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Soldiers in Lithuania assist local citizens

RUKLA, Lithuania - The NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup Lithuania has been conducting regular community outreach programmes throughout the year to enhance their relationship with the local community with the third occurrence held on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018.

Small groups of soldiers and students go door to door, to mostly households and schools, inquiring if there is anything they can do or help with. Language barriers are overcome with the assistance of local students, most of who have learned English in school and speak it fluently.

"This is very good for both the soldiers and the community. When the soldiers interact with people living here they develop a better understanding of the local population, which in return develops positive perception towards the soldiers' presence. Also, the students enhance their English skills by interacting with the soldiers," says Major Robert Van Leerdam, Strategic Communication Advisor, who has been supervising the outreach programme.

So far three projects have taken place. Two of them were in Pabrade in July and September. Pabrade was chosen because it is one of the main exercise areas. Meantime, the most recent programme was conducted in Svencionys and was exclusively organised by the Dutch contingent.

The main focus has been on Russian speaking communities, because they're harder to reach through conventional digital platforms. "If we want to show them who we are and what we as NATO eFP soldiers are doing in cooperation with Lithuanian authorities, the best way is doing it face to face," says Nicolien Duijndam, Dutch public affairs officer. "And also, this is a way of showing that we are here not only to be present at the request of the Lithuanian government and doing our international military exercises. We are also here to help people if we can."

The main goal with social outreach is to create long term connections in the area. The plan is to continue these programmes in Lithuania, according to Van Leerdam. "Projects with direct human interactions are important and more often game changing compared with indirect or multimedia communication. I would like for this to be done in more places in Lithuania in the near future."

Story by enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Lithuania

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