On a snowy Thursday night three weeks ago, I arrived at Perm station where I was met by my future colleague, Sergei Tereshenkov. The next day I had my first day at my host organsiation’s office, the Civic Engagement Institute (IGA). It was agreed upon that I would spent the next week at a seminar held by IGA in Chaikovskiy – about a five hour drive from Perm.
At the seminar I had a chance to present my project “The strengthening of ecological sustainability and civic engagement in city and regional planning in Russia with a focus on the redevelopment of former industrial sites”. The seminar participants, almost all students in their early twenties, patiently listened to my explanations and descriptions of redevelopment projects in Germany but few showed a genuine interest in it. This is understandable as they were all busy with the preparation of their own project plans, which they worked out at this ten-day seminar. However, I made a few worthy contacts which were to help me later in Perm. The seminar was a great opportunity to meet people from the Perm region, practice my Russian and learn about social entrepreneurship – the topic of the seminar.
Back in Perm my independence was asked as my Russian colleagues at the office were busy to fulfill the demands of the prosecution office next to their other tasks. The first week was a rather quiet one for me because apart from two first meetings I had little to do and was able to attend other meetings of my colleagues for the preparation of IGA’s current projects such as the “Red Dress Festival”.
Interestingly, it was on a Saturday that I discovered one of the so far most useful places for my project – the youth center “NANUK” which closely cooperates with the ecological society “Livable Ural”. Not only did I meet friendly and active people there, but also are they working on a project that in the widest sense could count as an ecological redevelopment one. They have plans to turn an urban waste land, which is located in front of their center and unfit for commercial use, into a public park. But, as usual, they are lacking the financial means.
Week number three started with a meeting with the director of a Perm construction company and his niece who I befriended at the seminar. This businessman has been working on general plans in Perm region and has some experience with redevelopment projects, too. In combination with the conversations I had the week before with an urbanist/city planner, the director of the GRANI center (another Perm based NGO), an ecologist and friends this already gave me a fair picture of the situation in Perm, which, for sure, is not an easy one. Two more meetings were to follow yesterday with two environmentally active people and I was able to establish first contacts with the city’s art scene which I am planning to explore next week.
With IGA’s daily work I was able to help on Tuesday when I spent a whole day travelling around the city handing out contracts to school directors who will participate at a conference on new teaching methods and present their schools there. Although this was a rather simple task, it was interesting to see different schools which, generally speaking, were in a much better condition than I had expected.
So far my internship mostly consists of talking to people and gathering information. Soon my work will need to become more concrete as I need to work out a proper seminar plan.
By Dorothea Stroh