The journey of World Link FLEX alumna Karmen Pikkmets ’20 (Estonia/CA) with the Lääneranna Youth Council.
February of 2018 was the first time Karmen had heard of the Lääneranna Youth Council. As an active 15-year old teen in her community, she was invited to join to group. “I didn’t even hesitate to say yes”, she reflected.
After the first few meetings, the group realized in order to do the work they wanted to do, they needed to become an official organization in the eyes of the Estonian government. Karmen was a leading member in this effort, meeting with government officials and lawyers to ensure the statute they were putting together was accurate. After a lot of hard work and presenting their organization to the local council, they were legally confirmed to be a representative organization for teens in the Lääneranna Municipality.
The Lääneranna Youth Council is a representative council for teens and children in the municipality. The council’s goal is to represent the youth voice and give them opportunities to be more active in the community. To voice their ideas, their problems, and their concerns. To help youth in the community in any way they can.
The youth council works closely with the local government and contributes their ideas and problem-solving solutions in the local council meetings. According to Karmen, “We are a voluntary group of teens that are interested in bettering the lives of others. We are an organization that works on democracy.”
A few months following their legality, the youth council held their first official elections to determine which local youth would be on the council as representatives.
Elections for these positions are held every two years. Any youth between the ages of 13-25 who lives or studies in the Lääneranna municipality is eligible to run for a position and has a vote.
During the first election, not only was Karmen was one of thirteen to be elected, but she was also elected with the most votes.
The next meeting, Karmen ran for a board position and was elected as Chairman.
In November of 2020, the second election occurred. Karmen was again elected as a representative and as Chairman of the Board with 24% of the total votes.
Karmen and the council hope to increase voter turn out to 100% in upcoming elections, “so everyone votes and elects an ambassador to voice their ideas and represent them. It’s our home and we all should have a say.”
Her Exchange Year
During Karmen’s first tenure as an elected representative, she took a break in 2019 to study abroad in the U.S. on the FLEX Program, with World Link as her placement organization.
From her U.S. arrival, Karmen was determined to take on every opportunity to improve her leadership skills and return as an even better representative for the youth council.
Although her exchange year was cut short, due to the pandemic, Karmen volunteered over 80 hours in her host community of Hanford, CA. She improved her public speaking skills greatly through 31 cultural presentations.
Her capstone project which started as a beach clean-up effort and awareness campaign for her peers at her American high school, pivoted to a worldwide online social media campaign, raising $350 for a grassroots non-profit environmental organization called Surfrider Foundation.
Extra-curricular clubs provided by her American high school gave her insights into how other youth teams and organizations worked. She cites the club Associated Student Body (ASB) gave her many great ideas on how to work better in teams.
Karmen brought the lessons from these activities and newfound skills and confidence back to Estonia. She says the changes in herself, brought on by her exchange year, have greatly influenced the work of the youth council.
Lääneranna Youth Council Activities
Immediately after returning home, Karmen jumped right back into her representative position, filled with motivation.
While in the early years of the council, they focused on making themselves known to the youth in their community and on getting to know schools, youth centers, and youth workers while still working with the municipality government. They would organize large-scale events, educating teens on various subjects and issues their municipality was facing.
In her second-term, their goal is to make sure all teens in their community feel at home and raise awareness about mental health problems. One event, “Youth Day-Out of Routine” featured inspirational speeches by motivational speaker, Errit Kuldkepp and a well-known Estonian writer Sass Henno.
Some advice Kuldkepp gave, “you may feel like life is working against you, but it’s actually working with you.” She also introduced participants to a number of exercises designed to help young people think outside the box.
Another project they are working on, closely with the municipality council and government deals with a major educational reform in the school system. “We think it’s necessary that the students themselves have a say in this,” Karmen stated.
During quarantine this past spring, they organized the “Garbage Marathon Challenge”. The goal behind the challenge was to promote a safe way to stay active during the pandemic while benefitting the environment. Participants tracked their mileage on an app and posted photos of their trash pick up to social media. After two weeks, 16 participants picked up more than 40 bags of garbage, covering 164.5 kilometers!
“Now looking back, I just think it’s incredible what we have achieved in such a short period of time. And how much more there is to achieve!! I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity to be a representative and work towards a better life in my home municipality.”
Lääneranna Young Activist of the Year
In November of 2020, for the second year in a row, the Lääneranna Youth Council organized an appreciation event for the Lääneranna municipality. At the event, the deputy mayor of Lääneranna emphasized the importance of staying connected and calling loved ones and friends during this time of isolation. The floor was then given to Karmen who gave her sincere gratitude to all who helped create the youth council and continue to give their help and support.
Later in the evening, Karmen was honored to be awarded as the “Lääneranna Young Activist of the Year” (translated from Estonian):
“This year’s young activist is a real activist on every front. She is a bright star who enlightens a very large number of young people on her journey who have appreciated it. She is a young activist and youth leader in Lääneranna, who thinks about how to develop the field of youth work and how to make the lives of young people better.
She has written numerous projects and organized major events, training days and camps. In addition, she gets to deal with everything – she also gets to help, listen and notice – being a real role model and a wonderful person. She has been described as a smart and brilliant young woman who is always motivated and has an insane ability to do many things – there is no obstacle for her!
This year’s young activist works in several organizations, leading and participating in their work – she is an active member of the youth editorial board of Lääneranna Youth Portal noored.laaneranna.ee, president of the Youth Association Eesti 4H youth activist, member of MTÜ Oidrema village society and ardent leader of Lääneranna Youth Council; Chairman of the West Coast Youth Council – a real role model who guides and coordinates the events of the West Coast Youth Council!”
“As of right now, I’m planning to run for a position in Lääneranna municipality council. The elections will be held in October 2021, but the campaigning and preliminary work for the elections start in January. I really want to make teens’ lives better in our municipality and voice their opinions and problems in the local council. I really think the youth is the hope for our future, for a better future, so we, the teens, should be included in the decision-making processes now. We’re young, thirsty for knowledge and new opportunities, we should have a say in what’s the world is going to be like, because we’ll be the ones living in it. Also, I would like to motivate my peers to be more active and courageous so they could have say.
In the near future, I’m applying to be a professional in youth work and become a youth worker. This is something I really look forward to as well. I just love spending time with kids and teens, so working in that field would be amazing.
Still, because I’m a high school student until the year 2023, I need to focus on getting my high school diploma as well. After high school, I’d like to study politics, law, or some other social studies at university and get a degree in that field. I’d love to do some years abroad in Europe and maybe finish my master’s in the States. After my studies, I’d like to become a politician, lawyer, or diplomat someday and work daily on bettering the lives of others. I’m truly passionate about helping other people and making our world a better place.
Even though I have a lot of plans for my future, I want to fit a year in Kenya or some other third-world country into my plans. I’d like to volunteer there and help in every possible way. I personally think that would be an eye-opening experience for me and I could benefit a lot from it while doing good for others. Travelling and exploring the world is my passion. I hope to fit a lot of travelling into my plans as well.”
World Link is proud of Karmen and all the accomplishments she has had so far. As she continues down this path of youth leadership, we look forward to sharing her future successes. To read about other World Link alumni successes visit our Alumni Highlights page.