Schools as Community Development Centres in 2013

The purpose of the initiative Schools as Community Development Centres in 2013 was to support further transformation of small schools (with primary emphasis on crisis-hit communities in the rural areas of Latvia) into multifunctional community resource centers and to promote sustainable solutions for viability of the achieved results at the local and national level. It has been successful continuation of the first stage of the SFL initiative “Development of small schools into community learning and cultural centers, initiated in 2009 with the funding from OSF Emergency Fund.

In 2013 main emphasis have been put on following aspects:

  • improving access to formal and informal education for all generations with special emphases on expanding and improving early childhood provisions;
  • promoting civic participation and grassroots engagement in diverse activities for increased well-being and inclusion;
  • diversifying employment opportunities by raising entrepreneurial skills and building culture of inclusion and social cohesion in the communities.

Implementation of the initiative consisted of two main layers: general activities for all involved community and school leaders (training, capacity building, networking, raising visibility etc.) and 41 specific local projects implemented jointly by schools and local municipalities. These projects were directed at fulfilling following tasks:

  • To promote civic participation and involvement in community development;
  • Build strong partnerships between local governments, educational and culture establishments, entrepreneurs, NGOs and local initiative groups to ensure the sustainability of the project activities;
  • To support access to quality education for pre-school and school children, as well as young people in the Latvian countryside;
  • To promote innovative solutions in life-long learning, employment and social spheres in accordance with the needs of people and using local community resources.

In order to emphasize needs based solution in the localities additional grants were available for the participants of the initiative during the year. Grants were  awarded after specific selection process in three areas:

  1. Promoting entrepreneurship and micro-business in the local community through adult education, vocational training and motivation programs (17 grants);
  2. Promoting active citizenship and capacity-building skills for civic participation (17 grants); and
  3. Promoting and implementing support for young children and their families (38 grants).

In most cases mini-grants were given to the NGOs, local grassroots organization that  have the capacity to work together with schools in attracting additional resources as well providing services and opportunities for diverse audiences. Schools and NGOs received support in the preparation of the grant proposals; they also receive extensive, needs-based support during project implementation as part of capacity building for future activities. Mini-projects can be recognized as very successful part of the project methodology and design; their implementation proved that relatively small money together with support and mentoring can make large and sustainable impact in the community.

The Baltic Institute of Social Sciences was contracted to carry out the evaluation of the SFL initiative. The evaluation showed that the schools involved in the initiative are really acting as life-long learning centres covering a wide range of target groups from pre-school children to seniors which is very important taking into consideration the access to educational services in rural areas. Several schools are developing the functions of social help or support.

In order to demonstrate the advantages of the community-based activities and target mainstream public opinion, a series of public events and activities have taken place, such as conferences, regular press releases and articles in the newspapers, interviews on radio, participation in the Task forces, seminars and discussions, meetings with national level decision makers etc. It is important that representatives of various sectors, such as education, welfare, health, regional development, and environment have been invited to take active part in developing better solutions for small rural schools in the context of national planning documents.

In order to disseminate project ideas and to build sustainability, the project Director and the members of the Core team have participated in several conferences, task forces and other events to develop links and build partnerships at the national and regional level. Methodology, implementation process and best practices from the project have also been presented in the numerous national and several international conferences and events, e.g., International Forum „School Dropout: In Search for the right approach”, Sofia, Bulgaria in August 2012; expert panel of the EC Development Education and Awareness Raising (DEAR) Capacity Building and Capitalisation Workshop in Latvia, organized on behalf of the European Commission by the ECDEAR Support Team with support of the Latvian Platform for Development Cooperation (LAPAS) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia in September 2012; in the ATEE Spring Conference 2013, conference in the University of Leipzig in May 2013, conference, organized by the University of Latvia and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on Citizenship education in September 2013, etc. The Director of the project has served as a head of the Reform Task force of the Ministry of Education on transforming small schools. Student teachers of the University of Latvia have been introduced with the experience of the project in order to discuss changes in education in the 21st century.

A series of publications (8 editions) with the general idea of the initiative and descriptions of the best practices have been produced and disseminated nation-wide together with the largest national newspaper for educators “Izglītība un Kultūra” [Education and Culture].

An intensive exchange of information and dissemination of the results is on the project created web/blog site www.parmainuskolas.lv which is one of the most powerful tools for dissemination of information and sharing existing experiences. In average there are more than one publication posted each day; the site is well visited and highly evaluated by practitioners, policy makers and general public across the country.

The experience gained during the initiative has affirmed that community school is not a universal, one fits all, but open and flexible tailor-made model of small rural schools which is changeable depending on the inner resources of the particular school, local context, municipality infrastructure, needs and interests of the community. The schools have become a valuable resource in local communities in various aspects, both in the viewpoint of schools themselves and the communities. Schools see not only their contribution to building and improvement of local people competencies, but are also aware of their possibilities to get involved in identification and solution of wider problems within local communities. Looking at a school as a local community resource local governments consider that as a result of activities implemented by schools, participation of local people in various processes and their self-confidence has increased, more positive mood dominates in the community and social relationships between local people are improving.

The many facets of evaluation of the school projects suggests that the community school has asserted itself in practice as a social and educational innovation with high potential, although, for the time being, with insufficient political and financial support, which largely determines the sustainability risks of the model. The groups of schools involved in the initiative can be absolutely considered as one of small schools’ policy pilot projects which can be used for further development of the policy at the national level.

For more information  contact the Director of the initiative Aija Tuna at aija.tuna@latnet.lv

(Latviešu) Dāmu seminārs „Es varu un es daru!” Šķēdē

Damu_seminars_Skede_-_pirma_di_1624. un 25.augustā Saldus novada Šķēdes Sabiedriskajā centrā projekta „Sabiedrisko centru attīstības turpinājums Saldus novadā” ietvaros notika dāmu seminārs „Es varu un es daru!”. Par notikušo stāsta Inta Švaža, projekta koordinatore Šķēdē: Tās bija divas iedvesmojošas, darbīgas, emocijām un nodarbībām pārbagātas dienas nedēļas nogalē Šķēdes sabiedriskajā centrā. Ideja, ka tam jābūt dāmu semināram, nāca pēkšņi un ar lielu pārliecību. Mēdz teikt – ja ko vēlies, tad dari! Turpināt lasīt…

(Latviešu) Jaunsilavieši darbojas no Dzejnieka dārza līdz Ķīnas mūrim

Priedes sāk dzīvi Dzejnieka dārzā-w2012./2013. mācību gads Līvānu novada Jaunsilavas pamatskolā aizritēja UNESCO un Sorosa Fonda – Latvija iniciatīvas „Pārmaiņu iespēja skolām” zīmē. Latvijā ir 20 UNESCO asociētās skolas, kas viena otrai palīdz un cieši sadarbojas. Mūsu tuvākie draugi ir Jēkabpilī, Riebiņos un Daugavpilī. Jaunsilavas skolas izvēlētais darbības virziens ir pasaules un nacionālā materiālā un nemateriālā mantojuma izglītība. Liels ieguvums ir SFL atbalsts mazajām lauku skolām, jo projekta „Kaskurkadis kāpj kalnā” radošās darbnīcas palīdz realizēt UNESCO skolas daudzās aktivitātes. Turpināt lasīt…

Briežuciems: Impact is our password

Some three years ago the Briezuciems primary school was among those small rural schools in Latvia who faced a real closure threat as a result of the small number of pupils. While several schools were liquidated indeed, the kids from Briezuciems and the vicinity still study in their local school, but the teachers have gone as far as real participation in legal initiatives. Why was it possible? Thanks to the local self-starters. Silvija Locmele is among them. Turpināt lasīt…

How the “Cloud pushers” turned into graffiti artists in Tirza

More than 30 people responded to the young and active guys from Tirza, in the central part of Latvia and came together to tidy the open-air dais and its premises – the usual venue of concerts and all kinds of festivities. As Anete Ziepniece, the coordinator of the local grassroots activists (they call themselfes “Cloud pushers” or fantasts) told us, the youngest participant was only four months young, but the oldest had just celebrated her 50th bithday. Turpināt lasīt…

Factors That Influence and Form Meaningful Leisure Time Opportunities for the Local Community

