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Impressive international work in Rautjärvi

Rautjärvi is a village of about 4,000 inhabitants in Southern Karelia in Finland and has seen a remarkable growth in its international activities over the past few years. People in the village have welcomed young people participating in youth exchanges and the European Voluntary Service (EVS) to join in the activities of the village and into the community. ”Absolutely fabulous”, enthuses Sanna Juvakka, youth social worker in Rautjärvi.

Rautjärvi took part in its first international project in 2012, participating in a youth exchange organised by the town of Lappeenranta. The exchange involved young people from Finland and Spain. One of the participants was Alberto, a young man from a small Spanish village of Numancia de la Sagra, sent by Proyecto Kieu (NGO). Now Alberto is a local inhabitant, a fan of sauna and volley ball.


”Both boys have served as great examples both in their home and host villages”, Juvakka describes Alberto and Finnish Henri who were the first EVS volunteers of Rautjärvi and Proyecto Kieu in 2013. Alberto spent his volunteer period in Rautjärvi and Henri in Numancia de la Sagra, working for Proyecto Kieu.


Helping young people to get rid of their concerns


Alberto and Henri have encouraged young boys and girls in their home villages and helped them realise that even though they come from a small village, it is possible for them, too, to go abroad.


In addition to the youth exchange and the EVS exchanges mentioned above, Rautjärvi has also organised its own youth exchange and participated in a seminar organised by Proyecto Kieu. Rautjärvi’s first EVS project is one of the five projects nominated for the 2015 Youth Award of the European Youth Week.


Thanks to the projects, young people of Rautjärvi now find it easier to go abroad and have fewer concerns. ”Even him came back alive”, they may now conclude. Adults in the village now see volunteers from abroad as part of the normal life in the village.


Our boys


During his 11-month volunteer service, Alberto worked in a school, a kindergarten and a youth club, and took part in sports events. People in Rautjärvi gave him a warm welcome and comments like ”there’s the Spanish boy of the village” could be heard on the streets.


Juvakka praises Alberto openly:”Social, open, happy, proactive, flexible and easy-going”. During his volunteering time, Alberto learned Finnish and improved his English. He lived with a family in the village, which helped him learn Finnish and English.


Alberto became so well rooted in Finland that he now lives in Simpele village within Rautjärvi municipality. He plays volley ball and goes to sauna at his volunteer host family every week.


”I think that everyone knows Alberto even if he might not quite know everybody yet”, Juvakka says.


The first EVS volunteer from Rautjärvi was Henri who found the exchange as a ”once in a lifetime” experience. He felt that his input during the volunteer service was important. He assisted Proyecto Kieu in daily office tasks and, for example, held two IT courses during his volunteer service.


Henri already had quite a good knowledge of Spanish before his exchange, having studied Spanish for his upper secondary school exams. However, his language skills developed so much during his time in Spain that on his return he passed an official language skill test. And this is not all: Henri decided to apply to study Spanish in a university in Budapest. He was accepted and now lives there. ”A really wonderful story”, says Juvakka.


More international activities forthcoming


Apart from the EVS projects, Rautjärvi is also involved in other great international projects, and cooperation with Proyecto Kieu continues. When Henri was in Spain and Alberto in Finland, Rautjärvi started planning their own youth exchange. They got the funding and young people from Rautjärvi went to Spain in the summer 2014. ”It was a great experience. A participant said that they’d go again anytime”, Juvakka says. After the exchange, some youngsters have gone to Spain independently to meet their new friends.


If a new project goes ahead, there may be more international heavy metal rock being played in Rautjärvi soon. In February 2015, Proyecto Kieu organised a seminar ”Small Matters” with Juvakka, a sports instructor and representatives from the heavy metal rock association ”Rakkaudesta metalliin” (for the love of metal) and the village association of Asemanseutu participating from Rautjärvi.


After the seminar, ”Rakkaudesta metalliin” began to consider applying for accreditation and funding for an EVS project. The village association of Asemanseutu and the ASEMAFEST community are also planning a youth exchange around the theme of music. International work in Rautjärvi is team work. Employees from the local council, associations and organisations help each other.


Everybody says Raksu


More international faces will be seen in Rautjärvi soon when a youth group from the neighbouring village of Numancia de la Sagra will come for a visit.


EVS has worked excellently between Rautjärvi and Proyecto Kieu. The current volunteer in Rautjärvi, Raquel has worked in the youth club and the primary school. ”She is known by the name of Raksu”, Juvakka laughs. Finnish Emmi is also enjoying her time in Numancia de la Sagra.


The European Voluntary Service (EVS) is a part of the Youth in Action programme within the European Union’s Erasmus+ Programme. The volunteer service has an impact both on the participating young people and the communities in which they work. The duration of a volunteer period is from 2 to 12 months.


The project of Rautjärvi will be presented in the main event of the 2015 European Youth Week in Brussels.


Text: Johanna Järviranta


Translation: Maarit Ritvanen


Published: Thu, 07/05/2015 - 10:40

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