Exploring sustainable development through volunteering with SOFIA

Meet Svetlana, Edward and Noora – SOFIA’s new Youth group! As newcomers in Järna, we’ve gotten involved with different organizations working on environmental issues and sustainable development over this past spring. One of these organizations is Föreningen SOFIA, where we’ve been involved since March. From helping organize the School eurythmy festival to working on Global Sustainable Development Goals to planning the Support gala in November, we’ve gotten the chance to dip our toes into many of the activities SOFIA is all about. Our focus has been on SOFIA’s information work in Sweden: activities informing the general public (and especially other young people) about sustainable development and how individual actions make a difference.

From left: Edward, Svetlana and Noora – Tired but happy after the School eurythmy festival

Svetlana, Ecology graduate from Russia

During her time with SOFIA, Svetlana has mainly been connecting SOFIA’s various projects around the world to the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs): she’s been learning about the projects and seeing which goals each project is working towards. Having completed a Master’s degree in Ecology in Moscow, this field is a very familiar one. Global Goals are, however, something new. Learning about the goals, Svetlana has even developed a critical perspective on some, wondering whether all Global Goals are sustainable. Svetlana has volunteered at several international work camps in the past, which has given her an understanding of projects linked to farming and education, similar to the projects SOFIA is coordinating. Although the types of projects are thus familiar, reading about SOFIA’s projects has given her new insight on other countries’ cultures.

Svetlana hasn’t yet decided on a professional path to follow. Ecology is close to her heart but she did not enjoying working in this field in Moscow, in a job mainly consisting in informing companies of how much they needed to pay for infringing environmental regulations (e.g. concerning how much they pollute). Working in a national park has been another job idea. Svetlana thinks she would prefer not to work on environmental issues as an activist or a politician – she thinks it may be better to start her own small project and make it grow. This could be setting up an ecovillage, for instance. “Maybe it’s better to start from down to up and not up to down” like politicians, she says: if all people change their lifestyle, politicians will need to adapt existing laws and the way society functions. This grassroots dynamic feels like the best way she can work on environmental issues. Thinking about other activities the Youth group could do, Svetlana notes she likes spending time in the forest. It would be nice to learn survival skills!

Edward, Nordic landscape architect and permaculture enthusiast

Volunteering with SOFIA, Edward has mainly been exploring what types of activities the Youth group could host. The main goal is to get other young people involved in sustainability issues. Activity ideas include wilderness experiences such as exploring a cave, and workshops such as building an outdoor gym and upcycling bicycles. Edward finds it would be great to have a group of active individuals meeting at the Fritidsgård and other places in Järna and making use of their resources. Edward has also been part of creating the SOFIA Support gala taking place this November, and he created and hosted a game for sixty kids at the School eurythmy festival. Waldorf teachers from Kenya participated in the festival, including a teacher from the Humane School, which is one of SOFIA’s projects. Edward feels that meeting in person the Kenyan group has given him a more in-depth understanding of development projects. He finds that hearing and reading about projects gives a theoretical view, whereas meeting people gives a more empathetic insight, “a personal touch”. Edward finds that volunteering with SOFIA allows him to support their projects abroad: the more successful SOFIA’s work in Sweden is, the better it can support its projects abroad. If November’s Support gala, for instance, is a success, this will both gather funds for SOFIA’s work and motivate and inspire people to get involved. This can give more momentum to SOFIA’s different projects. “It’s possible to inspire a new generation of change makers”, Edward notes. While he himself is motivated by SOFIA’s work, he would love to see more people involved in this organization’s activities.

Currently completing a Master’s in Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, Edward is most interested in simple and scalable design solutions that can be implemented in a variety of settings. For him, “design solutions” are both the physical homes we live in and the lifestyle choices, values and priorities we have. Building on this interest, Edward feels that being involved with SOFIA includes him into a network that might allow his designs to be spread. It gives a more practical step towards having an impact: “that way designs are not just in my head” but could be spread to different countries through SOFIA’s network. For Edward, SOFIA’s support can make it easier to set up a project of his own. SOFIA is a platform taking care of the bureaucratic and economic aspects of setting up projects outside of Sweden, and the fact that this work is already going on lowers the threshold for individuals to start a project. Thinking of his future links to SOFIA, Edward also sees the possibility of joining one of the current projects and helping out.

Noora, Development and Philosophy graduate from Belgium

Designing the new website has been my main task at SOFIA over this past spring. I’ve also helped out at SOFIA cinemas and the School eurythmy festival along with Edward and Svetlana. Many of the topics SOFIA works with (such as the Sustainable Development Goals) are already familiar to me since studying Development for my Master’s degree, but I find that volunteering with SOFIA has given me examples of different kinds of environmental projects, and shown me from the inside how a development cooperation organization functions. It has been a good experience. I’m especially happy to have met one of SOFIA’s project leaders who is currently creating a project in the Philippines, as this gave me some insight into how to create a development project from scratch.

When it comes to environmental issues, I’d say I’m most interested in the links between sustainability and lifestyles, the environmental impact of everyday actions. Looking at this topic for my Master thesis made me change a lot of my everyday habits. For instance, buying local products and using reusable cloth bags to buy food in order to reduce waste. I also use public transport and cycle or walk. I don’t buy many material things other than food, and consider every purchase: I try to figure out whether I need to buy this or that and mainly buy things I need and will use for a long time. I think a lot about the impact my consumption choices have. While these are some things I do on a personal level, I’m still looking for my way of making a bigger impact. How can I foster a change in “mainstream” lifestyles, in current norms concerning consumption and production patterns? This is the central question I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. Looking at the future activities for our Youth group, I would be quite happy to go out into nature or upcycle bikes.