“There are people who care about you. Freephone emotional support.”
This is one of the small notices that can be found on many of the bridges that cross the river Neris in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
The country, which has just taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union has one of the highest suicide rates in the world – three times the European average.
This center in Vilnius offers support to distressed young Lithuanians.
It receives several hundreds calls and emails per day. Young people aged between 15 and 29 years are the group most at risk,despite a small decrease, says the head of the centre Paulius Skruibis:
“It was increasing always during soviet times. And after we had a big increase after independence where everything was changing very rapidly. Now it’s more stable, we even have some decline. I think one of the reasons why we had this decline in suicide rates, is because many people emigrated. You know, suicide is when a person is caught in a situation where he/she doesn’t see any exit, any way out. And when appeared a way out, that you can go… when we became members of the European union, it’s one more additional way out.”
Lithuania, which has a population of around 3.2 million, has seen about 700,000 people leave the country since its independence 20 years ago.
The number of those emigrating is likely to change. Many young Lithuanians are deciding to build a brighter future in their country by addressing the problem of unemployment, which has hit them hard.
This is a sign of the times, a work-sharing centre in Vilnius.
Architects, designers, journalists, entrepreneurs, they work freelance, creating online services under one roof.
A solution to unemployment and a way of taking control of their future.
CEO Craftsworld said Vytenis Pakenas:
“I’m running a company which provides a service and marketplace for people doing hand made items. We currently have more than 200 people who are selling through us. When you are looking at the reasons why people are not working, you actually can find that what we need is really just a small push to move forward.”
Evaldas and Jonas created their start-up company in Sunrise Valley, a science and technology park in Vilnius.
They received 600,000 euros from the Business Angel Fund, a European venture that offers support to innovative enterprises. Their business started in Jonas apartment.
“The idea was to make the smallest lasers in the world, and what we have now is this matchbox laser;comparing to competition its at least 8 times smaller,” said Evaldas Pabreza, CEO Integrated Optics.
By September, they will launch their own production of micro-lasers and their Lithuanian distributor has already given them an international clientele.
They have never imagined to just sell their technology or settle abroad.
“The main reason we stayed is that we are willing to make a business, not to work for someone else. We saw that making business in Lithuania it might be really cost efficient, and we have plenty of people graduating from Vilnius university in laser technology. We saw this huge talent pool and we decided to stay here and not to go anywhere else. We didn’t want to sell everything and get some quick money. We wanted to go and live with it,” Evaldas Pabreza added.
Now let’s go the province of Varena, about one hundred kilometers west of the capital. An area impacted by common agricultural problem. With a population aging, smaller farms are disappearing in favour of larger ones….Audrius deplores.
A former journalist and law graduate, he left the capital to start producing cheese in the countryside. He is part of a group that aims to promote quality food and reconnect the producer and consumer.
“From next spring the land market will be open in Lithuania for private people and private EU citizens to buy agricultural land. So we want to promote small scale and sustainable agriculture instead of the export orientated agriculture,” said Audrius Jokubauskas.
In addition to outlets in the region, Audrius and other members also have customers in Vilnius including restaurants as well as individuals.
Agriculture, however, is failing to attract a younger generation of Lithuanian farmers but Audrius is hopeful as it opens up possibilities for farmers from other countries.
“Sometimes it’s a pity people leave, but on the other hand there’s space here for other people to create and even for people from other countries to come and maybe create here,” added Audrius Jokubauskas.
A creative space that is generating more and more interest is culinary loft – Ciop Ciop, which offers gourmet cooking classes.
Trained in Germany, manager is Urte is certain that her future is brighter in Lithuania.
“In other countries, a lot is already created. So we can come and create here what we saw, what we learned. As I worked in Germany, my work was really successful. And I had a job offer, and even now I have a job offer. But Lithuania is my country, so, it’s better to give for my country, and to create something new here, and show people that in Lithuania it’s also really good to live,” said Urte Mikeleviciute.
Marc d’Erceville, the French chef of the school is also convinced that Lithuania is a good place to be. He’s based in Vilnius with his Lithuanian partner. He had no trouble finding work and he plans to open his own restaurant in the Lithuanian capital.
He said: “It was fascinating to leave restaurants in Paris, where you learn about french terroir products, and to come here and discover the same thing. Meaning products which are not yet used, and which even lithuanians are not used to cook with.
Also, the general atmosphere here is very dynamic. Everyone wants to work, everyone wants to discover new things. I traveled a lot through Europe before I settled down here. And right now I don’t see any reason to leave Lithuania.”
Lithuania is changing and does offer opportunities to a new wave of young enterprising graduates but not everyone has the same advantages.
The average unemployment rate among young Lithuanians is approaching 30 percent.
Some young Lithuanian’s want to provide those less fortunate a better future. Ausra has chosen to work as an educator in this orphanage in Vilnius. After studying in Denmark, she wanted to use her Scandinavian experience in her own country.
Ausra Rutkauskaite said: “I saw many specialists there and you see how they are doing good, and you can also see that they have what we don’t know. We are responsible what children will go out and live their own lives. We have to grow them and make them responsible persons for the society. This is very important. All the society is about the people and what kind of people is creating the society. So let’s work on it!”