Harijs Rokpelnis, Mazsalaca High School Project director

Mazsalaca territory has always been famous for the beauty of nature and tourism potential. Everyone might think that the brilliant landscape provides the community with leisure time opportunities – walking round alleys and enjoying the Salaca River beauty. Unfortunately we must confess it is only partially true.  When breaking away from everyday worries and responsibilities peace and well-being sets in and this activity improves the feelings and clears the inner self. But for those who live in the neighborhood of Mazsalaca this environment is everyday life, therefore people look for other leisure time opportunities. Taking into consideration that there are three Culture Centers and four libraries in the territory, the range of culture activities is quite wide and sufficient for everybody but one cannot live only on culture.
Mazsalaca High School has been a highly appreciated rural school for long time. People in these places have always hungered for knowledge for learning something anew. Unfortunately the High School budget for extra-curricular activities is too narrow and the school cannot even provide for the needs of schoolchildren not to mention such society groups as the unemployed, young mothers, working people and elderly people thus completely excluding them from the market. The Project „Developing a Community Support Center in Mazsalaca High School” supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia ideologically brilliantly fills the niche. Contemplations on how successful or unsuccessful was the Project implementation in Mazsalaca and what problems we faced you can read in this article.
When speaking to people attending the classes it seems the Project is a real success. Country people have been given opportunities to sharpen their minds and to strengthen their bodies in various activities – at a drama studio, applied innovation workshop, Swedish, Norwegian and English courses, lectures on how to set a goal and what to do to achieve it, Latvian wisdom classes, modeling aircrafts, computer classes for seniors, photo studio, social support group, stance project for women and stance project for juniors and Nordic walking. Premises of Mazsalaca High School were redecorated within the Project framework as well so that they could be used, as planned before for classes and as a recreation room for everybody, especially for schoolchildren waiting for a bus to go home, to the furthest places of the territory.
But after listening to the opinion of group leaders and class teachers not everything seems so smooth.
The first and biggest problem is to achieve the growth of the people activity. If at the moment when there are no more than two months till the end of the Project the number of participants has reached three hundred then we must admit that four months ago it was half of it. Relatively the number has grown from 3.75 to 7.5 % of the population, or, speaking only about Mazsalaca town population it has reached 20 % now (although most participants are from Mazsalaca people from rural territory also forming a considerable part of the participants on the Project). In any case I believe the attendance has improved a lot and a big part of the local community have benefited from the Project. But one can always wish for more. There were some problems that arouse during the Project implementation and as a result the attendance was so low. First, when questioning local people it turned out that many of them did not know anything about the activities in the territory supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia. Mostly the information on classes had reached the participants by word of mouth therefore only part of the inhabitants knew about some activities but not about the Project as a whole and its concept. In the beginning we were surprised to find it out because the information was published in a regional newspaper which can be found almost in any home in the rural territory and on the regional web page. But it seemed this had not been enough. As it turned out the biggest increase in response could be reached with relatively simple methods. One of the methods was making use of the existing „oral” marketing network and promoting it. People who had taken part in some activities were informed about the other forms of spending their leisure time. If the information was not useful for them, they could let others know. Another measure to promote attendance was placing detailed information about the activities in strategic points in the town: a shop, a hospital and libraries, emphasizing the fact that all the activities were free of charge. Although people had started discussing the Project activities when listening more carefully to what people said sometimes a certain disbelief and unreliability could be heard in these talks. Therefore everywhere where there was information on the Project activities the Project director or activity leader’s contact details were given. Although it seems a small and insignificant detail if I had not experienced it myself I would not believe that people could worry about so trivial things and ask for details of everything. Surely the local people can also be divided into several groups and the information techniques which turn out to be useful for some people do not even reach the others. To attract representatives of social risk groups to the Project activities we drew in the activities a social worker. This way we did not only inform the people but also encouraged them to get involved. Teachers who were directly connected with the Project as well as those who were not, were active in drawing in schoolchildren. Men of working age in Mazsalaca, like in most parts of Latvia are very inactive. But we have some good examples too when men attend classes within the framework of the project. Being aware that this group might have attendance problems we paid special attention to its representatives. What are the reasons that make men attend classes? It turned out that for some of them it was a need, for example to communicate with business partners or continue to perform one’s responsibilities at work. But most participants had been encouraged by their partners. Despite the fact that aircraft modeling group was set up for men as a place which could be attended by fathers and sons together, it was not very popular. It means that men can be brought out of house only by their women.
Another very important factor is developing the right or recognized offer. In this respect our experience in Mazsalaca deserves to be used as a proof of the statement that people’s wishes are inconsistent and often unpredictable. First, regarding the leisure time opportunities offered within the framework of the Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” we can divide them into two periods: up to June, 2010 and from September to December, 2010. Distinguishing these two periods allows us to see the differences between the offer and attendance as the drama Studio, applied innovation workshop, English, Norwegian and Swedish courses, stance improvement Project, Nordic walking and lectures on how to set a goal and what to do to achieve it as separate blocks had become stable in the community by June. In the beginning of the Project implementation the statistics of attendance was very unsteady, but in April and May constant size had developed. The school and the Project too went on summer holiday. The only classes that had not lived up to expectations were Swedish classes. Attendance for these was very poor and according to the attendance lists – very uncertain. Those participants who went to classes irregularly were an extra burden for the teacher and created false statistics. So, we decided to reduce the number of lessons in the second part of the Project by half; thus the classes were organized only once in two weeks. Taking into consideration the budget we made a decision to set up new positions and arrange some other classes. The choice of the classes made based on the previous Project activities and the local population profile. So it turned out that attendance is a very sensitive and unpredictable process.
Now I am going to tell you about the successes and failures while developing new activities and trying to adapt to the needs of the community. I must admit that sometimes a matter of chance can create better circumstances for a sustainable idea than a long-thought-out plan. One of the groups created in the second part of the Project is a photo studio. The idea on this studio was quite accidental and it appeared when there was a Vidzeme photo plain air in Mazsalaca. While talking to the organizer of the plain air, a professional photographer we found out that he hoped to organize a photo society in Mazsalaca and to interest people in Mazsalaca in photo art. Word by word, and we had a concept for a photo art studio supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia. These classes are regularly attended by approximately fourteen people and the most interesting is the fact that they represent all the generations from senior schoolchildren to retired people.
Some time ago aircraft modeling was very popular in Mazsalaca. Men of different ages participated in competitions and shared experiences. But nobody has been involved in aircraft modeling for several years now as there was no-one that could hold together this movement, provide it with equipment and instruments. I addressed an aircraft modeling enthusiast and suggested he starts an aircraft modeling group in Mazsalaca High School. I hoped it could be an activity to be attended by fathers and sons together, especially because this sport was very popular among different generations and only young people of nowadays did not have an opportunity to get to know this sport. Unfortunately expectations did not come true, but it must be admitted that the class attendance was satisfactory. Schoolchildren attend the classes; their fathers have not expressed interest in this activity.
Although Mazsalaca economics is greatly based on logging, woodworking and agriculture even we face the increase of unemployment level and social risk groups. The most alarming is the fact that there are a large number of unemployed single mothers and families where both parents are without jobs in Mazsalaca territory. Worrying of the well-being and mental health of these families we set up a support group for women led by a certified psychologist. To provide attendance at these classes and give the first push to women who need this kind of help the potential participants were contacted by the local social worker first. Although in the beginning the classes were a kind of compulsory after the third time already women admitted they were satisfied and now they are ready to come to classes without any encouragement. I believe this is a great example of the fact that people do not always understand what they really need. This was one of the rare cases when participants had to be pushed to attend classes postulating it as a condition for getting social allowances.
And now we have come to a less successful example. Folk dance parties have been organized in Mazsalaca several times; and they have gained wide recognition among people of various ages and both sexes. This summer 3 x 3 camp was also organized in Mazsalaca and it gained wide recognition too. Everything showed that local people in Mazsalaca territory are interested in investigating Latvian folklore and national wisdom. So based on these observations we decided to organize Latvian wisdom classes. Unfortunately the number of participants who wanted to attend these classes did not meet any of our expectations. Very few people were interested and as a result several classes had to be even cancelled. Thus we can see that an opportunity to spend leisure time in activities which correspond to the local profile and includes learning and cognition processes is not recognized. Maybe if the first classes had been more promoted they would have gained greater recognition just like the support group I mentioned. Taking into consideration the facts we can say that most probably the classes were organized in the right time and place but the marketing campaign was not effective enough. Obviously each class has to be positioned so that first, the target audience could have all the necessary information and secondly, the audience would be encouraged to attend the classes. As our saying goes, while you do not taste, you do not know, but a lot of people choose not to taste at all.
Practically two thirds of the local inhabitants are elderly people and finally they have become aware of their ability to influence things going on in the territory. Seniors in Mazsalaca have set up a society and computer classes for seniors are organized at their request. These classes are attended by no less than thirty-two people! This is a great example that not everything needs to be planned based on estimated human desires and needs. Sometimes it is absolutely enough to listen to local people.
In early summer there was a three-day environment camp where mostly schoolchildren participated. Knowing that volleyball is quite popular kind of sport in the territory part of the camp budget was allocated on developing a new volleyball court in Mazsalaca High School Park. It was a pleasant surprise to see local people who did not participate at the camp come and help to set up the court. A local farmer even helped us with his private tractor. It was a sign that the decision to set up a new court and to improve the existing one was right. We could check on that during summer when in the evenings both courts were busy and occupied and young people were standing in a line at them. The three competitions organized in these courts also attest the rightness of the decision. There are only positive references about the environment camp both, on the participants’ part and on Mazsalaca High School visitors’ part. The camp was a brilliant example showing that people are ready to spend their leisure time not only studying or entertaining, but also working. During the camp time benches in the park were restored and new ones made; bridges were restored and built anew over the Baron’s ponds; the school surroundings were tidied up and the volleyball court established. Thanks to the Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” the participants of the camp were provided paints, wood, bolts and screws, paintbrushes, plants and everything else that was necessary for the improvement works in return for their dedication and work.
Taking into consideration the fact that since the first years of Latvia independence there has been a Music School in Mazsalaca and several generations managing music instruments, as well as there are extensive choral traditions in cooperation with Rīga Jazz Orchestra a Developmental Music Camp will be organized in Mazsalaca. Everyone interested in this sort of activities as well as musical instrument players and vocal talents are kindly invited to the camp. The camp will last for three days; music theory, various master classes and vocal studio will be included into the program. The aim of the camp is to show that music can be different from the one which is traditionally taught at a music school or in a choir.
Speaking of all this I wanted to illustrate the main factors which affect and form meaningful leisure time opportunities in a local community. I did not mention in the article that in the course of the Project implementation the Project leader was changed. Of course, it is a real test but this kind of changes (it do not have to be a Project leader by all means), such as new faces in the Project team bring new trends and new vision into any Project which is certainly appropriate!

