Last year, the Environmental Investment Centre (EIC) together with the State Forest Management Centre (RMK) and the Ministry of the Environment organised 80 nature trips for Ukrainian war refugees across Estonia. A total of nearly two thousand children and young people took part in the hikes between June and December.
During the hikes, Estonian nature and its preservation were introduced and the acquisition of a simpler environmental vocabulary was supported based on the principles of language immersion. Under the guidance of guides, creative tasks related to nature were solved and knowledge about both the Estonian and Ukrainian nature was shared.
Helen Sulg, Head of the EIC's Development and Cooperation Chamber, explains the background of the venture: “The idea to take young people into nature actually came from the entrepreneur Tiit Pruuli, who pointed out in an interview with the Postimees newspaper in spring that tours around Estonia would help those who arrived here to get away from their worries and discover the beauty of our nature. We brought the idea to life and were surprised to see that there was a decent immersion in the hikes, and answers were given to household questions concerning everyday life, which may not otherwise have been received or dared to ask.”
Activities in their mother tongue outside the school environment are very important for young people from Ukraine, because adapting to Estonian circumstances is more difficult than expected
Anni Raie, Project Manager
In spring 2022, the EIC Council allocated 50 thousand euros for the organisation of nature hikes to support the adaptation of young people and children, which covered the costs of transport, catering and organisation. From June to August, nature trips were organised for Ukrainian families all over Estonia, and from autumn onwards the focus was on school groups from Tallinn and Harju counties, as well as from Lääne, Pärnu, Saare, Tartu and Ida Viru counties. The hikes were assisted by specialists from the Environmental Board and the State Forest Management Centre (RMK). Hikes took place in Harju County under the leadership of a Ukrainian nature information specialist, while special Russian-language programmes took place in other counties.
According to Maksim Ponomaryov, RMK's nature information specialist from Ukraine, the most exciting for Ukrainian children are Estonian bogs, since they do not have such a natural environment in their home country. “Children think the swamp is a water-covered area, but if you show them the raised bog, which is covered with forest and where water can only be seen in the bog pools, they ask where the swamp is. For children it will be a big surprise that the water is covered with peat and trees,” Ponomaryov adds.
The hikers were very curious and explored the local nature, forest products and hiking on their own a lot. Under the supervision of guides, young people also learnt how to behave in nature, including not littering, waste sorting and fire-making safety. According to Anni Raie, project manager of the EIC, many teachers who took part in the hikes pointed out that activities in their mother tongue outside the school environment are very important for young people from Ukraine, because adapting to Estonian circumstances is more difficult than expected. “Forest immersion is known to be one of the best ways to relieve stress,” adds Raie.
Already in the coming spring, all schools and kindergartens operating in Estonia will again have the opportunity to apply for support from the EIC Environmental Programme for the conduct of training visits. With EIC support, more than half a million children have participated in study programmes over the years.