I am an Australian volunteer who first visited Grasi Children Village (Grasi) in December 2010, now just over a year later I have been fortunate enough to come back and see how things have changed. All of the children have grown up a little (well for starters they are all now a year older, and most are quite a bit taller as well) with some changing more then others. It was a nice to return to so many smiling and familiar faces, as well as some smiling and curious looking new faces. Sadly in the time I’ve been gone a few of the children have left Grasi.
Grasi is situated about 10 minutes drive from Cesvaine in rural Latvia. Cesvaine is a two and a half hour drive east of Riga, the capital of Latvia. Grasi was the first privately run children’s orphanage in Latvia and was officially opened in 1995. Grasi is home to three houses for the children, an office, chapel, farm and a manor house which was restored and is now a small hotel (www.hotelgrasupils.lv).
Ozlini and Klavas house are located next door to each other, while Oslejas is a 500m walk away. At the moment the farm is home to a horse, pony, donkey, goat and about 30 sheep. The farm is run with the help of the children. Allowing the children to have contact with animals helps them appreciate animals and understand that they have responsibilities including feeding the animals.
The hotel allows the older children to gain work experience and training in hospitality if they wish, and many of the staff employed there are adults who spent parts of there childhood at Grasi and may have struggled to find employment elsewhere. The hotel has a big kitchen where the meals for the children are cooked before they are driven over to the houses.
The children live in three houses – Klavas (which means maple leaf), Ozolini (which means little oak) and Oslejas (which means ash tree). Each house has three “educators” whose job it is to look after the children, help with meals, homework and parenting. At the moment the educators in Klavas are Regina, Liene and Liga, in Ozolini there are Evita, Dzintra and Kristiana, and Oslejas has Gundega, Maris and Ilga.
By having the children divided up into three houses it allows them to have a better environment, that is somewhat similar to that of a family. At present there are 6 children in each house, meaning each child has more one-on-one time with adults, allowing for improvements in education and social development. At the moment both Klavas and Ozlini have a cat each and mylo the dog, allowing the children to spend time playing and feeding.
Over the summer some renovations have taken place, in particular the office. Renovations where needed due to a badly leaking roof, which meant water was leaking into the bathroom and corridors, and poor insulation made heating the building a problem. As a result of the leaking, the roof was replaced over the summer, while work is still continuing in the bathroom to fix the water damage. There is now improved insulation that is helping to control the temperatures inside the office, so it isn’t nearly as cold as it used to be. By improving the insulation there has been a reduction in the costs of heating the building.
This week Viktorija has been busy competing in two music competitions. First she had a guitar competition Tuesday night and then a singing competition on Wednesday night. In the last year Viktorija has taught herself to play the guitar and continues to play the violin, piano and sing.
Surprisingly there was no snow at Grasi for Christmas this year with the weather staying much warmer then it usually would for winter. That was until about two weeks ago and now Grasi is covered in a thick layer of snow. The temperatures have also started to drop and next week they are expected to hit -20. All the kids have been enjoying the snow, and have been spending lots of time sledding down the hills, skiing and playing in the snow. The older kids in particular are enjoying skiing most afternoons after school, while the littler kids enjoy rolling around the snow and playing in it!!.
A new wooden tree house has also popped up in the trees near Ozolini and Klavas house! It was built by one of the children over the summer and is situated in an ideal location near the houses and at the top of the hill. The older children are encouraged to build and design things like this as it helps them to develop hobbies and learn skills in a way that they enjoy doing.