By Roosmari Pihlak ’20 (Tallinn, Estonia, placed by CIEE in Maryville, MO)
We are all human, despite our differences. However, sometimes people who are different are treated unequally. Therefore, in Tallinn, Estonia, Astangu Vocational Rehabilitation Center (Astangu for short) is working on reducing the inequalities that people with disabilities often face.
Astangu is one of the first places where the FLEX alumni community in Estonia began volunteering in 2017. At Astangu, the staff prepare people with disabilities to enter vocational fields. Katre Vahter ’17, the City Representative of Tallinn at the time, led the initiative and organized several events with the center.
Some of the events included cooking classes, baking pancakes, making Valentine’s Day cards, and playing board games. Astangu even gave the Estonian alumni community a letter of appreciation for working with the students. However, due to the pandemic, this collaboration was put on hold in 2020.
Then, in December of 2022, as the Alumni Coordinator of Estonia, I decided to contact Astangu again to revive the tradition. On December 14, Gerda Metsma ’17 and I held a Christmas Decoration Workshop with six of the students at Astangu. We used old paper and materials to make ornaments which were later hung up on the center’s Christmas tree and in the dining room. We talked about how the students were doing and shared good wishes for the upcoming holiday.
The students were excited and happy to get crafty with us. They were incredibly talented and loved the new decorations. We got such a warm welcome from everyone in the center and could not wait to visit them again, so we decided to have another artsy workshop for Valentine’s Day.
On February 14, 2023, the City Representative of Tallinn, Juuli-Johanna Aaman ’22, organized a painting and card-making workshop with the students. This time, 15 students participated! They made a total of ten paintings, and each made their own Valentine’s cards which the students were happy to give to their friends and loved ones. While they worked, they ate some Valentines-themed snacks and sweets and discussed the importance of friendship.
“Astangu was one of the very first organizations that welcomed our alumni to volunteer,” shares Katre. “We are grateful for the opportunity and are planning to continue volunteering with them in the future!”
It is important to recognize those who are different. We feel that people with disabilities are often mistreated when they should be equally included in society as anyone else. We have seen how the students at Astangu appreciate small acts of kindness, such as making cards and ornaments together, and it has taught us that a small act of kindness can go a long way.
Katre Vahter ’17 (Tallinn, Estonia, placed by AIFS in Weiser, ID)
Gerda Metsma ’17 (Tallinn, Estonia, placed by World Link in Selma, CA)
Juuli-Johanna Aaman ’22 (Tallinn, Estonia, placed by PAX in Salem, NY)