August 9, 2012
By Kelly Melville
Kelly Melville of Lamont this summer participated in a Volunteer for Peace trip to Estonia. She and students from the United States and Europe worked on projects in the village of Kopu, Estonia.
Kelly will be a member of the senior class this year at Sprague High School. She is the daughter of Liz Melville and the late Burke Melville of Lamont.
I had been wanting to see another part of the world, meet new people, and I guess mostly go on an adventure. I also liked the idea of doing volunteer work while I was there. Most of the programs I found where I could do this were very expensive, but Volunteers for Peace projects are much cheaper. On their website they have a list of projects and I chose a project in Estonia as my first preference. After I applied and was accepted by the partner organization EstYES for the trip, I was a little excited and a little scared. I didn’t receive any detailed information at all until about three months before I was scheduled to leave, and even then, I honestly didn’t have an excess of information in general; this was rather scary for my mother. In fact, my mother was just worried in general, and I suppose other mothers can’t blame her, and neither can I considering there is almost no way that I would have been as prepared for my trip as possible, safety and practicality wise, without her.
After many tedious phone calls, paperwork, plane rides, and the like, I finally was in Estonia. The international volunteers all met up with a leader at the bus station and traveled from there to Kopu, in southern Estonia (this only took about two hours even though we literally had to travel across the country). The town of Kopu was similar in size and feel to Sprague, with the population at around 1,000. There were seven international volunteers including me; two from the U.S., two from Belgium, one from Italy, one from Germany, and one from France, and we lived together in one of the school buildings with a mini kitchen, a lounge room, showers, and a gym with a weight room and a very out of tune piano. It was quite a large place for just seven people as there were three floors including the gym in the basement.
Our main work project was to fill up a couple shacks with logs for the winter time, and we also worked on cleaning out an old building in Kopu so that it could be used as a town hall. I have never seen a building so dirty and overrun; it was filled with dirt, broken glass, bricks, and other garbage (although I did find some nice old vases and tiny red shoes). You could see where the walls were falling apart in places. I cannot imagine anyone even thinking about making such a place into a city building in the United States; if the building was given any attention, it would be to tear it down and build something useful there.
After work, we had free time to shower, sleep, swim, and hang out with the locals and other international kids. Ten or fifteen local kids would come to work with us every day, and at least several of them would usually join us on excursions in the afternoon and evening. Their ages ranged from 10 to 26, and they spoke in Estonian a lot of the time but were pretty friendly. Our night-time/afternoon activities included a volleyball/basketball/soccer game in the gym, canoeing, a trip to the Baltic Sea, campfires and celebrations, a tour and boat trip in the nearby town Vilijandi, visit to a horse ranch, and an old manor house where we were served traditional Estonian food.
Estonia is a very different and beautiful place, and I also was able to learn a little about the rest of the world from my fellow volunteers. My trip was an eye-opener in many ways, and I highly recommend that people think about participating in something similar. Anyone who is interested should look into Volunteers for Peace.