The majority came from Russia – 4 people, next was Germany – 3 people, than France, and also one person from Austria, England, Scotland, Japan, USA, Canada, Italy, Greece, Estonia, and Philippines.
A little less, but still commanding respect, was diversity in representations of religious beliefs. On this project, working shoulder on shoulder and spending their free time together, were representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic denominations, Unificationists, people brought up on the basis of Islam, and even those who are still in the spiritual quest. Many participants were familiar with each other from other volunteer projects, so that young people not only met new friends, but also caught up with the old ones.
An important part of the project was the involvement of volunteers in the lectures and seminars about universal human values, as well as training in building harmonious relationships in their environment and team building exercises. On the agenda of each working day, there was one topic: tolerance, family, love, etc. Of course, very memorable and enriching were the evening programs – young people got acquainted with each other’s traditions and customs of their countries, played together and watched movies.
During the project, the participants did not only learn the culture and mentality of each other, but also studied the history and traditions of Estonia. First of all, it was promoted by numerous excursions, donated to the volunteers by the organizers of the project: Tallinn sightseeing attractions, a trip to the Orthodox Pühtitsa Dormition Monastery, a visit to the lake Peipsi and the Baltic Sea. Local people helped to get to know and understand their country too. I have to mention the exciting lecture about the history of Estonia and the Estonian Lutheran church by pastor of the Johvi Lutheran community Peter Kaldur. “I was amazed how much of historical processes in Estonia due to Germany “, said Martin VanKampen, a history student.
A significant role was played by other Estonians who closely collaborated with the volunteers – e.g. employees of the cafe where volunteers had lunch and dinner (especially Valentina Vastsenko, which became a ‘second mother’ to all participants for the duration of the project), the friendly parishioners of the St. Michael Church, etc.. A lot of interesting information about the life of modern Estonia was received from the Estonian volunteer, Sergey Tjurin.
The weak side of the project was the direct participation of the local population – only one Estonian took part in this project. “I would like indigenous population to be more involved in the project”, said Christian Klotz, a participant from England. “Maybe if we promoted this project more actively, bigger number of locals would know about it” – a proposal, introduced by a volunteer from Germany.
Despite external diversity in culture, customs and traditions, all volunteers became close friends, and found a common language with each other. “I live in a country with a fairly homogeneous ethnic composition, so I thought it would be difficult to work with so many different people. However, I found that the differences are not as important as similarities,”- told me Erina Yumeyama from Japan. All the members had interesting topics for discussion with others. Already on the second day of the project, all felt like one big and happy family. Volunteers largely benefited in terms of rapid convergence and mutual understanding from the support and goodwill of the driver of the project, Vitaly Maksimov.
“The best experience learned from this project, was meeting with all of the participants! Wow, that was such a national, cultural and religious diversity” shared Marlies Haider, a project participant from Austria.
“The main disadvantage of this project was its brevity. I wish it lasted longer, at least three weeks”, said Daniele Evaristo, a participant from Italy.
Participants of the Estonian project 2013, and the author of the article, are looking forward to opportunities of learning new horizons, seeing old friends and meeting new ones at the next RYS project.