Volunteering in Estonia: life-changing opportunities

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Is it scary to leave study at the age of 18 and go to an unknown country for 11 months? Why apply for projects, even if the chances are low? You will find the answers to these and other questions in an interview with Daria Logvynenko, secretary of the Kyiv branch of the FRI. She spoke about her experience of volunteering in Estonia, shared her impressions of the Estonian education system, as well as plans for the future.

How did you get into the field of volunteering?

After the 9th grade of school I entered the college, met a girl from FRI there and decided to try volunteering as well. During this time I gained experience, participated in projects such as a charity ball, where people raised funds for treatment. But I did not think that I would ever join an international event.

Why did you decide to try yourself in this program?

I saw in the Telegram channel the opportunity to volunteer in Estonia from the organization Tankla. And then I felt it was mine. I just applied, not really hoping for success, but a week later I received a letter inviting me to an interview with the project coordinator. I am a realist and I understand that in some situations I may not pass the selection, so I was ready for any decision. My English was at a sufficient level, I could easily start a dialogue, but I was still worried before the call. I had a support group — my sister, who was sitting in the next room supporting me. We got along well with the coordinator, I understood everything. In the end I was told “Big yes!”. I couldn’t believe it. It was only when I was sent the documents to sign that I realized that this was the reality and that I had indeed received an offer to join the project.

I was most afraid to hear my parents’ reaction, because I was only 18 years old and I had never lived abroad alone before. It was necessary to show that I am responsible enough and can live a year in a foreign country. And it worked, because I have a good relationship with my parents, and I am responsible and independent.

Was it difficult to leave your study?

After two years of studying in college as a “light industry technologist”, I decided that it was not mine, and it was a pity to spend another year on what I do not like. And when I came across the opportunity to volunteer in Estonia, I realized that this is exactly what I need now.

What are your responsibilities on the project?

After arriving, I settled in the small town of Valga on the border with Latvia. At first I had to work in a youth center, but since I had previously participated in a project related to orphanagesI, I was offered to work with children. I work in kindergarten and school, join the organization of summer camps. I help other teachers, prepare various activities, educational games. By the way, here in schools there is a special system of education called Gaia class: children have three lessons a day, they learn by playing. There are now four students in this class. After a rigid system of education in Ukraine, I could not believe that such a system exists. Children do what they are interested in, they always have a choice, even in kindergarten. In this way, children have more opportunities to try different activities and decide what they want to do next. At school I work with children aged 7-10. We’ve been very friendly with them for a while, and it’s nice.

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In the summer, when the school is on vacation, we organize camps. At the beginning of June, we held a three-day camp on the topic of media for teenagers, and now there is an on-site sports training camp, where we prepare active games in between workshops.

What difficulties did you face?

Volunteering was supposed to start in February, but due to quarantine Ukrainians were not allowed to enter Estonia, so it was postponed. At that moment, I lost motivation. I then took the documents from college and began to prepare for the trip, and here I am told that the borders are closed. So we agreed that I would start volunteering in mid-March. Today I understand that it was for the better.

Another difficult point was the Estonian language: when you hear it, it seems to you that it is elven. It is good that the project curators, local youth and other volunteers speak English without any problems. This is the main language of communication. But in kindergarten at first it was difficult to communicate with children, but later I found a little helper, whose mother is from Australia, so he studies at home and English and Estonian. Older children can already explain what they want and feel. And in which case, the curator will always come to the rescue.

What do you do in your free time in Estonia?

Every weekend we travel to neighboring cities: Tartu, Pärnu, Hademetse, walk, set up tents by the sea, spend movie nights, and watch Eurovision together. I also plan to go to Tallinn. We are provided with pocket money, so you can comfortably volunteer and get to know Estonia. I am also learning Spanish, and I managed to find a Portuguese friend on the project who helps with this.

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What do you plan to do after returning to Ukraine?

I plan to enter the university and continue to volunteer. Maybe I will resume my project for children from orphanages.

How did you overcome the cultural barrier with other participants and locals?

My curator and I cooked Ukrainian borscht at her house, I was very lucky with it. And during the summer camp I work with volunteers from Austria, Germany, Turkey and Ukraine. By the way, my neighbor and I also cooked zrazy here. We often talk about our countries, culture, we are all equal here and as one big family.

What did this volunteering give you?

Volunteering helped me understand that I am strong and can do anything. Estonia has become a lesson in self-love, I am now more open in communicating with locals and volunteers. I am glad that I brought the case to an end, I was not afraid.


Interviewer: Mariia Ridkous

Design: Mykhailo Didenko