In the framework of OBESSU’s Seeds for integration project as a result of the first application round the Estonian School Student Councils’ Union received a large-scale grant to organise a one-week-long school student exchange program. The event that took place from the 6th until 11th of February 2017 aimed at building synergies between Estonian and Russian speaking youth. The week ended with a traditional ESCU Winter School, where students from all over Estonia were invited to participate.
On the 6th of February, 10 Russian speaking and 10 Estonian speaking young students started their school week in a whole different city. Participants of this pioneer project were from two Estonian cities - Tartu (mainly Estonian speaking) and Narva (mainly Russian speaking). For a week these 20 students switched their homes, cities and schools and stepped into an environment with a different language than their own.
“For years we have noticed how little Estonian and Russian speaking young people communicate with each other. A small problem now will however turn into a bigger one in time if nothing is done to change it. We brought young people together to bring Estonian students closer to each other and to talk openly about the problems of integration” said project coordinator Maris Neeno. It was highly encouraging to see that school students in Estonia are very active and wanted to take part of the project.
The exchange week ended with the Winter school held in one of the Estonian schools between 10-11 of February. Participants of the Winter school - one of ESCU’s yearly events - were both participants from the exchange program and also other students interested in the project and the topic. Altogether, the Winter school had 90 young participants from all over Estonia. In the Winter school exchange students shared their experience with regard to the program and the issues they faced at school. These topics were discussed by Estonian and Russian speaking youth in working groups with experts, with the idea of finding sustainable solutions. In addition, participants had also fun activities during the whole week, as well as many workshops.
The idea of the project was born from the fact that there are a lot of Russian speaking people in Estonia who don’t communicate with others. Estonian School Student Councils’ Union’s aim is to represent all school students living in Estonia; therefore it is one of our organisation’s intentions to include everyone and to break down the language barrier.
ESCU is incredibly thankful for the Seeds for Integration fund, which helped our project become a reality. Thanks to the funding, 20 Estonian schools students and exchange families could take part in an educational and fun activity by participating in an exchange program. Winter school was also a great environment to discuss shortcomings of integration and gather inputs for ESCU’s follow-up activities. ESCU’s Working Group on Public Policy has now more input which will be valuable when fighting for the rights of all Estonian students.
In conclusion, the organising team is highly motivated to have a similar exchange week next year.
Written by Maris Neeno, Project Coordinator, Estonian School Student Councils’ Union
To learn more about Seeds for Integration projects and funding opportunities, visit www.seedsforintegration.org