The Estonian Foundation of Canada (EFC), as a key supporter of the Estonian/Canadian community and passionately concerned about its future, conducted a broad-based survey, followed by a Community Summit on May 31, 2011. For over 60 years our community has thrived, however since Estonia has regained independence the demographics, needs and perspectives have evolved. The EFC acknowledges that if we do not adjust to the new winds of change, the future of our Estonian community in Canada could be at risk.
The Summit was conducted largely in English to attract a younger audience who do not speak or understand Estonian. A live broadcast of the summit was made available on the internet via webcast allowing remote participation.
The EFC estimated that up to 500 people attended the meeting either in person or on-line.
Due to time restrictions, not every survey point could be discussed in one evening. The questionnaire helped narrow down the topics to three themes; Language; Community activity and duplication; Inclusion of all Estonians in Canada.
Attendees were divided into groups by tables and a representative from each came up to voice their collective ideas and suggestions. On-line comments were also shared during the program.
Participants expressed unanimous agreement to preserve and grow an Estonian community outside of Estonia. Estonians in Canada want to continue interaction and attending events that form the fundamentals of the existing community.
The community needs to attract more youth, but their priorities are different from those of previous generations. Some change is necessary and it must be done carefully and respectfully of the past.
Here are highlights of ideas presented at the Summit:
- need for more bi-lingual communication. Preservation of the Estonian language is vital, however, non-Estonian speaking community members should be made to feel welcome at all events.
- simultaneous translation at events where greater attendance from non-Estonian speaking people is expected.
- promote and preserve Estonian language amongst our young people by ensuring that events and activities occur in both languages – emphasizing Estonian.
- offer Estonian language courses for adults (non Estonian speaking parents) during Kindergarten on Saturdays and during Estonian school on Monday and/or Tuesday nights
- offer more information about Estonian language courses on line
- create various types of exchange programs with Estonia
On community activity and duplication:
- create a master calendar for events and activities to reduce overlap and multiple events on the same day; consider putting the calendar on a website and creating a smartphone application
- combine groups and consolidate some events, especially where there is lack of leadership and/or declining membership/participation
- mix old traditions with new and fresh ideas
- create an umbrella organisation to coordinate and promote youth activities
- give youth the right to do things their way, to experiment; less organized events, more fun, not so much structure
- introduce a youth music festival (other than jazz)
- bring back “Tallinn Festival”
- Eesti Elu column for young people with stories and achievements
- more use of new media and social media
- recognize that some groups are purely social and may not require community funding while others further the growth of the Estonian community and make effective use of community resources.
On inclusion of all Estonians in Canada:
- welcoming committee for newcomers from Estonia
- expand the current introduction booklet for new Estonian immigrants currently available at the EFC office.
- help new Estonian immigrants and students find jobs with Estonian business owners
- arrange “meet and greet“ events for all ages
- a call to Everyone: personally locate and invite Estonians back into the community who have drifted away over the years.
- identify isolated Estonians and help them integrate back into our Estonian community
- assess and assist the smaller, isolated Estonian communities and support their efforts to increase numbers at their events.
The Survey and the Summit introduced many feasible opportunities to enhance our local Estonian/Canadian communities. In the coming months the Estonian Foundation of Canada will be evaluating all of these ideas together with its community partners and agents, thereby addressing the need for action in our community.
The Estonian Foundation of Canada Community Summit. What is our future?