How to Make a Film and not Only That…

Asare Elementary School Project group

Asare Elementary School Project activities are mostly aimed at improving free time opportunities for all the social groups of the local community, promoting the development of the community and strengthening togetherness. It is being implemented in cooperation between the municipality, local entrepreneurs and the school.

Insufficient funding for education reduced the offer in interest education sphere therefore a new approach and methods were necessary to provide free time opportunities to schoolchildren and youths and to promote cooperation between local people and educational establishments. Schoolchildren, youths and local inhabitants show interest and support this kind of cooperation but there are no people who would be interested and could organize and lead the activities. Thanks to the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project and Asare Elementary School teachers’ initiative the inhabitants of the parish have been given opportunities to spend their free time meaningfully, acquire new knowledge and skills, get experience and positive emotions and improve their health in physical activities. Schoolchildren, youths, local inhabitants and entrepreneurs, institutions and parish administration have successfully involved in the Project activities.

As one of the aspects of the Project we implemented was improving free time opportunities for local community we set up Schoolchildren and Young People Leisure Club which offered various interest groups for schoolchildren and former school leavers: drama group, video amateurs’ group; visual arts, sport and computer groups.

Activities of drama group and video amateurs’ groups were joined together implementing the idea of making a film „Meistardetektīvs 2” („Master detective 2”). The script has been written based on A. Lyndgren works. Interest in making of the film greatly exceeded the activities of the two interest groups and even those of the Club. Schoolchildren, teachers and school leavers, parents and those local people who have no connection to the school took part in the filming process. We were helped by the police and home guards. Local people and entrepreneurs let us use their private property for filming – dwelling houses and other buildings, fields, woods, private cars and a lot of other requisites. The idea implemented on such wide scale brought closer the community. As soon as somebody was asked for help the person was ready to get involved in the filming process. It seemed so special that a video film can be made in our parish; that actors are people from among us. Everybody followed the filming process very carefully; some people even came to the film set to watch the shooting of separate episodes.

But we must confess that making a film as a means of enriching leisure opportunities (not as a separate Project) has several drawbacks and causes the following difficulties:

– It was difficult to arrange filming as the actors found it difficult to arrive for the shooting of an episode all at one particular time. If only a few actors are necessary for an episode it is easier of course but if there are more actors necessary (moreover – they are from different social layers) it is hard to find time to meet as each of the participants needs time for their work, social life, family events or solving health problems. This is why in most cases the choice of episodes to be filmed depends on the „actors” who can arrive for the filming. As the actors are not Professional episodes have to be shot several times due to mistakes made ( forgetting the text, mixing it up, making slips, choosing wrong gestures or facial expressions, etc.). Consequently filming takes more time as „actors” can meet only one to three times a week. Work on the film set lasts two to three hours. It cannot be more than that as all the participants have limited time resources and eventually their concentration ability decreases too;

– Problems with clothes and hairdos arise to the same above described conditions. As the events in the film take place within approximately one week external changes of the characters can be very slight. It was difficult to provide as the filming process took seven months. Therefore due to various circumstances changes in the outlook of the characters were unavoidable (clothing and shoes wear out or even tear up; hair grows, it is dyed or cut, etc.);

– Filming possibilities are greatly limited by the weather as well as the film is made in open air. The film takes place in summer, so early in spring or in autumn we could only film those episodes where there is no need to show the nature (interior scenes). But in summer we had to follow the weather forecasts to meet in the most favorable weather conditions;

– Finances is a problem too – how much each participant can afford to spend on the common benefit (getting to the film set, requisites, etc.);

– Due to the above mentioned problems we constantly needed to make some changes in the script. For example, somebody who has been casted for a role refuses to participate; some actor is ill for a long period of time or has gone somewhere on a trip; the necessary equipment breaks down or is not available for filming;

– There were some technical problems during the filming process too. A camcorder’s microphone provides total sound recording. It is not acceptable if a secondary episode is being filmed (even worse if it is a long-shot) and there is a need to record a dialogue. There is an air layer between the camcorder and the actors which significantly degrades the audio recording quality as the wind can be heard and other unexpected side noises and sounds. The unfavorable natural background dominates in several episodes. If a qualitative audio recording is necessary we need a special stereo microphone with condenser especially designed for this kind of recording or external hands-free microphones;

– We experienced difficulties with video montage. Because of the above mentioned difficulties and shooting at random as well as filming one and the same episode several times extensive video material has been made. First, this material has to be watched, estimated and successful episodes marked in compliance with the script. Secondly, the chosen material must be entered on the computer. The computer needs to have a 1 TB hard disc for storage and processing of the material. At the moment we do not have such a HDD so it will influence the montage time. It will have to be done in parts. After successful completion of separate parts they will be turned into a video film.

The solution of the above problems is in thorough, regular, patient and selfless work. It means an ongoing communication, coordination, arrangement, negotiation, flexibility and ability to make decisions quickly according to the situation. In order to have less problems main characters must be warned about the choice of clothing, bearing the min mind and keeping; about the need to keep to one and the same haircut during the filming process; about a possibility that private plans can have to be changed to go to the filming, etc. Practical problems like the weather, changes in funding or lack of it can be solved by introducing changes to the script, changing dialogues or filming conditions.

Children at the visual arts group had an opportunity to work with some non-traditional materials and means of expression acquiring new skills and abilities which could not have been done only during classes at school.

The sports group started its activities with board games tournaments. Taking into consideration community interests we purchased exercise units which are actively used by senior students and adults.

Schoolchildren in the computer group learned installation and removal of popular application software, OS installation and acquired practical abilities in working on the Internet. Intellectual computer games were also used at the computer classes.

Schoolchildren are willing to engage in the activities organized in the Schoolchildren and Youths Club and would like to continue creative activities in the interest groups.

One more of the Project activities are the Practice and Experience Exchange Club for Adults where all the community groups are represented. They have celebrated the Easter and the Midsummer Night – Latvian national celebrations – together which had been celebrated separately in every house with families and relatives for a long time in Ancene. It turned out that organizing and celebrating together the feelings are different. The following aspects can be mentioned:

– Refreshments – it was possible to spend time when meeting not sitting at a richly covered table but getting by with small treats brought by everyone;

– Arranging a place for an event, decorating it – the joint work created festive feelings. For example at the Easter ornamental gates of natural materials were made and people were happy to take photos at these gates. Participants themselves were eager to decorate rooms for the Midsummer Night – they brought field flowers and oak branches, made wreaths and get ready a Midsummer bonfire as well as decorated premises;

– Participation in a concert – a local women’s vocal ensemble „Atbalsis” („Echoes”) delighted everybody with songs. Active and attractive local ladies entered into the spirit of Easter bunnies, fox and hens’ roles wearing self-made masks. Pre-school children sang, danced and played games;
– Leading and getting involved into games and amusement – these activities during celebrations united people of various ages and they were not led only by the Project group but by local people themselves. Parents together with their children participated in family relays, felt up and cheered each other. The spirit of competition, unity and fun were consistent allies to everybody. The Recitation competition for men must also be mentioned. We saw so many attractive men in one place. It is fun to remember the Easter dancing and playing where the young were rejoicing together with the old;

– Charity – local people and entrepreneurs must be praised who let us use their private property for social events;

– An opportunity of being together – references and thanks testify that people enjoyed what they did; it was interesting and fun, they had an opportunity to dance, to be together with their children and get positive emotions;

– Ability to exit awkward situations – for example, while celebrating the Midsummer Night Līga is called to be congratulated but Jānis comes; a woman asks a man to dance but he declines. These awkward situations were solved delicately, with humor.

