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They know that things can be different


The neighbourhood of “Maskavas forstate” in Latgale suburban area of Riga city is considered to be among the socially deprived areas with high crime rate, homeless people and street children. It must be admitted that especially children are the most endangered group in this district.

Society “Development centre for the family” in cooperation with society “Children and youth confidence hotline”, Valka gimnasium and the Swiss association “Familles Solidaires” jointly implement the project funded by the Swiss Confederation and the state of Latvia aimed at fostering integration of less protected children into society and making this Riga neighbourhood more safe by involving not only children, but also family members and neighbours.

During the project implementation Latvian counterparts got familiarised with working techniques used by the Swiss association “Familles Solidaires” to support local youngsters, especially those, who have become parents themselves".

Majority of the target group of the project are children – young delinquents, who have either been involved in offensive activities, or have suffered from violence and long term social exclusion. Implementation of this project is an important step towards these children offering them to see other options in life and make well justified choices. As noted by project initiators: “It is important to resolve challenging issues and work with children by using techniques acceptable to them, ensuring effective solutions of identified challenges, otherwise social change in this suburban area is not possible, because this would be the fight with consequences”. For these children to respect and love themselves, they need to be in a favourable peer environment, where they can express themselves in a creative way and gain new practical skills. At the same time, one cannot deny, that without professional assistance by parents these achieved results will be of short term character, because when a child lacks positive emotions, he or she is pushed back into the same problem situation.

Project covers a range of activities to strengthen rights and possibilities of unprotected children, as well as poor families. Specially formed interdisciplinary team provided daily consultation services to children at the children centre. This interdisciplinary team comprised social worker, psychologist, teacher and support team leader. A variety of workshops were provided for children (floristics, decoupage, wood handicrafts, assembling skills, photography, culinary, etc.) which took place every week. The objective of such creative workshops was to allow young people to develop their own personality and character, as well as to gain self-confidence. Once in three months, exhibitions of produced results were organized.

“For a child being in a camp, it is important to create the wish to learn, so that it doesn't seem difficult, because when you're in school – that is different” highlights camp teacher Vineta Skutane. “The main thing is to show them what they can do, and then, when they can do something – they start enjoying what they do”. The stereotype that children of “Maskava forstate” have about a small town is very different. “Why don't you lock up the bicycles?”, “How can you sleep with a window open?” or “Why is it so neat and tidy here” - these are just a few questions raised so often by children.

The name of the camp “Academy of new opportunities” justifies itself, as it allows children to see other environment, offers sports activities and involves children in a variety of other activities. This is the way children learn and gain new skills. “It is easier to say “I can't”, “I won't do it”, yet it is essential that the assigned work is completed, even with scratching teeth – when the work is done, they are glad and proud of themselves”, adds Vineta Skutane. Ten days in a camp made it possible for children to really work with themselves. For instance, it turned out that a boy, who was a scuffler – made himself an excellent dancer. So he has to look for a dancing opportunities in future. The most exciting thing for city children is the night walk in nature. Frogs are being examined, cats and dogs receive a lot of attention. A human being wishes to live not only in a clean and tidy physical environment, but also in an environment of clean words. For this reason, each dirty word uttered by children results in fifteen squattings. Children don't even know they can drinkcommon yarrow tea when they catch cold – there's no one to tell them that.

When asking the children, what will be the most memorable experience they are going to remember from these ten days in Valka, Robets confesses that he enjoyed sleeping on a sofa and watching TV untill falling asleep. Laura has learned to hold a compas, whereas Vidzejs and Edgars have enjoyed “survival school”. Quite useful were also culinary lessons – making of pancakes and waffles. At the end of the camp the children had prepared a series of drama shows, where they played out different daily situations. During these ten days children have made new friends, have better understood themselves and gained new skills. Despite the fact that they have to return to Riga, they know – things can be different.

Article prepared: August, 2012