Coordinator of the Baltic Way Commemoration, Toronto, August 23, 2020
Skaidra Puodžiūnas lives in Toronto, and has been active in the Lithuanian Canadian Youth Association (KLJS – former president). Currently a member of the Lithuanian World Community Economic Development Commission and the Global Lithuanian Leaders. Professionally, she is a Senior Advisor at the Ontario Digital Service – a skills and delivery collective within the Ontario Provincial Government. Here are her answers to questions from Ramūnė Jonaitis in an exclusive interview with tevzib.com.
What made you decide to organize this event?
Before this event I’ve been really concerned about “community” in this new time of physically distancing, particularly the Lithuanian Canadian disapora community. When COVID-19 hit it was pretty clear “community” was going to look different and my heart sank. A summer without something Lithuanian to ground me and look forward to – a svente (festival), a summer camp, a baseball weekend, something. Just so sad.
So when I heard of a virtual “Hack the Crisis” happening in Lithuania, I took notice and participated. (I also blogged about my reflections as a participant here). It was participating in this event that connected me to a new kind of Lithuanian community – a distributed one. By way of participating in this event I “officially” joined the Global Lithuanian Leaders – a non-profit focused on connecting the global Lithuanian (professional) diaspora, who were co-organizers of the “hack-a-thon”. Since the hack-a-thon I’ve been meeting weekly through a think & do tank focused on e-governance and voting called “LTIVote”.
One of my team members Aurelija Orlova who runs ITLIETUVIAI.IT mentioned she was planning a diaspora event in Italy and then I thought… what is Canada doing? On Monday, Aug. 17th I sent a email to a variety of people. I wanted this to be something KLJS and KLB could do together but also brought in people from the Lithuanian Community House, Lithuanian Consul Paul Kuras, and alumni of KLJS who are super helpers. I was so happy to get responses instantly from almost every person on this thread, one way or another.
I set up a Zoom call the next day and we all decided that we had enough people to run an event in Toronto and Wasaga Beach. We also felt it was important to involved the Belarusian Canadian Alliance. We didn’t have a strong tie to the community until after the call, but that became an important action item.
I also want to give a shout out to the Lithuanians in BC – they got their event running first, and their small and nimble team inspired me too! By Thursday we posted our event and by Friday we had a conversation with the Belarusian Canadian Alliance to make sure they promoted event materials in Belarusian, to their community members.
Whom did you intend to reach?
My target audience was everyone. I wanted the Lithuanian Canada to be a part of the broader initiative of Lithuanians showing solidarity for the people of Belarus. What I’ve been seeing is horrifying and with what my grandparents have told me over the years, I needed to do something. We as a community needed to do something. Plus seeing how Hong Kong has been forming their own human chain recently, fighting for democracy in their country , it feels like the Baltic Way is a metaphor that will transcend time and a physically distant world.
I also wanted a way for jaunimas – youth to lead the charge. This was definitely a distributed, community effort but young people are the ones that led the photo-taking, community calls, volunteering efforts, etc. I think jaunimas needed a “win”, so to speak. I know COVID has been hard on seniors, but I think it’s also been particularly hard on jaunimas and that is a bigger issue that I’m trying to help solve. This was a huge motivating factor for me, how can we set an example for our future leaders.
Why was Resurrection Parish chosen for the event?
First of all – convenience. It is a convenient location for our community and other Eastern Europeans, and it has lots of space close to major highways. In a time of physical distancing, there is quite a lot of semi-private/semi-public space to spread out. We thought going downtown on such short notice would be more complicated, would pssibly require a permit. We wanted to make it easy for people to join in. Being beside Labdara Nursing Home it provided an opportunity for seniors to at least participate from a distance through their windows. We thought about alternatives such as Lithuania Park for example, but there would be more confusion at a public park, and we could guarantee this space more quickly for advertising the event.
How many people participated?
We had two events, one in Toronto and one in Wasaga Beachat the same time. This is the official Facebook event we posted: https://www.facebook.com/events/933935280426686. In Toronto, we had approximately four hundred Canadians of Belarusian and Lithuanian heritage along with a handful from other diasporas (a few Latvians, Estonians, Hong Kong diaspora, and individuals from Venezuela and Taiwan). The Torstar Corporation did a mini write-up here: In Wasaga Beach there were about 100 people, mostly Lithuanians.
And what’s next?
We will be participating in other demonstrations to be organized by the Belarusian community.
Thank you Skaidra – we look forward to more news from you in the near future!