volunteering as an attitude
Text and pictures: Rute Barbedo
The dark road 88 couldn’t have a more suitable deflection than Tudulinna. This small borough in the northeast of Estonia, known as „the sleeping town“, is a valley of silence. In the warm beds of a pale green house, a group of 21 children sleep quietly. „It all began with Maria, a Ucranian woman that started to take care of some orphan children in her own house. Now, she’s around 65 years old and takes care of teenagers“, tells Regina, worker in Tudulinna Asenduskodu.
The silence we hear in Tudulinna is not just a question of chance: it matches perfectly with the whole regional landscape, culture and history. Not far away from the industrial scenario of a closed big coal factory, Tudulinna is now the shadow of a Soviet mine working environment. Regina recalls that, „after the independence, the east block of Estonia just stopped. Life stopped. Unemployment began to raise and problems like alcohol, drugs and crime started to appear“. So, children and teenagers from problematic families needed a comfortable place where they could feel supported, loved and cared.
One of the most recent methods that Tudulinna orphanage found to fulfill its mission is the „hug therapy“. Besides regular activities and music sessions, through hug therapy „children can open themselves, talk about their emotions and get prepared to an independent life“. „Many of them don’t tolerate being touched but they need to do it“, says Anne-Ly, who is conducting these sessions, among other responsibilities in the institution.
The proximity with Russia also makes this region a quite evident mix of cultures. In the orphanage, for instance, half of the children is Russian and the other half is Estonian, a fact which is not even slightly forgotten. „We don’t want Russian children to lose their roots, their culture, so I try to conserve it“, says Regina. That’s why a fluent Russian-speaker like Gohar, the new volunteer from Armenia, represents an asset to the organisation. At the same time, „news from abroad are always fresh air“, adds Gohar, who already presented her country to children and youngsters in the institution (a poster with pictures from Armenia in her living room is the main reminiscence of this cultural moment).
Comparing to the energetic city of Yerevan, it’s obvious that Tudulinna – with its 502 inhabitants – shows itself like a world apart. That’s what pushes Gohar to become a backpack traveler in the weekends. „I really love cities, so, every weekend I go to Tallinn and I visit other places“, like Riga or Vilnius. Anyway, the orphanage doesn’t give her rest during the workdays. „I’m always busy and I really understand and love children. They are the best in the world“, considers the volunteer.
Gohar is now catching the rhythm: something between the honks of Yerevan and the breath of Tudulinna’s mushrooms and berries. Finding the perfect beat is a question of survival, anyway, as support the orphanage workers: „Tudullina’s history of survival are the berries. We pick it, we sell it and we can buy cars with the money we make! One hour in the forest makes 12 euros.“ So, entire families go to the forest looking for their winter resource of life, a tradition that keeps its strength on young people. „A special price was established to motivate youngsters and children to pick and sell berries, so that they can have their own pocket money and continue the tradition“, tells Anne-Ly.
Even without pocket-money coming from red berries, a special trip to the forest is being prepared for Gohar. No city, no cars, just the silent Estonian forest helping to catch the rhythm of a new life in a new country.