About Maps, Statues and Wooden Houses

A visit to Vilnius in Lithuania in October 2016 by Lilian Jüchtern (European Forum for Freedom in Education) to Jekaterina Lavrinec (Laimikis.lt)

On 21st of October I set out to travel to Lithuania together with my daughter Lotta (17) to get a first-hand impression of Jekaterina’s work in the “wooden neighbourhood” Šnipiskeše in Vilnius, the capital city. My intention was to find out if the tools she is using to regenerate the neighbourhood can be adapted to create learning opportunities for children and young people.

Leaving the airport of Vilnius our first idea of the city was formed by the map which illustrated the route that the microbus 88 would take. Inspired, I would come to draw a “map of the day” each of the following days showing the places we intended to go as well as the way to get there.

“Map of the day” No 1: Directions to get to Užupis

Užupis means “on the other side of the river” and is the artist area of Vilnius. In Užupis we came across the angel statue which was the first statue among many we came to see in Vilnius. The map at the bottom of the page shows part of the river Neris and the location of the café where we were going to meet Jekaterina in the evening to discuss our plans for the coming days.

We were lucky that the first full day was still dry (though quite cold), so we were able to explore the “wooden neighbourhood”. We met Jekaterina in the high rise area close to the old neighbourhood.

“Map of the day” No 2: Directions to get to Europe Square

From cathedral square go north and cross the river Neris in direction of the high rise buildings on the opposite site. Europe square is in front of the shopping mall. Go inside to warm up and to have your first experience of “Coffee Inn” the coffee house chain which can be found all over Vilnius.

At the Coffee Inn Jekaterina gave us a short introduction to the wooden neighbourhoods. Šnipiskeše has been a village close to Vilnius before it became part of the city. It is located north of Europe Square. Characteristic for the neighbourhood are the wooden houses. Some of them used to be pottery workshops and many of them have garden plots where flowers, vegetables, and fruits are grown. Many of the houses are in a derelict state but are still rich of details.

Afterwards we went to the “dragon field” where we would start our game of URBINGO. The urban game URBINGO is played in teams or by individuals. Players receive a map of the “wooden neighbourhood” on which locations are marked by round dots. Each team or individual also draws an equal number of cards from a stack. On each card is a photo which has been taken at one of the locations marked on the map. The task is to find the locations where the images on the cards have been taken and to take a picture showing the location and the card (see images). The game finishes when the teams or individual players meet again to compare their results.

For more information about the wooden neighbourhood and the regeneration project of Laimikis Lt. see http://laimikis.lt/neighbourhood-regeneration-snipiskes/

“Map of the day” No 3: Directions to get to the Gedeminas tower and to the “street of the writers”

The next day was very rainy and we set out to visit the Gedeminas tower which is the remaining part of the upper castle. The way up is paved in the old way forming a “mosaic of stones” by using complete stones set into the ground. Despite the rain we had quite a view over the town from the top of the tower, which is located on a hill. In the museum located in the tower, we saw a documentary film about the “Baltic Way” which was a peaceful demonstration for the independence of the Baltic countries in 1989. Though the documentation looked quite historical, on a personal scale I still remember 1989 vividly as the year when the Berlin wall came down.

After visiting the tower, we set out to see the tiles in Lliteratų gatvė, an outdoor gallery where artworks are set into the wall each of them dedicated to a Lithuanian literature workers: writers, translators and other people who have a link to Lithuanian literature.

More about maps and the concept of “gamification”

I greatly enjoyed to talk to Jekaterina, to get to know her work and to exchange our ideas. For me the major value of the experience has been to be able to share ideas with a person who is working in an entirely different sector. Though at a first glance it might seem difficult to find shared objectives between an organisation that encourages the co-creation of urban space in a local neighbourhood and a networking organisation in the area of education, many issues come up in either context. The most prominent issue we share is how to involve people, to help them to connect their experiences to collective experiences and to motivate them to actively take part in co-creation of their immediate environment.

The visit in Vilnius has confirmed my initial hypothesis that initiatives working with local communities have developed methods and approaches which can be adapted to be used as teaching and learning methods for children and young people. As an outcome of the talks with Jekaterina, I also believe that local initiatives could benefit from the pedagogical competences teachers could bring to them.

To improve my professional work, I hope to be able to compile a collection of different methods which have been developed by initiatives working with local communities to motivate teachers to seek learning and teaching opportunities outside of classical curricula and which encourages children and young people to become actively involved in the co-creation of urban spaces in their neighbourhood.

In a broader framework, I hope that my visit in Vilnius is the starting point of successful co-operations between initiatives working in different local communities and local schools.

Jekaterina and Lilian at Vegafé in Vilnius

Many thanks to Jekaterina for showing us around and for being able to have many inspired conversations while enjoying vegan and vegetarian food in Vilnius.

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