A common adage claims that “Earth laughs through flowers”. Indeed, there was a lot of laughter at the third edition of “Fascination of Plants Day”, in Kaunas.
The aim of this article is to briefly present this event, to offer a more detailed perspective of the experience as a volunteer in Lithuania in the project “A Bridge across Nature”, and to shed some light regarding the particularities of the above mentioned project.
“Fascination of Plants Day” is an international event which took place on 15th of May, in Kaunas, under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation. The aim of the event is to be educative, entertaining, and to raise awareness of the importance of plants in many industries. The starting point of the parade was at the iconic symbol of Kaunas, the Castle.
There was a mixed, but somewhat homogeneous variety of people of all ages, and of all social classes. Most of them were disguised in flowers, some of them against their will; balloons were floating in the hands, or in the air, and the general mood was good and enthusiastic. The vanguard, formed by a marching band parade led us through the Old Town, whilst passers-by had the occasion to take photos and to get amused. Not only people photographed us, but also a drone, which was the most exigent photographer. For this aerial picture, the group stood in the square of Town Hall, in the shape of a flower.
The official ceremony was finished at another majestic place, the Historical Presidential Palace. Afterwards, the event continued in Kaunas Botanical Garden. Apart from the Greenhouse, we had the opportunity to see different workshops. I liked in particular the distillation of essential oil, as I tasted a sample of Lavender, and I experienced the delights of a synesthete: I tasted perfume!
We were surprised to see how many plants and flowers are edible, and how tasty they are. I always thought about certain wild flowers that they are “just” flowers, sporadically growing on fields. Truth is, microcosm of nature and cosmogony of flowers should never be underestimated or minimized. Through a microscope we had the opportunity to see mosquito larva, and the inner world of a petal.
Kaunas Botanical Garden is a beautiful place, and the 4 pair of newly wed that were having photo sessions there, are evidence enough. We could admire and smell the multitude of roses, tulips, and walk among the colorful trees. Some volunteers and I stood until the evening to see the performances on the lake: a lady emerged from a flower playing the violin in a classy, fairy-tale tune, suitable to the general atmosphere. We enjoyed as well the flower projections on the edifice of the Garden, which was all surrounded by torches. Farther from the torches it was quite cold, but you had the reward of a starry sky. After this event, a beautiful sleepless weekend with the friends volunteers followed, and then each of us returned to his own park
In our project, “A Bridge across Nature”, there are 7 Regional and National Parks (Tytuvėnai, Sirveta, Kurtuvėnai, Žematija, Dzūkija, Aukštaitija), and Kaunas Botanical Garden. These parks host 16 volunteers from Armenia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and the project contributes to the “Erasmus+” program. One of the main goal of “Erasmus+” is to represent a specific way of how young people can be better prepared for the labour market by acquiring new competencies through volunteering.
As the coordinator of the project emphasized, state parks are not only environmental organisations, but often act as cultural centers, uniting local communities through cultural activities. This unity is according to my personal aspirations and wishes. In the regional park that I work in, Tytuvenai, some of my activities concern the protection of flora and fauna, while others targets sociable events, and this “ecosystem” functions in a natural, proper way. Community is, therefore as part of nature, not apart, or above it, and it can be observable that EVS volunteers broaden the organisations’ team in terms of applied working methods, which is an unique way to promote the public interest in ecology in Lithuania.
In a way, volunteers can more easily create a link between the people who are trying to protect nature, and those who still don’t find the trash bin. The power of example is crucial in this aspect, as I believe this context is very proper to facilitate the openness to people and their ability to change for the better, regardless the age or previous experience. The learning opportunities provided by the receiving organizations are quite vast and this type of informal learning represents the missing puzzle in the formal learning we receive in educational institutions.
Tytvenai Regional Park covers 11 lakes and 18000 ha. In these 2 months my main activities were: visitors monitoring near the lakes, landscape monitoring, contribution in organizing different events: Stone Path Opening, Lithuanian Folk Dances Evening, preparation of the exhibit of Livija Andriukaitytė’s paintings, taking Lithuanian classes, participation at internal community events: fairs, exhibit, cleaning some parts of the forest.
Sometimes, as volunteer you are proud enough to wish to build mountains, so you could tell You did something. It takes some introspection, fairness, and a couple of walks in the forest to realise that this is the best case scenario, and things don’t necessary work that way.
I still remember the group of volunteers that came in my grandparents’ village, 15 years ago. The little things they did had had a long-term impact on the mind-set of the villagers, in a time when people couldn’t even grasp the term. “Volunteers?… What do you mean they work for free?!” It’s not for free, on the contrary, in my experience I received more than I had gave.
In my opinion, the most important thing you can receive from someone is knowledge. As an EVS volunteer, you are part of a team of professionals, each one with his different expertise, always willing to share from their vast experience and to learn you new things, or to share with you old tales. These moments are priceless, when you are with a team of archaeologists looking for tools from 7000-5000 B.C, and the thrill goes on even after you found something, because your mentor shows you the Beaver’s crib, and explains you their behaviour. During landscape monitoring you have the opportunity to see a 200 year old pine that bears a “koplytele”, a so-called little chapel, to be more precise, a small construction depicting the sacredness of the tree. Allegedly a woman bought that tree in order not to be cut by Hebrew business man, 2 centuries ago. The reason why she choose to save particularly this tree is unknown, but we are free to let our imagination fly, to complete her tale with our own. Truth is, she left a natural inheritance for her successors, that are still taking care of the Pine.
“A Bridge across Nature” is a beautiful, complex, ever-improving, inspirational project. I shall keep you updated until the end of it, when I would have gathered even more material. Until then, it is obvious enough the planned activities encourage creativity, and inspire new ideas in the local community. Moreover, the youth rediscover the beauty of their home-town through the eyes of us, we, the volunteers who have a special status, as we are both tourists and locals.