Laste heaks” roughly translates to “for the good of the children.” This phrase has almost reached a propaganda-like level of repetitiveness and meaninglessness within the Estonian community.
This phrase is either spoken at events where no Estonian children are present, or is immediately ignored by young Estonians as mere rhetoric. Those who speak the phrase find comfort in saying it, as though simply uttering the words will do good and enrich our youth.
The unfortunate reality is that many organizations in our community are shrinking. People recognize this downward trend, and are quick with excuses.
“Our community usually ebbs and flows.”
“We shouldn’t panic after one bad year.”
“You can’t predict how these things will go.”
While there are moments when these excuses are true, this universal contraction of our community seldom creates needed moments of introspection among community leaders. Very often our community leaders are left trying the same things over and over again, anticipating a different result.
This approach, by definition, is insanity.
In no way am I accusing the community of being insane. Community leaders, particularly in the Canadian Estonian community, are overworked and undercompensated. Many move metaphorical mountains just to be able to offer diverse programming for the Estonian community. Little, if any, time and resources are left for brainstorming new ideas. Combine this with the sad reality that many new ideas involve high amounts of risk, and our community is left solemnly trudging onward with the status quo.
Despite this, clinging to the status quo is no solution either. When there is nothing new to contribute, or when there is nothing new to look forward to, this can lead to boredom, apathy and disengagement with the Estonian community. The 2011 Canadian census showed that there are approximately 23,000 self-identified Estonians living in Canada. Yet we seldom see numbers that come close to that figure in our events within the Estonian communities in Canada. Disengagement has been happening for years, and continues to happen now.
How does a community as small as ours combat disengagement? There are no guaranteed solutions, but the status quo is certainly not a solution either. No matter what, we must continue to look to our youth for guidance and for solutions. The Estonian youth will be the ones inheriting this community from our current leaders, and must be accounted for in the decision-making process.
Many organizations within our community are quick to say that they do engage with the youth. Questionnaires and interviews have already been conducted in youth organizations, in order to create the following year’s programming. In my experience with youth organizations, however, many times radical and unique ideas are met with “no, because…” or “that’s nice, but…”
Dancing around large-scale ideas allows organizations to comfortably move forward with the status quo, while patting themselves on the back for consulting youth. The youth continue to feel like they have not been heard, and this cements their skepticism about making a meaningful difference within the Estonian community.
Community leaders need to empower youth by allowing them to investigate their ideas. We need to establish a culture of “yes, and” rather than “no, because,” if we hope to slow the decline of the community, or if we hope to ever see future growth.
The issue is important to our community now more than ever. We are still blessed with a variety of organizations in our community, and we still offer organizations that cater to everyone’s needs. A proactive approach now will help combat further contraction or closure of organizations.
This task is not solely the responsibility of community leaders. The Estonian youth in Canada need to take an active role in the goings-on of the community. Now more than ever are the youth in the driver’s seat of the Estonian community, and must be accountable for the future of the community.
What is the best way to concretely and proactively combat disengagement, without further taxing our overworked community leaders? What will help give Estonian youth the courage to stand up, speak their mind, and know they are being represented within the community?
The solution lies with EKN, the Estonian Central Council of Canada.
One of EKN’s jobs is “to protect and preserve the Estonian Canadian community.” The previous EKN executive has done a great job lobbying Ottawa for Magnitsky legislation, maintaining and increasing sanctions against Putin’s Russia, and working with various stakeholders on the Canadian Memorial to the Victims of Communism. EKN has also done a good job working with Estonia and the other international Estonian communities.
Where the future EKN executive can help our Canadian community is in our own backyard. Our strength in lobbying governments for change lies in our strength as a community. The future EKN can bring everyone, Estonian youth included, to the discussion, setting the tone for the next 4 years and beyond.
For the Estonian youth, the easiest way to make a difference in the community now is to vote in the upcoming EKN elections. Many young Estonians who are eligible to vote do not know what EKN is or what it does. Many young Estonians also do not realize that they are eligible to vote. Many young Estonians do not know what EKN can do for them, and as a result are less likely to take time to vote.
To the Estonian youth: make EKN work for you by becoming informed, and by voting.
Go to http://www.ekn-canada.org and learn more about the organization.
Ask your family and friends about EKN.
Talk to the EKN candidates themselves.
If you want more transparency, via regular communications from EKN, ask for it with your vote.
If you want EKN to create an organization that speaks on behalf of all Estonian youth in Canada, ask for it with your vote.
If want an organization that brainstorms solutions with other Estonian organizations, ask for it with your vote.
EKN is a very fluid organization, capable of inciting change both internationally and domestically. Now more than ever can the community dictate the agenda of EKN.
I implore the Estonian youth to grab the reins of the Estonian community and steer it in the direction that you want. Now is the time, as a community, to unanimously work towards a vision that truly is “laste heaks.”
From Kids’ Table to Centre Stage: the Importance of Estonian Youth Engagement and EKN (4)