Difficulties we faced:

– The weather – several possibilities must be planned for a social event;

– The script for an event must be written by a working group;

– an event leader must be ready for unexpected situations where decisions have to be made immediately – clothing, mask or requisites must be found; the necessary person has to be found, etc.;

– The feeling of insecurity in people. They must be encouraged, supported and helped.

Local people were pleased about an opportunity to celebrate holidays together well-organized and meaningful. They expressed their wish to keep this as a tradition.

Other activities of the Club were mostly practical – sharing experience in gardening, cooking or handicraft.

Life-long Learning Club was attended by adults and schoolchildren. The themes for lectures were chosen according to the wishes people had expressed in a questionnaire. People could listen to both, theoretical and practical lectures. Summarizing the evaluation of the lectures we could see that they had been successfully chosen and people had liked them. The lectures have provided new information, encouraged to self-improvement; people have expressed a wish to continue this activity. It was not easy to coordinate time of them with lecturers and potential listeners. Lecturers often charged more for their lectures than we had planned within the Project framework and travelling expenses also exceeded our estimates.

Within the Project framework there is an Interactive Information Center. People in Ancene can Access the Internet (do internet banking, internet shopping, Exchange information and learn the news, etc.). Women and men, children and young people are willing to attend the Center; they acquire basic computer skills, set up e-mail addresses and write e-mails. People are responsive; sometimes we are even short of computers. It is really great that middle-aged people also want to learn to work on a computer. In summer and during the study year those schoolchildren who do not have computers and/or the internet Access at home come to the center. Those people who do not wish to work on a computer have a possibility to read magazines and newspapers which have been brought to the center by others.

During the Project implementation the role of the school and teachers, their abilities to work, cooperate and involve adults into the school and community culture life has increased considerably. The Project activities have helped to raise awareness of the variety of the school activities.

The Project was a great challenge for the local community; teachers, local entrepreneurs, children, young people, municipality workers and other groups of the community were interested in it. The Project activities were always aligned with the interests of local people. The Project implementation allowed solving problems, acquiring new skills and abilities, raise people’s self-awareness and reduce depression.

An Opportunity of Spending Free Time Meaningfully for Local People at the Leisure Center „Upmala”

Viktorija Roščupkina, Project manager

Since 9 November, 2009 Dagda region Bērziņi parish Porečje village inhabitants have had their own Leisure Center „Upmala” in the place of Upmala Elementary School which has been developed with the support of the Soros Foundation – Latvia. Before that, compiling statistics for 1 August, 2009 we saw that in 2009/2010 only 26 schoolchildren are expected to attend Upmala Elementary School. In compliance with the new funding model further existence of the school was impossible. Therefore Dagda Regional Municipality decided to close Upmala Elementary School on 31 August, 2009.

The school building remained empty and unoccupied; teachers became unemployed; schoolchildren had to think what to do and where to study. Parents were worried about their children; how they would be able to adapt to their new schools. On seeing the growing tension in the community the school management had an idea to transform Upmala Elementary School into a Leisure Center where local children and young people, as well as their parents could get involved in various activities, as the school had always been a place where life had been vibrating. Even after the closure of the school children’s parents had addressed the Bērziņi parish administration and asked to restore the interest group activities so that children could spend their free time, realize their interests, acquire new skills, find like-minded and support others in this difficult transition period. Since the opening of the Leisure Center „Upmala” various events and classes have been taking place in it. Children, young people and adults are invited to them. The offer is very versatile and it is based on the review of the needs and wishes of the local community. We offer interest education classes to children and young people (sports, studies of local history) and public internet Access point. In their turn all the adults have an opportunity to learn on life-long learning programs – computer courses and the English language on beginner’s level. Families with children have Access to psychologist’s and speech therapist’s consultations; a playroom is also available for children.

From December, 2009 to May, 2010 psychologist’s consultations were offered twice a week to schoolchildren in our Center. These were with the aim of more successful adaptation in Ezernieki High School. A positive moment was the fact that all the schoolchildren went to a new school simultaneously, so they were not parted from their friends. At the very start of her work the psychologist did a survey „How do you feel in your new school?” to find out the feelings in that new environment and obtain information about the most topical problems schoolchildren are having. 13 schoolchildren attending the Leisure Center „Upmala” (Grades 2 to 9) participated in the survey. From their answers it could be seen that most schoolchildren had successfully adapted to the new educational establishment (68%), but quite a considerable part of responders answered they felt insecure and miserable. All the children judged the relationships with teachers as positive, sincere, good. Evaluating mutual relationships in the class 72% of the children also admitted they had good relations with their classmates. Anxiety and tension in schoolchildren is often caused by the assessment and teachers’ remarks. Almost half of the responders admitted they did not experience any fear at school. However they mentioned name-calling, beating and threat from the others as negative factors.

From the results obtained the psychologist made a conclusion that social stress is characteristic of the schoolchildren – emotions which they experience when they are trying to fit in social environment (present themselves in a peers’ group, take up a certain place, be positively evaluated); fear of tests which are an integral part of school life. To help the children the psychologist used variety of methods in her work: elements of fairy-tales’ therapy, games, visualization, art therapy, role playing, group discussions, modeling and analyzing problematic situations, associative methodology. These activities aroused interest in children; some of the schoolchildren had individual consultations with the psychologist. Adults were also interested in psychological support; they attended both individual and group consultations. If the psychologist continues her work, we are sure the number of her visitors is going to increase.

The Center has a good material and technical base that was left over from the former Upmala Elementary School – renovated and equipped facilities with a local wood heating. In 2008 internet access for the needs of schoolchildren and teachers has been established in the computer class on the European Social Funding. When closing the school the internet access was suspended. We are happy that thanks to the SFL financing two new computers were purchased for the needs of the Leisure center and a public internet access point with all the necessary equipment continues to operate. It provided free of charge printing and copying services to the local community. Nowadays the internet and a computer are of great help in everyday work, studies and they help to broaden the horizons of everybody.

Within the Project framework 22 local people of different age acquired basic computer skills. We had not expected such an interest in the activities of the new Center. Computer classes brought about understanding on the opportunities offered by information Technologies and practical experience was provided. The courses were attended by people from various age groups; mostly they were farmers who need computer skills to prepare their reports, make payments, get the latest news, learn about the latest regulations and laws in the legislation and communicate with their friends. There were some participants on the course who put their hand on the computer mouse for the first time. The courses provided an opportunity to meet others, exchange experience, acquire new knowledge and learn to use the internet. Thanks to the teacher Olga Brenča the participants acquired computer skills, passed a test and received a certificate. A wish to continue the studies and learn more about computers was expressed in the end of the course. Evaluating the computer courses participants accredited that the courses had been on a high level, the organization was good too; the time suited everybody as the participants were divided into three groups taking into account their real possibilities to attend the classes.

Only positive references and wishes were heard about the computer courses. People wished not only to continue computer studies but not to interrupt the activities in the Leisure Center in general after the end of the Project. „Our community needs such center very much. It would be great if it could exist further on,” one of the questionnaires filled in by the participants said.

One of the rooms in the Center is arranged as a playroom with a variety of developing games. It is very popular with young mothers and their children. Parents can leave their small ones here and children are looked after every day except on Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A very efficient and responsive teacher Irēna Čapkeviča looks after each child and helps to acquire different skills paying individual attention to him or her. Children have possibilities to play, as well as to draw, make greeting cards and ornaments for various celebrations. They usually do it with great pleasure and interest. As the teacher is a pre-school and home economics teacher children are not afraid to come to her to ask for some advice or help when doing different things, for example, knitting or crocheting, etc.

We are happy to provide sporty active environment to our community. With the support of the Soros Foundation – Latvia we have purchased a Novus table, a tennis table and ten pairs of skis. Children, young people and adults of our parish are happy to do winter sports and this year we have already made a conclusion which activities are more popular in winter and which – in summer. In summer when days are long and schoolchildren have their school holidays outdoor activities are especially popular. In the yard of the Leisure Center „Upmala” a volleyball court was set up and it was actively used by young people. Players formed teams where everybody was equal – both children and adults. To widen the range of sports activities the leader of the sports group Jevgēnijs Igaunis offered to organize football games too; a lot of local people participated in those. In the beginning of August a youth team from our parish participated in Dagda region Olympics.

