Saturday, August 1, 2009

Day 4 in Latvija

Eric got up and ran again this morning before we got ready to meet Ina who took us to two more orphanages. Elina, Janeks' girlfriend, did not go with us again. She seemed troubled at seeing the orphans. We passed over a stork hit and killed on the road and both Janeks and Ina were noticeably upset. Both Ina and Janeks stated that they had never seen a dead stork, much less one killed along the road. Eric and I were both struck by this as we take road kill pretty much for granted in the US. The stork is the national bird of Latvia. Storks are very large birds standing about 4 feet tall. They can be seen all over the countryside here. They make their nests on the tops of chimneys (presumably for warmth) and in trees.

We also saw a man working the field with a horse. No, he wasn't Amish as they don't have Amish here. He simply didn't have a tractor. They do have Gypsies here who apparently have their own festival! We passed by several fields of wheat and saw some cattle. Much of Latvia is rural. The population of the entire country is about 2.1 million and decreasing as many are leaving the country due to the economic crisis here.

The first stop for the day was the Umurgas Childrens Social Center (orphanage). The orphanage is about 30 km from the Baltic Sea coast and about 150 km south of Estonia.

The Director there is Gunta who was the founding director 15 years ago. She had previously been a Kindergarten (this is the Latvian term for preschool and kindergarten) director/principal next door. The kindergarten there has about 140 preschool and kindergarten aged children enrolled. There are about 30 children (the number fluctuates each school year) in the orphanage. The Center is licensed for 24 children but has had as many as 36. 14 were on site for the summer with most of these being older as Gunta explained that many of the younger children had been adopted. We met and spoke with three 15 year old boys and a teenage girl who could speak some English (all Latvian children study English in school). Each child in the orphanage had recently received a 15th anniversary orphanage mug with their name on it.

Gunta had not only heard of Camp Ganchauskas, but seemed to have actually been there! She thought our camp idea was a good one and thought we could probably count on 12 children from her orphanage.

We passed the town of Limbzi on the way to our second stop of the day. There are more Russians living in this area than other places in Latvia. We saw a number of older people walking along the roads. There are always people walking or riding bicycles, not just along the country roads but even along the highways.

The third orphanage we visited (second of the day) was housed in the restored (in 2000) estate house of Mercendarbe. This large manor house was formerly a "hunterš castle" it still had the original door and stairs complete with large set of elk antlers in the entryway on the wall. An orphanage has been housed in this manor house since 1940. Anairs (pronounced Inars) Spons has been the director for five years. He had attended university with Ina our driver.

At New Yearš there were 20 children in the orphanage (25 is supposed to be the max). Currently, there are 11 for the summer.

In meeting with Anairs and Digna Zitnikova (his assistant), we came to learn that they had actually hosted a camp of their own this summer for two weeks with 20 children attending each week. Most of these children were from Riga, the capital city of Latvia, where the church is located that Victor Barviks preaches for. They shared that their camp would probably not be possible next year due to funding cuts from the government.

They thought that about 15 - 20 children ages 14-16 might be interested in attending the camp. Older orphans are harder to manage by host families and therefore harder to place for the summer.

We were quite startled to find that Victoria, the very cute two year old which had been tagging along and interrupting our meeting several times, was not actually an orphan but Dignaš granddaughter! When we got back to Cesis, it was time to get ready for dinner. We were invited out to Elinaš home for dinner with her family. More about that later.

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