– It is interesting that such small a place as this is conveying experiences about peace solutions and gender equality to others, says Belarussian Varvara Barysevich.
She is an intern at the ÅIPI since the beginning of the summer and has, among others, helped with creating an online course with information about the Åland Example and with establishing contacts with organisations in Belarus that are working with gender equality and women’s rights.
– Such issues are not much discussed in my home country, and without help from other countries it will be difficult to bring about change.
She describes Belarus as a beautiful, but still not democratic country.
– We have serious problems concerning the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Opinions aiming at the liberalisation of the country are silenced. But generally the situation is relatively peaceful. Foreign media tends to exaggerate when it comes to Belarus. Many think that the situation is identical to that in North Korea, but this is not correct.
Varvara sees a lot of potential in her home country and hopes to be part of a change for the better. This is why she came to Finland. She has a Bachelor in International Law from the State University of Belarus and wanted to continue studying in another country.
– I was lucky to get a grant and had the opportunity to choose any country for my studies. I had heard many good things about the education in Finland, and found a programme called Peace, Mediation and Conflict Research, similar studies do not even exist in Belarus.
She has been studying this programme at the Univeristy of Tampere for two years and is currently working on her master’s thesis.
– It addresses how values and norms in democratic countries can lead to a change in the attitudes of people.
When her studies will be finalised in the fall she will return to Belarus, where she is hoping to have the opportunity to work within her field. Her dream would be to work with democracy development, for example through giving courses in non-violence and conflict resolution.
– For example to train young activists on how to conduct peaceful demonstrations.
She believes in the potential of Belarus to become a democratic and peaceful state, but says that it is still to secluded and unacquainted to new ideas.- This is a huge problem. If there would be more interaction between Belarus and other European countries, it would be easier to accomplish change in the future.
She is obviously keen on bringing about such change.
– I hope that I can bring new ideas back home and help with developing the country.
But until she can put her peaceful working gloves on at home, she is enjoying the peacefulness and the nature of Åland.
– It is so beautiful here and very quiet. I can see the sea from my office window, which is amazing, she says with a broad smile.
Written by Heidi Hendersson, Tidningen Åland
Translated by Susann Simolin, information Officer, The Åland Islands Peace Institute