In cold winter evenings everybody loves to be inside, in the warmth. Table tennis, Novus and backgammon are popular then. A lot of people wish to do some sport in winter. Some of them know only a particular game, but learnt the other games from other participants and the sports group leader. All winter long the participants of the sports group played their favorite games and then in spring they could compete in a tournament. Table tennis tournament was organized for all the age groups – from children to adults. But only schoolchildren dared to demonstrate their backgammon skills.

Within the Project framework we offered to learn the English language at the Center. It was interesting how the teacher created the first impression about the language with the help of various creative activities and helped the participants of the course to master a variety of everyday English topics. The teacher, formerly a teacher at Upmala Elementary School Jevgēnijs Igaunis is very skilful and has a great experience in teaching. It was highly evaluated by the participants too who were very thankful for the opportunity to learn something new and enrich their knowledge. There were not too many participants on this course, but those who came really wanted to learn the language.

There is also a local history club in the Leisure Center „Upamala”. The aim of this club is to gather as much materials as possible on the school, the parish, its population, and the sights in the parish and the culture life in it. The club is actively attended by the former students at Upmala Elementary School and their parents. They get involved into various activities, help to organize exhibitions and gather materials for them. With the help of former students, their parents and teachers an exposition „Drawings by Former Upamala Elementary Schoolchildren” has been established. Drawings created by schoolchildren within many recent years were collected and sorted for this exposition.

An exposition „”Study Materials” has been set up in the local history club. There are plenty of books on the shelves which can still be used for studying. Participants of the club are making an album „Our School Leavers” where they collect photos with schoolchildren and class teachers. Even photos of those who left our school in the 50s of the previous century can be seen in this album. The participants wanted to get to know more about life in our parish within a longer period of time. Collecting materials they were able to organize an exhibition „Our Parish Inhabitants in the News”. The exhibition shows articles from newspapers about local farmers and their farms, as well as about other inhabitants of our parish.

Local people were very supportive to the initiative of the Parish librarian Olga Brenča who voluntary organized a paper folding interest group „Origami” in the Leisure Center in December, 2009. 13 adults and schoolchildren attended the first class. There were also retired people among the participants. The interest group was active through all the winter until farm work was to be started. Participants of this group made various interesting works in versatile techniques which were later exhibited in Bērziņi People’s Center, Asūne People’s Center, Krāslava People’s Center and in Robežnieki, Krāslava region. The youngest participants of the group participated with their pieces of work at a Book Festival in Krāslava.

Children and young people in the parish are very responsive, active, curios; they get involved in various events and spend their free time actively. On 29 December, 2009 we had the first big event – a Christmas celebration in the cozy premises of the Leisure Center „Upmala” which was organized for pre-school children together with Bērziņi parish territorial administration. There are only seven children at the pre-school age in the parish. Supported by the Bērziņi parish administration the Santa gave all the children small, but lovely presents. The children and their parents were very happy. Surely the celebration did not do without poems dedicated to the Santa, songs sung together and games.

At the time when short winter days are becoming longer, when the weather starts to change for warmer and more spring-like, the Latvians celebrate Meteņi# – seven weeks before the Easter, at the time when the Fasting starts for Catholics. It is important in spring to ensure the harvest of the next year with the help of various magic, fertility raising rituals. A pre-condition of good harvest at Meteņi is sledging. So we had a lively celebration of Meteņi at our Center too. Big and small ones, old and young ones were gathered. As Meteņi is celebrated before the fasting the table is richly covered in food. It was possible thanks to our sponsor – a local Alla Kalnače. There was abundance of pies and pancakes at Meteņi.

On 29 September when the Latvians celebrate Miķeļi# we organized an exhibition of autumn flowers and vegetables in the Center. The response was great. Adults and children participated in the celebration. The compositions exhibited were fantastic!

On 9 August, 2010 foundations were laid for cooperation with Rīga Catholic Gymnasium. Pilgrims from Rīga Catholic Gymnasium who went to the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Ascension Day at Aglona Basilica visited the Center and stayed here overnight.

Within the framework of the Project „Change Opportunities for Schools” preparing for the Summer School all the Project participants had to do homework – write an essay „What does Latvia mean for me and what can I give to it?” To do this homework we questioned inhabitants of different age groups in our parish. Children, young people and adults from Bērziņi parish in Dagda region expressed their ideas about Latvia, their native country where their ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. Answers were quite similar: „Latvia is beautiful; it has beautiful nature, culture and traditions. Latvia is a place where my heart and soul belongs, where my family and friends live, a place where always return to. Latvia is associated with oak trees that are symbols of power, strength and mightiness.” Children and young people acknowledge that they will do everything to help the Latvians live dignified and decent lives. „We give our love to Latvia; we offer our working hand to it. We are for a clean and tidy country!”

During the Project implementation overall mood of the rural community was improved in Bērziņi parish. The Center became an active gathering point for the local community, a place for searching innovative solutions in education, employment and social sphere on a little developed border area. After the end of the Project Dagda regional municipality will continue supporting the „Family Center” on the pre-course of the Leisure Center „Upmala”. The opening of the Family Center for further activities is very important not only for the community of our parish or region, but also for the whole Latvia as such centers can dissociate young people from the impact of ill-disposed environment – youth is our future! Involvement of family members into the activities of the center helps parents to understand their children better and find the right way in their upbringing. When parents are involved into social processes together with their children correlation between children and parents is strengthened, trust is built between parents and children which is a key to successful solution of problems.

To reduce the risk of exclusion in the country the team of the Leisure Center established an NGO „For the Future” on 5 May, 2010 with the aim to create favorable conditions for families with children, for the personality development of children and youth of various social groups supporting their initiatives and promoting young people’s participation in public processes on local, national and international levels. We submitted a Project „To School Together with a Family” to the Community Initiative Fund. Dagda regional municipality supported our initiative and decided to provide co-funding. In cooperation with Dagada regional municipality a Project application for an activity within the LEADER program „Developing New Natural and Cultural Attractions and the Arrangement of the Existing Objects for the Purpose of Diversifying the Public Activities of the Local Population” is being prepared. Activities within the framework of Latvia and Switzerland Cooperation Program have been supported as a result of which office premises for „Nākotne” are going to be renovated, furnished and equipped with a computer and a multi-functional device. The Society „Nākotne” in Bērziņi parish takes part in Project competitions, raise the community awareness with the help of the media, actively participate in social events and help to organize the min the parish, as well as cooperate with local entrepreneurs and children and youth in the parish.

