Two months at the Central Baltic programme - the volunteer's perspective now

Sofia on her first day at Interreg Central Baltic

Two months, two seasons and four planes later, my experience as Interreg Reporter at the Central Baltic programme has come to an end.

It started back in September, when, on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, I arrived for the first time in Turku, Finland, curious to discover more about the programme and its northern countries. As it is usual in these cases, it seems both a lifetime ago and yesterday: time has passed so fast but lots of things have happened since my first day in Turku.

During the two months I spent at the Central Baltic I volunteered to be a support to the Joint Secretariat’s Info team: I wrote articles and reports, interviewed project partners and contributed to social media management. Foremost, I discovered the human and at the same time result-oriented dimension that characterises the Interreg programmes, and that was right what I wanted to express with my works.

Even if I stayed for a relatively short period, I got the chance to see how an Interreg programme works, and I think that meeting people (from the programme itself and from the funded projects) was the added value of my experience. A remarkable example came just a week after my arrival, when I took part in the European Cooperation Day and in the Central Baltic’s Annual Event, which were held in Mariehamn, Ȧland, with participants from the entire programme’s area: regions of Finland, Sweden and Latvia, Ȧland islands and the whole Estonia.

Sofia in Ȧland

First of all, the location itself was rather surprising for me: I had never heard of Ȧland before and so I arrived on this archipelago right between Sweden and Finland full of curiosity (even after the 5-hour ferry trip). Belonging to Finland but maintaning a certain autonomy (and Swedish as official language), Ȧland islands have even their own parliament in Mariehamn, which is the archipelago’s capital city. Thanks to the small dimension of the city, the European Cooperation Day involved lots of inhabitants: people stopped in the street outside the venue to ask for more information and there was a warm participation in the afternoon activities. Mariehamn turned out to be also a most suitable starting point to discover the projects’s results: it was quite easy to visit few projects’ sites during the study trip that was part of the ECD. I saw what projects partners are concretely building to improve tourism on Ȧland and to preserve historical monuments, and – as an enthusiast newcomer I can’t skip that – I got the great opportunity to visit stunning places.

Whether it was about tourism or the development of small ports in the Baltic Sea, about Mariehamn’s local products or projects aiming at tackling social issues , the European Cooperation Day and the Annual Event were a chance to learn, and to get a glimpse on Central Baltic’s societies. Beside my experience as an Interreg Reporter, getting to know new countries was worthy for me as a European. Coming from Italy and knowing just a little about these Northern nations, it was deeply interesting to understand more their way of life (and work culture, I have to say – impressive in a good way!) as I couldn’t have done in another way, so that now I feel them closer.

The events I mentioned above may be the most impressive examples, but not the only ones. During my stay I met representatives from the projects funded by the Central Baltic programme and sometimes I took part in their activities, such as an online seminar on small ports’ safety and a business game to develop high-school students’ entrepreneurial attitude, and I appreciated witnessing the good outcomes in person.

Within the Central Baltic programme I have seen the will and the dedication to create something concrete, and I believe that it is something that deserves to be in the limelight. While often in the public sphere the main focus is set on bureaucracy, the cooperation between States and the subsequent improvements, even if they are on a local level, can make a difference. Or maybe it is better to say that they can make a difference right because they are on a local level, because they directly affect people’s lives.

Considering all that, I am convinced that it is important to give relevance to cross-border cooperation programmes, even though reaching a wider public is not always easy.

My experience is an example as well : I didn’t know about Interreg before discovering IVY, and explaining what I was going to do for two months was rather complicated too; the existence of European funding is well-known, but the cross-border cooperation is still somewhat less famous, although the results are good.

I am glad that I had helped communicate Central Baltic’s outcomes, contributing to tell about cross-border cooperation, and I think that Interreg programmes need to be highlighted, especially in the challenging political atmosphere that is rising.

P.S. And then I’d like to mention that it was great to be in Turku with another IVY volunteer, Antonija, who volunteers at Interact programme!

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