Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Young Lithuanian Leader attends the XIV World Lithuanian Youth Congress

This week's guest blogger, Aiste Zalepuga, attended the World Lithuanian Youth Congress which took place on July 1-14. Below is her assessment of the Congress meeting and short interviews given by prominent leaders who were also in attendance. 

Lithuanian youth from around the world gathered in the United Kingdom for the XIV World Lithuanian Youth Congress. Delegates from across the globe – including 11 representatives from the USA – came together to elect a new World Lithuanian Youth Association(PLJS) governing board that will execute projects proposed during the congress meetings.   

PLJS was founded in 1972 and held its first World Lithuanian Youth Congress that year. Members focused on the organization’s approach to resisting the Soviet occupation and unifying Lithuanians across the world.

Since then PLJS has grown to include 40 chapters.The World Lithuanian Youth Association attracts Lithuanians ages 16-35 and addresses issues relating to culture and education. PLJS maintains relations with governmental institutions and youth organizations. 
This organization continues to organize the World Lithuanian Youth Congress every four years in a different country  with a dynamic Lithuanian Youth Association. This year’s congress was organized by the Lithuanian Youth Association in the United Kingdom.

Starting July 1st, delegates explored London, enjoyed a concert with Martynas Levickis to honor the beginning of Lithuania’s presidency of the EU Council and attended an opening dinner with Lithuanian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene.

Study days were held in Headley Park where delegates reviewed the organization’s constitution to make amendments. Delegates also listened to leading Lithuanian experts and created resolutions for the newly elected PLJS board that will be carried out in the next four years.

The members also had an exciting opportunity to meet and even work with Lithuanian music legend – Algirdas Kauspedas. He and his music group, Antis, were a prominent music group during Lithuania’s resistance to the Soviet Union and still are today.

19 delegates entered their candidacy for the new board. They  had to present speeches and their vision for the organization. Before leaving Headley Park, eight delegates were elected the new Board of Directors.

Members of the new Board of Directors: Kestas Pikunas (UK), Simonas Cerniauskas (Germany), Giedre Kazlauskas (USA), Aiste Zalepuga (USA), Tomas Kuras (Canada), Gyte Mankute (UK), Darius Tamauskas (UK), Ignas Rubikas (UK), Vija Underys (USA)
During the PLJS Congress, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Karolis Adomaitis who organized the PLJS Congress in the UK, Vija Underys, who will organize the next PLJS Congress in the USA, and Stasys Kuliavas who has been on the Board of Directors for 13 years and is a former Chairman. I asked them a couple questions to share with you. 

Q&A with Karolis Adomaitis, XIV World Lithuanian Youth Congress Project Manager

What was your vision for the XIV World Lithuanian Youth Congress in the UK?

Our mission is to create a strong network of Lithuanian youth around the world. Congress is a chance for every one to all come together and to get to know each other. We like to call it our little Olympics.
Why was the UK selected as the location for the Congress this year?

The UK has one of the most successful Lithuanian youth organizations. The JKLJS mission statement is integration into the UK society, while preserving the Lithuanian identity.

In the UK we organized a number of projects, huge student summits and internship programs. We were the first to do this internship program in which we sent students who studied in the UK to do an internship in Lithuania.

What was the preparation for the PLJS Congress like?

It was an 18th month journey but very exciting. I made an effort to bring together the people who are good at different things and to make sure the team is versatile and skilled to make sure the two weeks are the best as possible.

We split the whole program into three different things: culture days, study days and camp in Lithuania… It was exciting to work with the team and organize such a large event with great tradition and history.

Q&A with Vija Underys, XV World Lithuanian Youth Congress Project Manager

Why was the US chosen as the next location for the PLJS Congress?

The US was voted in as the location for the next congress to allow for the delegates and participants to come back to our roots…Going back to the US for the 14th world youth congress allows for the opportunity to meet with the organizations founders and learn not just about our organizations history, but also about how to move PLJS forward in the future.

What is your goal for the PLJS Congress in the United States?

My own personal goal is to gleam as much [information as possible] from people who were very active in our organization’s history. Many of those individuals reside in – or have easy access to –  the States… I am excited about the endless learning possibilities there are with the people who created our organization and made it flourish.

Q&A with Stasys Kuliavas, Former Chairman of World Lithuanian Youth Association
How have you seen PLJS change over the years?

Like any relevant organization, the World Lithuanian Youth Association has evolved greatly from its founding in 1972 and continues to represent the interests of hundreds of thousands of young Lithuanians, making up a significant proportion of the Lithuanian diaspora.

 What has been your most memorable moment during your involvement with PLJS so far?

 Picking one moment as the most memorable after all that time is challenging, to say the least, if even possible. Some points that stick out to me include:

- While serving as Chair, we collectively established a representative office for our organization in Lithuania for the first time in its history.

- Continuing to support the Lithuanian youth in South America, who are generations ahead in emigration. Language preservation is a major concern of theirs, and facilitating and supporting their efforts to maintain their language and culture is one accomplishment that resonates as an accomplishment of our board.

What advice would you give to the new board and its members?

Work together. What makes a team successful is its ability to draw upon the strengths of its various members, and use those strengths towards common goals. Do not lose touch with the past. Involve former leaders and board members - they have valuable knowledge that they are very willing to pass on.

Before the end of PLJS Congress, elections were held for the location of the next Congress. The 15th Congress will be held in the United States and will mark the World Lithuanian Youth Association’s 45-year anniversary.

For more information about PLJS: http://www.pljs.org/