Good Addiction

Zanda Spuļģīte, Ināra Uzulēna, Turlava Project team

The Soros Foundation Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” is the greatest Project Turlava Elementary School has got involved in up to now. It is a serious test for what the whole school can accomplish, what is possible for the Project group and the local people. It is especially so due to the biggest event of the Project „Kurši Ķoniņi# Day”.
The idea originated already when writing the Project application; this event was expected to become a kind of a common denominator for the whole first part. It would show what we have all together succeeded in. The activities planned for the Project and now almost completed were directed to implementing the values which, to our minds could be interesting not only for schoolchildren and teachers, but also for all the local community – wisdom training for the big and small ones (White Teaching for primary schoolchildren), the history of our parish within the region, acquiring sewing and handicrafts skills which finally manifested themselves in costumes for children’s folklore group „Ābelīte” and small folk dancers.
For both, the Project team and the whole Turlava Elementary School staff the event turned out to be a real exam. During the whole year the Day was being prepared and put together like small pieces of a huge puzzle and glory was brought to the historic phenomenon of Kurzeme – kuršu ķoniņi – historically they can be considered Latvian professional soldiers in the Medieval Times; the Livonian Order maintained privileged positions and freedom for them in exchange for fighting on behalf of the Order and performing messengers’ duties.
When the information on the event was spread people who were willing to take part in this event, found ourselves and offered their help. To raise more money we prepared project applications for the State Culture Capital Foundation and Kuldīga Regional Municipality. Unfortunately we were supported only by the latter.
Kurši Ķoniņi Day grew into a real feast for our guests – ancestors of kuršu ķoniņi who had come from far and near, scientists and people who were interested in this issue – and us. The event started with a service at Lipaiķi Church, exhibitions (Kuldīga region unique materials – we were the first who saw restored 13th century feudal books. There were also collections of historical and folklore expeditions, the school and local people as well as works of local needlewomen) and historical readings at school. The readings were opened by the manager of Kurzeme Cultural Heritage Center „Kūrava”, who spoke about folklore’s contribution to exploration of local history. All the readings were very interesting but the audience was especially fond of Kaspars Kļaviņš, a history professor and a researcher of medieval travel descriptions who spoke about ķoniņi in the literary context of the Flemish traveler Gilbert de Lanús and historical correlations in Europe. A self-determination rights issue caused a discussion but Professor Janīna Kursīte put an end to it by saying: „Nude but ķoniņš.”
Seriousness was followed by fun – a village fair full of joy and rural goods.
We are really proud of our product – „Ķoniņi Tea”. This is a specialty of ours – during summer camps participants were investigating and collecting herbal teas. An expert in teas went to meadows together with big and small ones, taught them to know the herbs and prepare them for teas but at the same time in a sewing workshop special tea bags were sewn and painted. The beautifully packed tea became a unique souvenir of the event. Now the teas are in every home in Turlava as everybody wants to show off and stand out, treat a neighbor or a friend. And what can be better than hot tea in cold winter evenings, especially if it has been gathered with one’s hands?
The unifying factor of the entire fair was a play about kurši ķoniņi which was based on adventures of a history professor and his light-minded student. A legend on kurši ķoniņi which is taken for truth by the student does not appeal to the professor. In his opinion facts must be sought in documents and papers. Listening to their conversation the audience learns a lot of facts about kuršu ķoniņi. To find ķoniņi still alive, the two go to a pub where they meet and question villagers who are said to be the ancestors of kuršu ķoniņi.
In the end of the fair children and story tellers told ghost-stories but the most active participants gathered for a Messengers’ Race during which the participants had to do various tasks.
To let the audience get to know the villages of that time we had organized an excursion and a guide to Pliķi, Kalējciems, Ziemeļciems and Koniņciems.
In the evening we proceeded with serious conversations at Turlava parish administration. Each guest wrote his or her name on a list of paper which had been prepared before with farm names as they used to be in 1929. Ancestors of ķoniņi looked for their family roots but we got data about them for this day. We must keep in touch with these people in the future and we hope this would be the beginning of a wonderful tradition.
When the night set in a concert started on the open stage of Dižgaiļi Park. „Kūrava” folks were joined by kuršu ķoniņš ancestor Ilmārs Mežs’ family. They sang songs but after the concert everybody could dance at a real open-air dance party accompanied by Kazdanga brass band.
In the end of the event the Project team also understood that it had been a success. To prepare and organize such a large-scale event a lot of work had to be done. It would not have been possible without the help of local people and the parish administration, without our partners’ cooperation and the interest on behalf of the ancestors of kurši ķoniņi and scientists.
We hope we have motivated local people not only to investigate the3 history of kuršu ķoniņi but also learn the life story of each family in Turlava by these activities. Seeing the great interest of both, local people and guests we understood that the history of one’s family and the place where one belongs to is important to people but in everyday run they tend not to notice these things, forget about traditions their grandparents have valued. And it turned it was good there were people who tried to remind of these traditions, to revive and honor them. We, the Project team were really pleased about the interest in historical readings and we were happy that the idea gets implemented on a wider scale – this autumn Kuldīga Museum organized historical readings about the Duke Jēkabs where the lecturers found by us, Kaspars Kļaviņš and Janīna Kursīte will take part.
While writing the Project application we planned and later implemented activities for the joy and pleasure – collecting herbal teas, tips on healthy diet, lazy exercise Chi gun and active sports for all the age groups making use of the school sports hall and exercise units.
Listening to the local people the range of duties for the school psychologist was also expanded with regard to adults and solutions of their problems. But the skills and knowledge acquired during floristic classes allow each of us to make our homes prettier and more pleasant to look at with minimum resources. Unexpectedly high success, even among boys had the weaving workshop. A lot of mothers got colorful carpets as a present for the Mother’s Day.
To promote communication skills among local people and to raise their competitiveness in the labor market we planned computer and language courses. It was necessary to organize two groups for the English language courses and the computer courses were the best attended activity. The work of our school teachers has been positively influenced by the course on implementation critical thinking principles into lessons and newly purchased computers and computer skills.
The autumn, 2010 came unexpectedly fast. The last stage of the Project has started. Some corrections have been introduced into our plans due to reductions in funding for special purpose grants to teachers – trying to do without joining classes we nearly had to give up the speech therapist and psychologist in our school as well as some ideas in interest education. This is why the support staff is being financed from the Project funding; children are provided with classes in folk dance, weaving and IT interest groups. Within the Project framework we have started developing the school’s web page which will be mostly maintained by the students’ self-government. In the autumn big and small ones will have an opportunity to do sports, to acquire new skills in handicraft, floristic, English and computers. Gardening and bead working have joined the list of activities. These, alongside with loom or rake knitting could become a matter of fashion (during the handicraft classes women in Turlava learned rake knitting; it did not require much resources, only rake and yarn were necessary. However, what shawls everyone could make! If necessary a present could be made in a few hours, and we were happy to learn that the neighboring parishes get inspired from our activities and now everywhere in the neighborhood women are rake-knitting as well).
It may seem that there is nothing special if a person comes out of his or her home and makes oneself thoroughly at home in the community but we know it can mean so much. We are glad for every single work in floristic the inspiration for which has come from the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project group as only when seeing something like that we can understand how important our work is. It is wonderful to see mothers together with their daughters making bijouterie, matching them to their apparel and sharing their experience with others. It must be noted the experience is not only about clothes and bijouterie. This is a matter of being together and feeling a friend’s shoulder which is so important for us at the difficult time we live in.
If in the beginning people were coming to classes with a question „What is going to happen there?” now they are coming with a question „when will it happen?” Of course, if people would have to pay for all these activities most probably they would Choose to buy bread or pay their bills as there are very few job opportunities in Turlava. There are also good examples – people motivate themselves and their small dreams become true. For example, a girl wanted to do bead work so much but beads and other equipment for bead work are expensive so she went to the wood, picked up cranberries and sold them. So she reached her goal and now she is attending classes in bead work.
During the implementation of the Project „School of Buoyancy” we, the entire team felt how kind and ready to help people are. You must speak to one, two three… and the fourth one will find you. There must be a good team first who can gather around it those who wish to get involved. In the beginning people look with caution and suspicion on everything new; they wait to see what their neighbors or friends are going to do. People get used to everything new, as well as the fact that things can happen only when everybody is involved slowly, little by little. But then it becomes a good addiction. Just like us, the Project team who have become addicted, we have so many good ideas for implementation of which we are looking for funding now – in sports, developing a cycling route and integration into the regional tourism business. And Turlava Elementary School and its schoolchildren are present in all these plans.
We are happy to see that people at old age come to the classes and young people can get double experience – both, by doing the courses and listening to the elderly people wisdom. We hope we have created a desire to express one and study more and more. Who can imagine a better addiction than going to school in the evenings?

Improving Meaningful Leisure Time Opportunities for Local Community

Andris Punculis, Gārsene Elementary School Project director

The project supported by the SFL is coming to an end, so it is time to summarize our results, achievements, challenges and experience gained within the Project, therefore my article is going to be very practical and maybe can be of some use to others when working on various projects.

Every project starts with a hope and ideas that we might participate in it too. When I found out about this particular project I shared my ideas with colleagues and got encouraging support to go ahead. It made me think of the answers to the following questions:

  1. What should I start with?
  2. Why do we want to participate?
  3. What the main directions of the project will be?
  4. Who will implement the project?
  5. Who will support the project?
  6. What the outcomes and achievements of the project will be?
  7. What is the potential sustainability of the project?

 

To my mind the most difficult and time consuming part of any project is its development and preparing for submission, therefore I would like to share my experience of this. Although the SFL project is a grant project and no co financing is necessary first of all I informed Aknīste regional municipality about the project. Understanding the difficult situation small rural schools were in and seeing perspectives of small school survival in the SFL project the municipality provided unequivocal support to us. Only after that work on project development could start. Certainly one person can have a lot of great ideas but to develop this kind of quite big projects a good team must be organized first. I must confess that personally I did not have any experience with such huge projects. The core of the team consisted of teachers, parish administration manager and the manager of the Culture House; later potential leaders of activities were attracted to the project. As I have already mentioned we asked the regional municipality for advice and suggestions. The project team already during the first meetings tried to formulate an answer to a seemingly simple question – why do we need it and what benefits will the project bring to the school and Gārsene community? This was why we analyzed the local situation after the forced implementation of the Administrative and territorial reform. We made a conclusion that our parish has its traditions and peculiarities.

