Mariliis Saaret – My EVS Story

My name is Mariliis Saaret. I am a 26 years old youth worker from Estonia and I have been in Romania, Maramureș, in the city of Baia Mare for 6 months. During my 12 months in this EVS project, my activities include teaching English to visually impaired people, organizing after-school activities for children (aged 7-12) and some events for blind people. In the summer period, a number of intercultural summer camps were organized in the rural communities around Baia Mare.

Six years dreaming to be an EVS volunteer

In the end of my high school I had first idea that I want to have this experience in my life. There was only one big fear that didn’t let me to do it. I was really afraid of speaking English. So after four years of university studies, two years working as a youth worker and being active volunteer and organizer in local fields I was ready to try do to EVS in Romania. I was quite prepared. I had read a lot of stories where another youth workers were speaking about working as EVS volunteers. In the beginning of January 2015 I finished my work in Tallinn Youth Information centre and  I was finally ready to be an EVS volunteer. I saw that a youth worker, who is also a friend of mine from Tartu was looking for volunteers for two projects in Romania and in Tenerife. I was applying for both of them and I had  the interviews. I was suitable for both programs, so I had to decide. I chose Baia Mare because I didn’t want to live in a touristic place and I hoped to find more wilder nature and traditional local people. Of course the main thing was that activities were more practical and our project coordinator, Solvita, seemed really friendly and a positive person to work with.

Arrival in Baia Mare

I came to Baia Mare together with another  Estonian girl named Andra. In a minibus on our way from  Budapest Airport  to Baia Mare I met the first Romanian in my life. Christian, an engineer  who lives in Canada but he was visiting his family in Baia Mare. We have talked for almost 5 hours about Romania and Romanian people 🙂 That was my first time, when I had to speak in English, because I didn’t have another option. I told him that I have one dream- I want to eat traditional Romanian food together with a Romanian family (since now I have eaten like this twice – once in Alunis, where my mentor Claudia’ s mother made Sarmale and  second time Carmen made frog legs and caviar in our trip to Danube Delta. It was late and heavy raining when we arrived in Baia Mare. Remus and Mada from the office were waiting for us in the car. About that evening I remember that Remus showed  me where Mara Hotel was and if I would get lost just to ask about that hotel, because everybody knows that. He was totally right- whenever I didn’t know where I was I asked about Mara:). My new home was empty because all of my three flat mates Nastia and Mykola from Ukraine and Aneta from Poland came later. During the first weeks I noticed that people in the streets were smiling and saying  “hello” to me a lot more than in Estonia.

Travelling around Romania

For different reasons I didn’t have a lot of activities in the first 4 months. The majority of my free time I was discovering Romania. Together with Aneta and Andra we went to different cities like Sighet, Cluj-Napoca, Brasov, Predeal, Oradea, Arad, Constanta, Tulcea. Three memorable trips were going to Oradea, in south Tulcea and my first hike to Ignis mountain.

Oradea was a really nice city close to the Hungarian border. Me, Aneta and Andra slept at our couch surfing host, Stefan’s place, who was a  local Motorcycle club president. Stefan showed us the city and invited us to join the motorcycle season opening the following day and we were also making a tour together with them, which started the day after.  I was really excited and  the drivers were really experienced, so that they made me feel safe. In the parking place there were more than 200 motorcycles and  I was feeling really comfortable to go on the city tour  with all those people. In the evening we had after party, where we enjoyed live band and interesting talks with motor people.


In spring time I went to Ignis mountain with other EVS volunteers. Remus invited all volunteers and I thought it was a good idea to go. In the beginning, I felt how my blood pressure was going up really fast and my lungs didn’t give to me enough air.  As Estonian I am used to flat land. Everybody around me knows that highest point in Estonia is 318 m. So this hike was hard for me, but finally in the top of the mountain I felt that it was worth it :).

The trip to Danube Delta was the most adventurous trip for me so far. Me, Aneta, Burcu from Turkey and Vahur were travelling for 16 hours by train; it was hot as sauna to the south of Romania Constanta and from there to Enisala village, where we slept in one garden in the tent. The place owner s friend was  science fiction writer, who offered dinner for us consisting of  telemea, tomatoes and cucumbers. From there we went by bus to Tulcea, where we slept in the boat and the captain served us fish soup. Next days we went with the same boat to Danube Delta. After that we traveled  to small village in the middle of Tulcea and Sulina named Gorgova. It was a really hot day and we tried to find some shade where to take off our big backpacks. We stopped in front of an abandoned (at first it seemed like that) house, where the roof was a little bit sunken in the one corner. But it wasn’t an empty house. It was a post office and on the other side of house there lived a cook and a post office worker, Carmen, with her fisherman’s husband . Behind this house there was a real zoo with different birds, pigs, cows, cats, a dog and a horse. Carmen spoke English, so first we sent 30 postcards and we used all the stamps she had. Then we asked where we could put up our tent, but she told us that we could sleep in her house,  she needed to clean it first because it was an old local bar room and she hadn’t used it for a long time. We were lucky and happy because next day Carmen’s husband came with us with his small boat to discover Danube Delta s wild parts and he showed us the lake where Pelicans lived. By the time we came back from the trip, Carmen had cooked frog legs the way they are prepared in this area. Frog legs tasted like chicken meat. It was the most spontaneous and memorable trip that I have ever had.

