Celebrating Unity and Integration: The "We Play Together" festival 2023


Maria Malyshkina, ISCA

In the small, picturesque town Pumpėnai in Lithuania, a remarkable event took place that showcased the power of community, collaboration, and sport in fostering unity and integration. The international festival marked a significant milestone in the journey of the international project "We Play Together." The project, financed by the European Union as part of the Erasmus+ Youth Programme, aims to utilise the unifying force of sports to help young Ukrainian refugees in their integration process in the Baltic countries and Poland. 

The "We Play Together" festival started on 20 July 2023, when 150 young participants from Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Lithuania started arriving in this cosy town. Although the guests were coming from these four countries, they in fact represented many different nationalities, about half of them being Ukrainians now living in their new communities. Filled with activities, the first two days flew by as the participants got to know each other’s cultures and enjoyed playing sports together. On 22 July, the "We Play Together" festival joined forces with the bigger Pumpėnai festival, which hosted an entertainment programme for more than 2000 people!

The festival was not just an ordinary event; it was a testament to the potential of young minds and their capacity to shape change. More than 80 enthusiastic volunteers and coordinators from diverse backgrounds came together to form the teams and undergo a comprehensive 2-day training session focused on volunteering. One of the important aspects of the festival was the opportunity it offered for young individuals to take charge of their own experiences. The project’s Youth Advisory Board was included in the design of the festival and implemented its own activities for all of the participants to experience.


What truly made this event extraordinary was the warm and welcoming embrace of the Pumpėnai community. The local school opened their doors, accommodating 150 people, and the school chefs even came to work during their summer break to help at the canteen. In addition to the wonderful community, a shoutout goes to the Lithuanian company Activus, a big sponsor of the event. They provided welcoming gifts of healthy snacks to all participants, making everyone feel appreciated and valued.

The "We Play Together" festival showcased the power of youth-driven initiatives and the role that sports and recreational activities in community settings can play in transforming lives. Beyond the physical benefits, sports have the remarkable ability to instil values such as teamwork, determination, and respect – qualities that are essential for thriving in any community. This event was not just about playing games; it was about building connections, nurturing empathy, and sowing the seeds of lifelong friendships. Sport, as a universal language, provided a bridge that connected hearts and minds.

We are excited to announce a series of stories that offer a unique perspective on the Festival. These stories will provide insights into the experience of organising the festival from the eyes of a Young Sport Leader, and unveil backstage stories on navigating the challenges and triumphs. Stay tuned!

Did you know that there is a webinar and a practical guide that is available in Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Ukrainian and English to facilitate the integration through sport in those countries? Find more resources at https://irts.isca.org/weplaytogether