The most vivid peculiarity of Gārsene Parish is the location of Aknīste Mental Hospital in its territory. There are about 400 patients and 250 people operating staff. The patients are very different but part of them could participate in the community social life. The staff also would have an opportunity to spend their free time and improve themselves. Gārsene parish has traditionally been famous for its good order and has been accredited the best kept parish in Jēkabpils district, as well as has gained recognition at Zemgale regional shows of parishes. Pleasant and well attended nature tourism trails have been developed with local people and Gārsene Elementary School students’ efforts. A major contribution in developing the trails has been given by senior schoolboys who worked on setting up places for recreation and carved wooden signs and object names. Their professional should be developed and a possibility to acquire wood working and metal working skills should be given to other people too (the unemployed, young people in the parish, patients at Aknīste Mental Hospital). Gārsene Elementary School is famous for its amateur and sports traditions and has always been a culture, sports and social life center in the parish. Close cooperation with Catholic and Lutheran pastors must be mentioned. Talented and experienced teachers work at the school. The teachers are culture, sport and tourism leaders in the parish therefore they can give their contribution to the implementation of the project. Due to demographic crisis the number of students at the school has fallen dramatically. In 2009/2010 57 students attended our school but in 1999 there were 102 students there. Unfortunately projections showed that in 2010/2011 the number could decrease to less than 50 students. Due to the educational reform principle „money follows a student” the funding for the school had catastrophically decreased both for teachers’ remuneration and amateur, sports, technical innovation and other interest groups. Due to the administrative and territorial reform the parish had become a remote part of the region; public facilities have moved away (Social service, Custody Court, etc.). Children and the whole community are pessimistic. We decided that school premises, including sports, home economics and IT classes could be widely used for schoolchildren extra activities and for drawing in the whole community in education, social needs, sport, amateur and other activities. Making use of the opportunities provided by the SFL project and improving resources for the needs of home economics, sports, IT and culture Gārsene Elementary School could become a multi-functional education, culture and social support center.

Having made these conclusions and estimated the real situation in the parish we faced the first difficulties and a question aroused – will schoolchildren and local inhabitants want to make use of the opportunities provided by the SFL project and what activities are they interested in? Theoretically we could plan even classes in ballet or space research! As there was little time for project development we did not have time to do proper polling of the community. So we made use of the advantages a school has – we sent questionnaires to our schoolchildren’s parents and very soon got their answers with ideas and suggestions. It was not a problem of course, to investigate the needs and wishes of our schoolchildren. We also met the management and staff of Aknīste Mental Hospital and investigated their interests. It was easier to get to know the community opinion because the manager of the local culture house was in the project team and we were supported by the parish administration. As our parish is small and we know each other quite well we simply met or called local inhabitants. The Pensioners’ Council and the Regional Social Service expressed their ideas too.

After reviewing the real situation and the community interests we could formulate the aim and objectives of the project. So, we decided that the aim of the project is transforming Gārsene Elementary School into a multi-functional education, culture and social support center. We saw expanding and updating the school facilities in order to meet the main aim, ensuring that needs and interests of various inhabitants’ groups are met and maintaining the school and teachers’ potential in order to provide qualitative education and harmonious development of children in Gārsene parish as basic objectives of the project.

After setting the aims and objectives the project team divided responsibilities – the vice project director undertook the difficult task of fixed assets and inventory procurement planning, others worked on planning a summer camp for children. All together we discussed and made decisions about potential leaders of project activities who immediately would become members of the project team. I personally met the potential leaders and we were happy – everyone addressed (even those people who do not work in the school) were full of enthusiasm to participate in the project and soon after they already were giving their viewpoints and proposing activity programs.

Writing a project application after all these preliminary actions was just a technical job the most difficult part of which was drawing up the budget estimates. In order to draw up a fixed assets and inventory procurement estimate the vice project director investigated offers on the internet, went to biggest shops and warehouses in Jēkabpils and Daugavpils as well as made use of his own experience with sports, home economics and IT inventory. The project director used his experience with music inventory. In their turn activity leaders, investigating the real situation submitted lists of their inventory, stationery, tools etc. needs.

Developing the project the team asked a question – what the project outcomes and the project sustainability are. To find answers to these questions we looked for help at the regional administration. We must thank the Mayor of the Regional Council I. Ielejs. Together with him we tried to predict and play the possible options for the continuation of the project. Of course, we understood that very much depends on the financial situation in the country and region, but the support to the project sustainability was unequivocal. We expected that the activities started within the project framework after the end of the project could be partially financed by the municipality, potential sponsors as well as participants could co finance them themselves. Our trump is the fact that the school is situated in Gārsene Palace therefore its maintenance is a concern of the whole region.

The message about nomination of our project for the second round and later about the project approval brought happiness and enthusiasm. Before starting the project implementation we had to address a number of practical issues: planning and adjusting the timetable, arranging activities and participants’ recruiting, organizing classes and getting feedback from participants, recording the project activities, publicity issues, compliance with legal norms when recruiting activity leaders and adding facilities (purchasing fixed assets, inventory, stationery, etc.), etc.

As the emphasis is on improving meaningful leisure time opportunities in the local community the main task was to organize various classes. We met all the activity leaders and class teachers once more and together with them planned class times. As some classes are held in the Culture House which has been adapted for the needs of sports activities too, the timetable had to be coordinated with the manager of the Culture House. Afterwards we showed the possible timetable to local people. Once more the school advantages were made use of and we sent invitations and timetables through our schoolchildren to their parents. We also placed notices on information panels (they can be found in all the settlements in our parish). We spoke to people and invited them to classes whenever we met anyone, and called them to tell about the opportunities. Activity leaders were actively involved in recruiting their „teams”. We made use of the local newspaper „Aknīstes Vēstis” and the regional newspaper „Brīvā Daugava”. Surely the social network „draugiem.lv” helped too. We had some difficulties as well. Interests of workers had to be considered so most of the classes were planned after work or in the evening. The most active local people started attending classes in 3 – 5 interest groups; thus the first week passes in trying to coordinate the timetable and solve other organizational issues. Taking into consideration the interests and the number of participants we changed the specifics of classes. As a result starting from the first week we could offer the following activities and groups which were very soon full.

Class, Interest Group Time Leader Number of Participants
Computer Basics Monday   15.00–19.00 L. Mažeika 20
Christian Values Group Tuesday     16.00–19.00 A. Lenšs 11
Vocal and instrumental ensemble (schoolchildren) Tuesday      15.00–16.30 A. Punculis 7
Vocal and instrumental ensemble Tuesday      18.00–21.00 A. Punculis 8
Volleyball Tuesday      17.00–18.30 P. Stalidzāns 15
Floor ball Wednesday    17.00–18.30 P. Stalidzāns 17
Communication Psychology Wednesday    16.00–18.00 Dz. Vanaga 24
Home Economics for Young Women Thursday   15.00–17.00 J. Krasovska 16
Conversational English Thursday   18.00–20.00 I. Ķiķēna 19
Sports group (fitness) Thursday   16.00–18.00 G. Geida 8
Wood Working and Metal Working Basis Friday     16.00–19.30 G. Geida 7
Youth Dance Group Friday     15.00–17.00 M. Caunīte 9
Physiotherapy Friday     18.00–20.00 I. Vārna 16
Total 177

Group leaders started the classes in compliance with the programs and arranged a class register. We held a view that feedback is very important. After each class participants did some evaluation work (gave marks, drew pictograms, etc.). The project managers met participants during classes and at other times daily. Thus we could take into account recommendations of the participants (ex. on classroom times, separate topics, etc.). We also asked the participants to give more detailed evaluation after the first semester.

We also started making a project portfolio – classes and the summer camp were photographed. A description of the summer camp was written and a video material made. Children and their parents were present at the camp closing. Materials on the project are available at Gārsene Elementary School at any time. There are only positive references on all the classes. Communication psychology, computer basics, physiotherapy and others were especially popular with the participants. However the specifics of rural life must be taken into consideration and during farm work periods in spring and autumn attendance decreased. At the request of the participants and taking into account the specificities of the school we suspended most classes during summer but in autumn we increased the number of classes.

    During the project implementation we continued work on the project publicity and promotion through regional press, arranging meetings with local community and individuals, etc. We regularly informed Aknīste District Municipal Education and Culture Committee and the District Council about the project. The full scale support from the municipality must be mentioned. Good cooperation was promoted by the fact that the project director and vice director both are members of the district local government. We also have a possibility to promote the SFL project to thousands of people (and we make use of this opportunity) as Gārsene Tourist Information Center is situated in Gārsene Elementary School.
This year Gārsene palace participates in the campaign „Visit Castles and Manors”. All the multiple visitors surely are interested in the fate of our school, and we had an opportunity to tell everybody about the project and its significance as the tourist guides and the TIC manager are members of the project team.
Lack of experience on our part caused a situation in the beginning of the project that we did not know how to legally provide correct pay for activity and course leaders. We consulted the district municipality, the State Revenue Service and lawyers. It was possible to conclude an agreement on the employment contract for additional duties with teachers of Gārsene Elementary School. Terminated employment contracts for particular duties were concluded with others.

