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Emil Smolander has just completed his last exams and projects for his studies at Keski-Pohjanmaan
ammattiopisto towards becoming a youth and community instructor. With his degree in hand, he looks to what lies ahead. Unsure if he will continue his studies or start work within the youth field, what he does know is that now is the best time to join a long-term volunteering project abroad!


This is not Emil’s first volunteering project nor trip abroad. In fact, Emil is a familiar face around Elba. He first became involved with Elba over five years ago in 2017. A year later, in 2018, he joined his first short-term volunteering project, Busy 2 build it up. The eight-week Erasmus+ project was hosted by Centro Social de Palmela in Palmela, Portugal and, in the project, Emil helped renovation the local youth house. The experience helped to open Emil to new opportunities by allowing him to meet new people, encounter new cultures, and work on his social learning and teamwork skills.

In 2019, he once again participated in another short-term volunteer project — this time in the Tirol state of Austria. The ESC  (European Solidarity Corps) project,Sustainable Entertainment, had 11 volunteers from around Europe power an outdoor movie theatre using energy generated by bikes. Emil found the project very rewarding, as sustainability is very important to him. He was able to spread a message about sustainability while making lasting friendships. Since then, Emil’s volunteering has been closer to home. He was most recently acted as an evening supervisor during on boarding of ESC volunteers from throughout Europe that are volunteering in Finland.


When talking with Emil about his relationship with Villa Elba, he expressed how supportive his experiences have been. The experiences have been very supportive of his learning and from him developing his goals for his future. Outside of international projects, he has also really enjoyed being able to help with groups at the nature school.

His mentor, Ritva Saarikettu, and Elba as a whole have been active in ensuring that he feels well-backed and motivated during his projects. They has also worked to create suitable opportunities for him and others. In fact, Emil’s long-term volunteering project has come from a collaboration instigated by Elba. Last September, a group from the University of Cooperative Education in Breitenbrunn were invited to Elba. The group visit many places in Kokkola and Kälviä, including Kpedu. Emil was involved in the activities and was able to forge many connections. This collaboration has served as the base for his new big adventure.


So, what is it that Emil will be doing? He will be volunteering at Markkleeberg Ökohaus in Liebzig, Germany for 12-months. Ökohaus is a green and sustainable center in the field of open child and youth work that has been operational for two years. Emil will be working with visitors of the center, and in his opinion, more excitedly helping to plan and develop the program and infusing it with some Finnish influence. He feels like his time with the nature school has prepared him for this exciting task!

When asked what he is hoping to gain from this experience, he feels that it is the chance to realize his own ideas and to really push himself to do something great. He also looking forward to learning a new language and becoming more international. He believes that this project will be a wonderful opportunity to combine his past experiences, his education, and his personal goals. He’s just excited and anxious to get there and start the work!


Emil encourages anyone thinking to volunteer to do it. He urges all of his classmates and friends to look for similar opportunities and chances to travel and volunteer abroad. In his words, it’s rewarding and FUN! It’s a great chance to meet new people, try new things, and broaden your horizons.

We at Elba wish Emil a wonderful year in Leipzig and look forward to following his adventures!

Henkilö seisoo ulkona pienoismallisen majakan vierellä. Taustalla puita ja lunta.

Writer: Ashten Gray,

social services student at Diaconia University of Applied sciences

and intern at Villa Elba

photo of a guy near a map