As a member of the Research and Communications Team at AONTAS, I help with the organisation and delivery of the annual Adult Learners’ Festival. Similar festivals take place across Europe, such as the LLW in Slovenia. This celebration of learning is delivered by the SIAE, the umbrella organisation for action with various adult education partnerships in Slovenia. They connect the ministries, libraries, and other centres or partnerships for adult education. SIAE’s main goal is to connect these partners, especially through the LLW, which is run in collaboration with the MESS. This year’s learning festival was carried out by 40 LLW Coordinators spread out across the country. Each year of the festival, there is a national launch that is open to the public. The location of the launch changes each year. I saw this as a wonderful way to include local communities and highlight the work being done across the whole of Slovenia for adult learners. I think it also helps spread the importance of learning, and the love of learning, found in local communities across the whole of the country. This really stood out to me and is something I hope the AONTAS Adult Learners’ Festival will incorporate.
My study visit centred around participating in the LLW, meeting different LLW Coordinators, visiting different education centres, and attending LLW launch events in various local communities in the Kozjansko region. This included the library in Šmarje pri Jelšah who were hosting partners of the Stories Make Life Better project from Lithuania and the Czech Republic. This project aims to empower older adults through international cooperation. It focuses on overcoming obstacles older adults faced, and are continuing to face, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is achieved through three identified areas for building resilience for future challenges: increasing digital literacy, strengthening psychosocial support for individuals and communities, and highlighting how storytelling can help promote positive wellbeing, creativity, and cultural exchange.
The library, Knjižnica Šmarje pri Jelšah, is the central cultural institution for the Obsotelje and Kozjansko region. It was incredible to see how they effectively involved members of the community of all ages in their activities and events. When you walk through the library doors, you can immediately feel how it is an inclusive environment filled with smiling faces and colourful folk tales from all over the region. Murals inspired by beloved stories and prints of different book covers are displayed across their walls. The faint sound of birds chirping filters in through open windows where you can see an open courtyard at the foot of the library’s doors. This space serves as an outdoor community space to enjoy the strong sunshine, read a book from the library, or host community events.
I had the opportunity to observe how effectively they engaged with their community throughout the pandemic. The library achieved this by taking activities typically hosted in person at the library and making them into accessible videos on their YouTube channel. For example, book readings were brought new life through narration and animation. Seeing how they adapted to challenging circumstances, increased their digital skills and grew as a team along the way was inspiring.
While participating in the ‘Stories Make Life Better’ project, I was able to attend a variety of events and visit different learning centres across Slovenia. Each of these visits was tied in with a story relating to that town or municipality. It was an immersive experience, stepped in folk tales that imbued pride for their local communities and rich heritage. Among these visits was a tour of the Olimje Monastery in Podčetrtek where resident Franscian monks have continued to look after the apothecary and medicinal gardens. In Kozje, we visited the zmajeva jama— meaning ‘dragon cave’ to hear the legend of the dragon and learn how the town received its name of ‘goat’ in Slovene. We were shown many local foods, my favourite of which was pumpkin oil, and were serenaded by the angelic voices of Bistrica ob Sotli mixed choir. There was a tour of the stunning wooden scultupres belonging to the cavalry of Šmarje pri Jelšah, on display in the Baroque Museum. I also had the wonderful opportunity to visit the Rogaška Slatina School Center where they specialise in training opticians and glassblowers, professions presently in high demand. Their centre is one among very few that trains young people and adults in these trades. The final event I attended was the local LLW opening in Ravne na Koroškem and an interview with their LL ambasador Mirjam Senica. Though there was a language barrier on my behalf, her grace and wisdom were evident throughout her interview, as well as her skill as a painter.
My two travel companions from the SIAE made me feel at home. Each visit to a different centre or journey across Slovenia was filled with stories about their work or their culture, making every moment of my time there captivating. I felt so welcomed by the SIAE and Knjižnica Šmarje pri Jelšah who let me participate in their ‘Stories Make Life Better’ project. Their approach of immersive story telling to promote learning and connection has inspired me to think of new ways of promoting learner voice across Ireland. I am also looking forward to next year’s Adult Learners’ Festival so that I may implement some of the strategies used by LLW Coordinators and SIAE. Although my time in Slovenia was brief, it was an amazing experience filled with memories to last a lifetime.
Giuliana Peña (firstname.lastname@example.org), AONTAS, the National Adult Learning Organisation