The second direction was restoring and improving material resources. In January and February we already started purchasing fixed assets. We faced difficulties because of lack of experience and procurement regulations. During procurement process we complied with the project contract requirements. Luckily the internet made the procurement easier, as we could investigate the most advantageous deals and coordinate purchases with the SFL. Taking into account price differences, planning the budget and choosing really most advantageous offers we could save money and purchase more or more useful fixed assets. Comfortable IT and home economics classrooms, fitness hall, musical instruments etc. are indicative of the project sustainability.

Although the project is still continuing we have tried to answer a question – what we have achieved.

Certainly it is raised community activity in our parish. The project team was surprised at the great number of participants at various classes. We even had to organize three groups for IT classes and classrooms became too confined for communication psychology classes. Classes and interest groups are attended by local people from very different age groups. So grannies together with their granddaughters do needlework at handicraft classes; the school team competes with local „seniors” in floor ball and volleyball. We have achieved also tangible and visible results – participants of the handicraft group took part in a regional exhibition with their works; the dance group delighted people while participating at various concerts; just an ill luck did not let our volleyball players achieve higher results in „Lāse” Cup Tournament; the vocal and instrumental ensemble has performed at several parties; the school team has got the first prize in the Landlords’ Tournament organized by the Association of Latvia’s Castles, Palaces and Manors, etc. It can be seen in the timetable that there are several activities every day and the light at Gārsene Castle and Culture House does not go out until late at night. The school has become „the headquarters” of activities in Gārsene where all the parish events are planned and organized. As an example the regional Olympic Games can be mentioned where 12 teams took part. A lot of young inhabitants at Gārsene are thankful for the project activities. It was planned to accommodate 15 children for 15 days at the summer camp. But already during the planning process we decided that we were going to include a larger number of children, first of all from families with low income and those subject to social risks, therefore we decided to organize two shorter camps. The lists of participants were coordinated with the regional social service and as a result 30 children (most of them schoolchildren) spent a wonderful week and more at the camps. Of course, the biggest achievement of the project is the very fact of maintaining the school and the teachers there. The schools participating in the projects financed by the SFL both in former Jēkabpils region and Aknīste district are perceived quite differently. If last summer we still feared for the existence of small schools, this summer there was no mention of such an issue.

Another important question was – what the project sustainability was.

The project team concluded that even after the project end activities in local community would certainly continue. In September and October we did the participants’ poll. When asked if they were ready to partially finance the organization of classes in the future 95% answered affirming. Consequently, we have managed to come to an agreement with the regional municipality that, when planning the budget for 2011 funding several activities will be included in it. Several interest groups and their leaders are ready to proceed with their activities without any remuneration; the municipality and the school could provide premises (electricity, heating, etc.). The project sustainability will be promoted by the resources purchased within the project framework. If not for the Soros Foundation – Latvia, the school would not have been able to purchase them. The experience gained by the project team who worked on and managed such a big project for the first time, must be also mentioned as a positive outcome of the project. The team gained experience not only from their activities. As out of the three schools in our region Asare Secondary school also participates in the project, we can help each other very much. We communicate or even meet almost every week; it helps to manage the project work. Thanks to the internet site www.parmainuskolas.lv we learned about other projects, could make use of other schools experience and ideas.
Approaching the project end we can see some drawbacks and ideas for new projects in the future. Possibly we dispersed the activities too much, as 13 different ones maybe were too many for our small parish (there are 680 permanent inhabitants in our parish), as the most active local people who participate in 3 – 5 interest groups are too busy and they had to quit some of them. To organize social life of the community a larger team should have been arranged who could regularly plan the activities in the parish in the form of discussions, brain storming, forums or some other way. It could help to eliminate the „peripheral syndrome” and further activate the social life in our parish. Classes in project writing would be very useful as that way we could help farmers, cultural workers, teachers, etc. Our experience shows that the specifics of rural life must be taken into account more thoroughly.
Here are some conclusions on the project made by the participants.
Uldis (a participant of vocal and instrumental ensemble, 44): „Great. A dream of mine I have had for so many years has come true. I have been able to come together with others and play an instrument in the evenings. I wanted to start a long time ago, but the project came in the right time and served as a jerk to start doing things. The main thing now – I must not stop!”
Regīna (physiotherapist, 56): „I am full of positive emotions. It was a great opportunity to devote the time to myself. We had a very nice teacher – helpful, young and pleasant. A very good young teacher; it was a pleasure to work under her guidance. We must continue what we have started by all means!”
Lūcija (communication psychology, 38): „I came to the classes with great pleasure. I could go on with them, and they would never be too much for me. I can apply my knowledge at work; it helps me to understand various situations, communication with my colleagues, patients and family members better. I will be looking forward to the continuation.”
On the whole the project testified:

– The community is interested and supports the project activities; local people wish to proceed with the activities;

– The renovated and improved material and technical base is indicative of the project sustainability;

– The project is supported by the regional municipality and the parish administration;

– When planning activities the community interests and rural specifics must be taken into consideration;

– Projects must be flexible (both, with reference to the use of resources and activities);

– The project has helped to maintain the school and the teaching staff;

– The school is being transformed into a multicultural local community center.

Providing Social Support to the Community in Sabile

Veneranda Iskrova, Anda Štoka
Last year Sabile High School applied for the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project competition „Change Opportunities for Schools”. All the schools of Latvia could apply for this Project. In Talsi region 13 educational establishments applied for the Project.

When we got information about a possibility to write an application for the SFL Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” we organized a team and started planning what activities the school could offer to inhabitants of Sabile town and Abava parish. Before we had a situation that only schoolchildren attended the school but local inhabitants except for those whose children studied at the school very seldom came round and into the school.

We organized a small competition for the Project title but it was clear that our main target group would be families, retired people and Roma young mothers. Thus the name for the Project was decided „Sabile Town and Abava Parish Family Support Center „Sirdspuksti” („Heartbeat”). The Project team was lucky because while planning the Project activities the role of leaders was undertaken by lecturers Linda Meiere, Zinta Linde and Anda Štoka.

After withstanding the first selection round with our Project „Sabile Town and Abava Parish Family Support Center „Sirdspuksti” („Heartbeat”) we were chosen to participate in the second selection round. We are among those 53 winners whose projects were confirmed for implementation from 151 projects proposed for the second stage. It must be noted that our idea about kind of seminars for Sabile town and Abava parish communities was the only Project from Talsi region which was confirmed. During the Project implementation from January, 2010 to December under the guidance of Sabile High school teachers and experts involved in the Project six regular cycles of classes were implemented:

– positive thinking development,

– supervisions for parents,

– creating mandalas,

– computer classes,

– teaching self-confidence and self-esteem to parents and schoolchildren,

– new career opportunities in Talsi region and Latvia;

During the project implementation there were two exchange visits, mid-project evaluation and gala event. There was also a”graduation party” within the framework of the project where participants received their certificates.

Now that the Project has entered the finishing straight we can summarize what we have succeeded in:

  1. The promotional campaign of the Project was rather successful as local people could regularly see the times and lecturers of the next classes.
  2. Unbelievably great number of local inhabitants and those from neighboring towns applied for the first round of classes. It is positive that the classes were attended both, by men and women.
  3. We managed to attract some Roma young mothers to some classes.
  4. The number of participants in groups did not reduce during the courses. There was a constant core of the group but the others participants were rotating.
  5. The biggest advantage of the classes was the fact that participants could come on those days they could make it and did not miss anything. Each lecture had its unique theme. People missing a class did not fall out of the whole course. They felt free to participate as it was an opportunity to break away from home exactly on those Wednesdays when they could make it.
  6. We studied the opinions of participants at the mid-project evaluation conference: „We are really thankful for the opportunity of coming together, contacting other people who share our views, Exchange experience, get to know ourselves better, learn computer skills, feel safer when looking for a job… We are at school again, sitting at our desks and studying. It is wonderful! Some of us have found a job.”
  7. The Project must be continued as people have expressed their wish to continue computer courses and want to learn English very much.
  8. We have come to a conclusion that the school must become a multi-functional resource center where any inhabitant of Sabile town or Abava parish could come around at any time to continue their education.

 

During the Project implementation we have cooperated with the regional Social Service in drawing into the Project target groups. The Project course testifies that we have managed to open the school door to the local community – retired people, the unemployed and Roma families. In winter the courses were widely attended, in autumn the activity somewhat reduced as people in the territory of the town and the parish were busy in farm work. After the lectures the lecturers were glad to hear positive references about what the participants had learned or realized.

This Project has created a favorable foundation for further cooperation between the school and the local community. It has shown the direction how the school can become a multi-functional resource and life-long learning center available for the community.