Where? As organizers welcomed us: In middle of nowhere of middle of nowhere.
“Life in periphery,” on Saaremaa island. A youth exchanged focused on ways how to increase opportunities for youth in rural areas. How to avoid trend of urbanization and leaving to the big towns and cities. Topic which I was familiar with thanks to my bachelor degree in regional development. I was looking forward to apply my knowledge and also implement it in one non-formal workshop.
Teams were from Poland, Latvia, Netherladns and Czech republic (with one Slovak in disguise :D)
Location definitely matched theme of the project. We have been living one hour from main town of Saaremaa – Kuressaare. In couple of cottages, next to farm and summer camp. But that’s not everything.
Meetings with a donkey and small ponny were on everyday schedule. Colorful forest, fresh air, clear night sky included! What added to the cozy atmosphere of life in periphery was fireplace, sauna and food. Homemade food cooked by lady, an owner of accommodation. Lot of meat and delicious soups.
We touched and discussed many issues of rural areas, why people are leaving from periphery what are options and solutions to create more opportunities for locals who doesn’t live in big towns.
During visit in one of the school I first time realized impact of decreasing number of people who stay in rural. Not just through numbers and statistics. Number of students is decreasing. Many study programs are closed. But also teachers are loosing jobs. This was illustrated by our guide by board with pictures of teachers and staff at school. There have been like two rows missing.
There is interesting regulation for education in Estonia applied. School still tries to attract as much students as possible. Now even older people who would like to still study or develop some knowledge and skills in certain fields. For example doctor who likes old furniture. He took his hobby further and studies carpentry. What is even more interesting the Estonian governments is paying the tuiton fee even for older people who have jobs already.
Trip to windmills
Here is after-movie from the project by Jalmar, who was always around with camera and his equipment to catch many memorable moments!
In the end it was amazing exchange. One week of colorful Estonian autumn in middle of calm countryside and actually in middle of Europe. This is what I learnt. For ages I believed that Slovakia is in the middle of Europe. I believed that this geographical midpoint is in Slovakia. No it is not. Maybe just metaphorically it is heart of Europe.
There are more variations for exact midpoint of Europe. One of them in Saareema.
It is claimed that if all the islands of Europe (from the Azores to Franz Joseph Land and from Crete to Iceland) are taken into consideration then the centre of Europe lies in the village of Mõnnuste on Saaremaa island.
For return I joined my Czech colleagues. Just for part of journey. Only to Riga. Driving along the Latvian coast we stopped at one of the beaches.