By Dan Sutton, 1st Silver End Scout Leader
During 2009, I organised two International trips - one to Latvia for four days for Explorer Scouts, and the other to Germany for my Scout Troop. I was looking for things to do and places to go that would be something a bit a different that would be memorable for the young people and adults talking part. Our visits to the SOS Children’s Villages were certainly that.
After four full days of walking tours, sight-seeing and enjoying the local food and culture in Riga, on the last afternoon we had an hour’s bus trip to get to the town of Bauska where the SOS Children’s Village Islice is situated. Although we had read up about it before we arrived, it was still an eye-opener! Like all the SOS Children’s Villages, about seven orphaned or abandoned children live as a family, cared for by their SOS mother. With 12 houses in the Village, it is like a small cul-de-sac. It’s bright, colourful and all the children that we met were happy and said hello to us.
Gatis Matulevics, the Village Director, went to great length to show us around the village. We were taken into one of the houses to meet an SOS mother, and were shown around the physiological unit, school, gym, and offices. It was about -9˚ the day we were there, but unlike an English school, the children were allowed and encouraged to go outside in the snow and play during their breaks!
Before we left, one of the Explorers presented Gatis with a bag of gifts that we had brought over for the children. These were simple items, such as pens, pencils and note books donated by our District Scout Shop. Before leaving Latvia, we asked the Explorers what they thought of the trip, and surprisingly a number of them said the best part of it was going to the SOS Children’s Village.
As Purcell said, ‘I especially liked going to the SOS Children’s Village and seeing all the homes. It’s quite touching see all those kids there’. Jess added, ‘The best bit for me was the SOS Children’s Village too. It leaves you with a lot of things to think about’.
This was a totally different experience. The Community Village of Hohenroth is unusual for an SOS Children’s Village as it the home for 150 mentally and physically disabled adults, but it operates in the same way, with an SOS mother looking after a family in this village setting.
It is situated just a 15-minute walk away from the Castle Reineck. The development is designed to be self-supporting, and it has, as well as facilities for producing and processing agricultural goods, animal rearing, wood, feed, fruit and vegetables, workshops and a café. One of the SOS mothers together with one of her family members gave us a tour of the community. We were taken to see the cattle sheds, bakery, and were able to watch the carpets, cabinets and candles being made. Everything they could want or need is provided in the Village, and with the items they make being of such high quality, people come from miles to buy goods from them. Again, it had a positive effect on the Scouts with them realising that just because people may look or behave differently, underneath we are all the same.
Roxanne said, ‘It was really nice to see how different their lifestyle is to ours, and like I could never go near a cow and milk it as I’d be too scared, but they do everything. It was a really worthwhile experience’.
After our experiences we did some fundraising and raised enough to sponsor the SOS Children’s Village, Islice in Latvia for a year. This means that we will maintain a connection and receive information about the Village twice during the year. You can see the photo gallery from the international trips that I have organised over the years, in the International section at www.silverend-scouts.org.uk
Article by Dan Sutton
1st Silver End Scout Leader