“Be the Change!” – Kira Dümpelman about her EVS in Estonia
“Be the change” – on first hand that sounds like one of this Facebook phrases in combination with a significant Google picture. Just a picture with nothing behind. But actually, that’s the title of my European Voluntary Service (EVS) and during the past 12 months, it was on me to give life into this phrase. Did I succeed? I would say yes. Why and how you’re asking? Let me explain. 12 months ago, in December 2016, I arrived to the cold and dark Estonia. At least I knew where that country is located although I had to explain a hundred times to family and friends that I’m staying in Estonia and not in Latvia (sometimes people still asking me where I am), but except of that I didn’t know much about the country or the work which was awaiting me. Of course, I exchanged dozens of mails and Facebook messages with my future Tutors and even visited the country before, but still it was a blank page for me.
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Changes are happening every day. Some are very small that we almost don’t recognize them, some are huge and “life changing”. Mostly personally I associate good things connected with “change”, because it means that something is developing. I remember my on-arrival training, a meeting for volunteers who just arrived to the new country, where we had to describe our organisation, our role in it, tasks and what we think and wish how the results of EVS will look like. Connected with my project title (and because I didn’t get the best drawing skills) I draw two simple flowers in different colours, draw an arrow as well and wrote December 2016 on one side and December 2017 on the other. It was my easy way to express what impact I’d like to have at the end and I was trying to think about those simple flowers from time to time as they’re a symbol for something bigger.
One of the changes I brought to Youth Club Active, my hosting organization, were the workshops I implemented. Of course, they had German workshops before but I think they were quite happy to be able to offer this workshop again to members and all interested people. A little strange for me especially at the beginning how many people here wants to learn German or improve it, but well they can choose it in school as a subject. Still I was very unexperienced in non-formal education and teaching my mother tongue. Hundred times I realized that I have no clue about all the grammar rules and whenever students asked me I could just give them the answer to consult their teachers unfortunately. Being at the beginning a little plan less how to “teach” my mother tongue, I started quite fast to find some methods or adjust games I knew. Once I started to think what to do in the next workshop time, 100 new ideas popped up in my head and I enjoyed it a lot to try them with my different German groups. One of my favourite things I used to do is singing in German with them. I remember the first time I tried it with one of my groups and how surprised I was that it worked out that well. Whenever I came from that on without guitar to their lesson, they were sad and asked if we will sing on the next week. And the first song I was singing with them is still in their heads and I got the feeling they won’t forget that one at least for some more time.
Speaking about music I can tell you about something else I established in Youth Club Active. As I play a little guitar and got some little experience with singing as well I started a music workshop with a very easy concept. I just wanted to offer a platform where to improve some basic vocal and guitar skills and if wished to show also some simple chords on the ukulele. For me it was always important that the participants decided what particular song they would like to learn, although it was sometimes difficult to choose one song out of 1000 we would have liked to play. I have never been in the position to tell other people something about music and it’s been also a learning for me.
These was one of the greatest things of my EVS and that workshop is just an example for the bigger thing I would like to tell you about. Freedom. The freedom to try out all possible kind of ideas and getting support in all needed ways. If it’s about providing a place and time or giving some inputs if something is not working as I wished. Whenever I got an idea it was just on me to take the initiative which strengthen me a lot.
I made a lot of new experiences. Some of them were challenging me, some were exhausting, for some I’m really thankful and some others I would have preferred not to face them. But at the end all of them were part of my EVS and in their way important.
I will tell about some more things I did and got the chance to experience. There is a kindergarten for children with special needs I went once per week. The children were very little and it was the first time for me to work with so small ones. I didn’t like it at the beginning because it was so difficult for me to find access to the children and to communicate with the other workers there as they were all speaking just Russian. But somehow, I found a connection to some of the children and saw how important it is for them and also for me to make this experience. You might not like a task but when a child is coming to you in the morning, smiling and hugging you, you realise why you are doing it. And you find your own way of communication. Who need words when you can point on things? One of my best Russian teachers was a little boy, maybe 5 years old, who liked to play “Double”, a card game, with me and whenever I didn’t remember a word in Russian I pointed on the symbol on the card, asked “что это?” and he would tell me. Children got just a simple, wonderful view on the world.
Another huge part of my EVS was working in the Urban and Suburban camps. Almost the whole summer I spend changing between the suburban camp Vihasoo, located 70 km away from Tallinn at the Baltic sea and the Urban camp in the city. I never worked in such camps before although I got some camp experiences as a scout as well as a group leader there. To adapt to that structures took me some time but at the end I enjoyed every camp period. Every group got different personalities of children and youngsters, every group got own insiders and memorable moments and my personal learning process in cases of language and youth work was so intense as it’s never been before.
I would like to mention one other experience I had the chance to discover: organizing an Erasmus+ youth exchange. For instants one of the things with the biggest learning aspects. To organize the whole programme, coordinating all the groups, preparing the sessions and thinking about a good structure for everything, standing in front of, at least at the beginning, 30 strangers and trying to explain them what we were thinking by preparing this and this. I count it as one of the most challenging but at the same time most self-developing parts of my EVS.
EVS is also a lot about changing yourself. In my case it started from the simple things as living alone and becoming more independent. I became even more self-confident, lost fears of speaking in a foreign language in public and took my very own path. I build up a new comfort zone which I will leave now again. Tallinn became a second home for me with all the people I met, all the friendships which started and all the places which became my favourite spots. I also got a new feeling of being European and being part of young generation in Europe. I learned to be so much more fascinated about this continent, all it’s cultures, languages and that the differences are way less then the similarities.
Unfortunately, EVS is an experience you can only make once but maybe that also preserves its uniqueness. I’m more then happy that I got the opportunity to be part of this amazing programme and would always do it again if I could.