Civil Society Makers of the Year

29. Feb 2024

On 2 February, President Alar Karis presented the Civil Society Makers of the Year and Volunteers of the Year awards. The most outstanding organisations and volunteers of 2023 are:

NGO of the Year – Fridays for Future Estonia or NGO Loodusvõlu.
Missionary of the Year – Aljona Suržikova.
Achievement of the Year – Legalising Marriage Equality, Estonian LGBT Association.
Public Representative of the Year – Taimar Peterkop and Ott Karulin
Company of the Year – Videal OÜ
Voice of the Year – Propastop
Volunteers of the Year – Gerli Mae-Vello, Anni Triin Salvan, Maie Matiek, Triin Puusaar, Ülle Viinapuu, Alice Juurik, Jaanika Ailt, Kiti Põld, Karin Kadastik, Mari Lepik, Janar Tiits, Kirill Badikin
Volunteering promotors of the Year – Anna Rehema (charity fund Südamete Soojus), Rait Vilgats (Police and Border Guard Board), Agne Soome (Swedbank)

NGO of the Year – Fridays for Future Estonia or MTÜ Loodusvõlu
Fridays For Future Estonia is a group of active young people fighting against climate change. To do this, they raise awareness in society about the climate crisis as a very important and urgent issue, put pressure on politicians to actively tackle the climate crisis and cooperate with other environmental organisations and international branches of Fridays For Future.
At the end of last year, Fridays for Future Estonia won an important legal victory when the Supreme Court decided to uphold their appeal and stop the construction of the Eesti Energia oil plant.

Missionary of the Year – Alyona Surzhikova
Alyona is the leader of the Käru Museum. She has involved people from the community of Käru in the work of the museum, which is run solely with the support of volunteers. The collection of the Käru Museum includes over 200 children’s carriages, which are being restored. Several thousand people visit the museum every year. In 2021-2022, Aljona led the project “Women Push”, which brought to the public a lecture series on important women in cultural history, an exhibition on the development of women’s rights and a series of broadcasts on Radio 4.
Every year, Aljona organises a series of workshops in the village of Käru, to work with people in the community to fix up some run-down houses.

Act of the Year – legalising marital equality, Estonian LGBT Association
The legalisation of marital equality was made possible thanks to years of tireless work by the staff of the Estonian LGBT Association together with volunteers, supporters and friends. Aili Kala, the leader of the Estonian LGBT Association, also helped to draft the text of the draft Marriage Equality Bill.
In its 15 years of existence, the Estonian LGBT Association has done important work in bringing together and keeping the local LGBT community together.

Public Representative of the Year – Taimar Peterkop and Ott Karulin
Estonian Secretary of State Taimar Peterkop and State Chancellery Strategy Office Adviser Ott Karulin did an excellent job in bringing, organising and running the Open Government Partnership Summit in Tallinn. The Summit brought together more than 2000 heads of state and government, representatives of civil society organisations and policy makers from nearly 130 countries.

Company of the Year – Videal OÜ
Videal is a video production and event technical solutions company. They have been giving pro bono support to the mission of The Bullying Free School Foundation since 2021, assisting with the technical side of several large events both online and in person. The team at Video always delivers reliably and everything runs smoothly, driven by a strong desire to do good and contribute to reducing bullying in schools.

Voice of the Year – Propastop is a blog created in 2016 that focuses on exposing anti-Estonian propaganda. The blog is run by volunteers from the Estonian Defence League. The aim of Propastop is to help Estonian and EU citizens to navigate in a complex information environment, to develop citizens’ ability to think critically and to recognise misinformation and hostile propaganda. In addition to Estonian, the blog also provides information in Russian, English and German.

Volunteers of the Year

Gerli Mae-Vello
Gerli is committed to creating opportunities for people with disabilities. She has contributed her time and energy to maintaining the wheelchair trails, as well as spring cleaning and maintaining the therapeutic Memory Garden, allowing people to relax and recuperate in nature.
Gerli has also involved many other helpers, her contribution to the maintenance of the wheelchair wheels and the facilities for people with disabilities has been significant and her work has made life easier for many people.

Anni Triin Salvan
Anni Triin is in charge of the youth council of Toila municipality, an active member of the student council of Toila Gymnasium, active in organising youth work in Toila municipality and initiating various projects. For example, in the spring of 2023, she initiated a charity evening in Toila municipality, where money was raised to support the treatment of Nora-Liisa, a cystic fibrosis sufferer living in the community.
In addition, she has actively participated in the Children’s Ombudsman’s participatory project “Let’s talk about climate justice” and represented young people from Ida-Viru County as well as from all over Estonia at the European Youth Meeting in the Basque Country, where she presented Estonian young people’s proposals to stop climate change.

Maie Matiek
Maie is a long-time volunteer of the Estonian Fund for Nature. Maie is genuinely kind, caring and helpful. All the people who have met Maie on a clean-up can tell you that the clean-up goes a lot easier when she is there. As well as working on an equal footing with much younger people, she is happy to take on other tasks, such as doing the dishes or watching over the piles of burning branches until late at night when others are resting long after their day’s work. Maie’s day job is teaching and she has inspired many of her students to take part in the gardening work.

