WHAT A CONTRAST!-Article by Jürgen Dengo (Solid A.I.R.)

I grew up in a village, 60 km from the capital of Estonia. The entire village had a population a bit over a hundred inhabitant, spread over the area of many former villages. Due to the soviet collective policies, we had blocks of flats, maximum 12 flats per one block and two blocks close to each other. So we had kids to play with, but we still hadn’t got too many people around us. Years later I was trying to search for my village on google maps to help my friends get a glimp of where it lies, but back then the google car had not passed through our area yet and the zoom was so low that the place wasn’t possible to find in the middle of the forests and moors.
Now, we volunteers live in Berceni, and a single block here has more people than the entire village in which I grew up. It’s really crowded, but a lot of things are really close by, there’s a nonstop shop for example that is literally under our flat, but in my home the closest shop was at one time 10 km away.
During the pandemic, we couldn’t interact with kids directly, so we had to give them online lessons. For this occasion most of the times, volunteers teamed up in two to talk about their countries, experiences and to make activities with kids, to make them knowledgeable about other cultures, places, other kinds of ways of living in general.
It was during those lessons, especially when I was working together with one of our volunteers who’s from Brazil, but comes to us from Spain, how big of a contrast the human experience we actually have. They came from a country that has 200 million people, now Estonia which is one of the least populous countries in Europe has a population of only one million. On top of that they is also from São Paolo, which is one of the ten largest metropolises in the world. The city has a population of approximately 20 million. the entire country of Romania could fit in that city, or Estonia would fit in there 20 times.
There was a moment when I was thinking, how much space I’m used to have, there are places in Estonia where I could look for miles around, and not see a soul, while others have to learn to create their space in their heads, because everybody is together, heads and feet.
But there was a huge contrast for me not only between us as volunteers and me finally feeling the difference between the big city and the small village where I come from, but also the one between online lessons and real-time lessons in the classroom. As I wasn’t the one handling the technical details of classrooms in the online lessons most of the times, I barely remember any kids at all. Of course there is the usual amount of names that we’re used to here, Radus, Nicoletas, Marias and Vlads are everywhere, but for example, some kids during the real-time classes are ones I’ll probably remember until I live. To give classes in schools, we had to submit a lesson plan, to give a view into what we’d like to present to the classes. In Estonia we’re quite proud of our technological jump. We turned a former communist country to a digitalised nation in a short time and I am curious to hear, what do kids think about the direction our lives are taking. I was talking to them about the equipment and things we’re going to use in the future and the things we’re not going to use in future. And I asked them to draw a picture of something that will exist in 100 years. One of the kids drew a tree that was grew armor, because it wants to protect itself from the harvesters. The idea was funny and completely impossible at the same time, but it sent my mind into a spin of thoughts on how could we protect trees and what if they actually had armor to protect themselves. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single instance of a lesson that would have been so mind boggling and creative than this one.
Online lessons required sometimes some quick replanning, often even during the course of the lessons, that classroom work didn’t. Such was the case when we planned to start a lesson with physical exercise, and when the zoom call was opened to us the kids were just finishing a routine of work-out, so we had to rearrange the lesson super quickly. Fortunately we succeeded and the lesson in the end was one of the most exciting ones of the interactive lessons I had. We even had times to make kids ask questions from us in the end.
All in all. Online lessons are much less personal than lessons in the classes, but combined with the contrast between the different experiences of the volunteers they still made for a memorable activity.

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