Volunteers give refugees a taste of life in Lithuania

Aktyvus jaunimas (Active Youth), a youth group based in Vilnius, is trying to give newly arrived refugees a taste of their new home at the reception centre in Rukla, near Kaunas, Lithuania‘s second largest city.

©Aktyvus jaunimas & Martyna Bakaitė

Aktyvus jaunimas (Active Youth), a youth group based in Vilnius, is trying to give newly arrived refugees a taste of their new home at the reception centre in Rukla, near Kaunas, Lithuania‘s second largest city. This group is one of many in Lithuania, working together to help promote refugee integration after the country agreed to accept 1,105 refugees under the European Union’s relocation scheme.

During the long hot summer days, Lithuanian‘s eat a soup called šaltibarščiai to cool down. Bright pink and made with beetroots and kefir, the dish is traditional and very popular.

In the kitchen refugees and volunteers add shredded beetroot, cucumber, kefir and dill to a huge silver saucepan and then stir to create a vibrant pink soup. They then share out the soup adding cold boiled eggs and hot potatoes.

Sana, a refugee from Syria who came to Lithuania under the European Union‘s relocation scheme with her husband and three sons, says: “It is a really nice method [to integrate] because we get to understand the way things are in Lithuania, and the Lithuanian’s here get to understand us.  I have never tried the soup before and I like it.”

Sana (second from the left) had not met many other Lithuanians since her arrival two-and-a-half months ago – events like this one is her chance to socialize. She is one of the 400 refugees accepted in Lithuania through the EU relocation scheme so far. ©Aktyvus jaunimas & Martyna Bakaitė

 

Since moving to Lithuania two-and-a-half months ago, she says she had not met many other Lithuanians, adding: “I like the safety in Lithuania, but my children are too young to understand why we are here. We celebrated Eid last week and my youngest felt something was missing and asked “Mummy, when are we going home?””

Her 10-year-old son, Neda, says: “I really liked the soup and I like Lithuania – I like all countries.”

So far Lithuania has accepted 400 refugees through the relocation scheme and most have come from Syria.

Rana, a Syrian refugee who also came though the scheme with her husband and daughter, has been living at Rukla since April. She says the move has been challenging, but she has enjoyed meeting local people. “The evening has been very nice and I have met some friendly people.” she said.

For Aktyvus jaunimas’ project manager Milda Derenčiūtė trying foods from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq at a party at the reception centre on World Refugee Day this year made her want to share her county‘s traditions and culture with the centre‘s residents.

“We shared a traditional dish and wanted to thank them for the amazing food they had made for us,” she says. “The soup is very Lithuanian and all people love it, it is something that we usually eat only during the summer so that is why we made it tonight.”

Volunteer Simona Damuliene thinks it is especially important to work with refugees for her because her youth organization is based in the area, and is actively trying to create integration activities and visits to the centre.

“We are not able to change the life of refugees, but we are able to be friendly and accept them in our community, to help them to integrate and feel more comfortable. We believe that talking about our activities loudly can change the opinion of other people. The word “refugee” has a negative association and sets against. We want to change it,” she says.

 

Simona (left) is a volunteer at a youth organisation in Rukla, Milda (right) works for Aktyvus jaunimas (Active Youth), a youth group based in Vilnius. Both are welcoming refugees – Lithuania has pledged 1,105 persons within the EU relocation scheme. ©Aktyvus jaunimas & Martyna Bakaitė