Volunteer work in Team for Youth Association

Even though every weekend I had nice trips, I felt useless and sad, because I needed to do something. I was confused and disappointed, because most of my weeks I had only some hours of work ( I should have had six hours a day five days a week) in my schedule or if I had  activities then I had to share it with three or four other volunteers. Usually we teach English all together to one blind person. I didn’t feel any excellence for myself. From the beginning I had my own idea to organize TEDx event and classical guitar concert to collect money for kids, who don’t have enough money to buy an instrument.  Both ideas didn’t work out because I couldn’t know how to put local people to work as one team and speak to each other and find time to help me. Finally Andra spoke with her mentor Nicoleta, who is an English teacher in different schools and we started to go to her English lessons in Baritiu high school.

Afterwards I went to the office every day saying “ hello! How can I  help you today?”. Then after some discussions in the office with Steli, he had the idea to organize an Estonian traditional event Jaanipäev in Alunis village. We made a Facebook event and collected tents, mattresses and sleeping bags and bought some potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and sour cream for the salad from the local market. We went by train to Alunis and put our tent up on the  hill . Me and the other Estonian girl made some games like rain boot throwing. Afterwards, together we collected wood for the fire and made the food. Some brave ones even jumped over the fire. It was a better Jaanipäev than I have had in Estonia.

Camps and Romanian children

In the Summer I had three camps for them, which  I organized together with a Ukrainian girl, Yuliia. First was the church camp in Targu Lapus where we were more like observers. The second one took place in Mogosesti village close to Baia Mare. We had around 26 youngsters ages between 8-19 years old  . Children were really friendly, opened and used all free moments to play with balls. We taught them how to sing Estonian folk song “Kauges külas”, Ukrainian dance and they had to choose one Romanian song. After four days in the camp they had small concert for their parents.

The second camp was in Alunis village and there we had nice wooden house with a big yard and beautiful surroundings. It was real camp together with sleeping there, making food and a camp fire and hike. We had 18 children ages between 6-16 years.  I have been related with camps a lot of different ways: all most every  summer in my childhood  I was in the camps, I have been working in different camps as a youth worker and even wrote one camp project for 80 kids. The main difference was that I had to do everything in English and I needed to work with local volunteers, who translated everything to  Romanian. I noticed that Romanian children are not used to follow rules even when they create them their selves, they are not used to do sport activities and perform or communicate and work as a team. But it s ok, all this is learnable. The one thing surprised me the most was that in the schools and the parents don’t think that it s important to speak to their children about Romanian traditions, culture and nature. In the end I am happy that I had opportunity to give for this children their first camp experience and teach them some new things.

Free animals and life in villages

In the Romania, there are a lot of small villages and people who live in there. Their life is simple, it is related to home, they work every day very hard in the fields and on Sundays they are going to  the church and after that they will sit behind their iron gate on the benches and gossiping :). Usually every family have their own vegetable field where they grow potatoes, corn, carrots etc and animals- pigs, cows, chickens, cats and dogs. People make their own cheese and eat fresh meat and eggs. In the mornings one person is collecting all the village people cows together and they are going to the fields to eat grass. In the evening all cows are going back to their homes. I am sad that in Estonia and in other countries we can’t see any more animals in open fields because we have really strict EU laws and animals need to be only in the farms. Many people all over the world, who live in the big cities are trying to eat clean ecological food and spend a lot of money for that. Romanians, who live in the villages there for can eat every day their own made fresh cheese, eco eggs, meat and vegetables what makes them more independent and gives more them freedom.

“Save the world” and passive smoking campaign in Baia Mare

Now I have six more months to go. In Romania are many things  what need developing.  People here are smoking everywhere, all public cafes, clubs are full of smoke and even teachers in the school rooms.  People, who work with youngsters are smoking together with them (they even drink alcohol with them), pregnant women on streets and parents with their small kids at home and also  in the cars are smoking. Most of the children are passive smokers from the beginning of their life. It seems that nobody doesn’t care about it. Now I have plan to organize together with other volunteers and Antidrug agency workers Passive smoking campaign and speak with city council workers and owners of different cafes and clubs, that they will build special room for smokers, because everybody should have right to breath fresh clean air. So I have plan now. It is time to but it in real life. Show must go on !

I want to thank Aneta and Andra for patiently listening to me every day (It is not easy) and special thanks for Aneta for taking care of my travel plans and teaching me how to cook, my mentor Claudia, Lorendana and Alex for helping me to understand Romanians, Steli for listening to my ideas, filling his promises fast and giving good tips, and finally I want say thanks for  my family and Estonian friends Vahur, Hälys, Marit, Lisa, Velli, Helena and Maarja for supporting me trough my journey.

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