Triin Viik
Triin has been a volunteer with SA Bullying Free School for over 3 years. She is a big-hearted person and stands out for her consistent dedication and high professionalism. Triin is always ready to contribute and never shies away from a challenge.
Over the years, Triin’s contribution and responsibilities have grown, most recently leading the charity Christmas cards project.
In addition, she has assisted with data collection, newsletter distribution and other activities.

Ülle Viinapuu
Ülle has been an active volunteer in sports and cultural events for many years. She has been a volunteer at Viljandi Folk and PÖFF for nearly 15 years, and has also contributed to Tallinn Music Week, Tartu Marathon, Maijooksu and elsewhere. During the COVID-19 outbreack, she answered the phone at the emergency call centre and assisted Ukrainian war refugees.
Those who have worked with her say you can always count on her.

Alice Juurik
Alice Juurik is an passionate rescuer and one of the founders of the Saue Volunteer Fire Brigade, which was re-established two years ago. She has a tremendous amount of energy and will to get the job done, so much so that when you’re wearing a firefighting uniform you don’t realise you’re dealing with a petite woman. Alice’s aim is to pass on fire safety, water safety and crisis preparedness knowledge to all children and young people in the municipality of Saue. She gives national defence lectures at the Saue State Gymnasium and is actively involved in prevention activities for young people. She is a good teacher and is able to inspire others with her knowledge, experience and drive, which is why there is always a supportive atmosphere for new members on rescue challenges with her.

Jaanika Ailt
Jaanika Ailt is the Pärnu Volunteer Manager of the University of Tartu Children’s Foundation. Jaanika thought that if there are active volunteers in Tartu and Tallinn, why not the same in Pärnu. So Jaanika gathered her acquaintances from her local area and for over five years she and the Pärnu volunteers have been collecting donations for the Children’s Fund at various events. Jaanika is a very independent and helpful person and is always ready to help out with her volunteers at events in other cities.

Kiti Põld
Kiti is an outstanding, positive and dedicated volunteer at Viljandi Uuskasuteskus. She is the author of the book “Recycling. There is no such thing as a bin”. What does Kiti mean by the title – bins do exist!?? But they might not exist – if we can find the right use and form for the waste. This can be done in a very elegant way: by piling up cup fragments to make mosaics, creating lamps out of old bird houses and finding new uses for almost anything.
Kiti has made an invaluable contribution to helping the Centre for Re-use and Recycling in Estonia.

Karin Kadastik

Karin is a volunteer at the Estonian Folklore School. She has done in-depth research, entered a vast amount of collected folklore material online, and done it accurately, which is crucial in this work. Karin has volunteered at the Folklore School for several years, and in 2023, thanks to her detailed work, the map application was completed and is now maintained by her. Karin is hard-working, punctual, thorough and always cooperative. She has made an exceptional contribution to the sharing of traditions across Estonia.

Mari Lepik
Mari has been collecting Sõrvemaa folklore in Saaremaa for 20 years, which can be found at sö At least five community music collectives, a children’s folklore group and Sörve Radio, Sörvemaa web radio, have started up under her initiative. Mari has an innate ability to bring like-minded people together and unite a community. Mari sets an example for others by volunteering.

Janar Tiits
For the past four years, Janar has contributed his free time to the organisation of sporting events at the Two Bridges Club, helping to build a safe competition centre for participants and spectators. Working with Janar has shown that he can also be trusted to take on responsibility. Janar also has an active lifestyle himself, enjoying cycling and running events.

Kirill Badikin
Kirill has dedicated almost all of his free time to supporting refugees who have arrived in Estonia from Ukraine. He has volunteered with the Estonian Red Cross, Tallinn Food Bank, Niine Refugee Reception Centre and Estonian Refugee Aid.
Since March 2022, he has been administrating the Facebook group “Friends of Ukraine in Estonia”, where he has organised information sessions to support Ukrainians’ adaptation. In total, more than 35 information sessions have been held and viewed more than 100 000 times.

Volunteering promoters of the Year

Anna Rehema
Anna Rehema has been the leader of the Warm Harts Foundation for 10 years, during which time nearly 3000 volunteers have been involved in the work of the Foundation. The Warm Hearts Foundation brings together those who want to help and those who need help. The Foundation’s team of volunteers is affectionately known as the “Heart of Hearts”. A Warm Heart is a person who has the will to make the world a better place, and who gives of their free time to help those in need alongside their family and work.
The Warm Hearts Foundation has been awarded the “Volunteer Friend” badge.

Rait Vilgats
Rait works as a patrol policeman and is very active in involving auxiliary policemen, both from within his own precinct and from other precincts. He has been a real role model for the auxiliary police officers, setting an example himself, offering advice and support. Rait brings different people together into a team, he is not afraid to have serious conversations when necessary and he is prepared to include people in his team who others might dislike.

Agne Soome
Agne has engaged and inspired Swedbank employees to volunteer. Her communication and networking skills have helped many employees find volunteering opportunities that suit them and contribute to society.
In addition to her contribution at Swedbank, Agne has also done a significant amount of work for the Clean Water Theme Park.
She is a great role model and encourages other volunteers to achieve their goals and helps to promote volunteering.