Latvia ,     Greetings from Latvia by Mikael Good
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Latvia is the country in the EU that has suffered most during the current world economic crisis and is now in deep recession. According to official statistics, nearly 20 per cent of the population is unemployed although it is thought that the real figure is somewhere closer to 40 per cent. The four families in this photo-essay are hoping to find work to lift themselves out of their situation, but work is hard to find. The families are well-behaved and the children are well taken care of, but many other parents in Latvia console themselves with alcohol and many children are at risk in Latvia today. A Latvian family from Valmiera (Cesis) The family consists of mother Dace, father Aldis and their children Daniela (6 years old), Sandra (4 years old), Krister (2 years old)and Adrija (8 years old, who was not at home during my visits).  Aldis has a congenital hearing problem for which he receives a disability pension Dace and Kristers.  There are hardly any jobs in Valmiera.  Dace worked as a cold buffet manageress during the summer and her husband Aldis took care of their children with a little extra help from his mother who lives in a house nearby.  But now they are unemployed and live on a small social benefit Daniela and Sandra. Kristers is a very serious little boy.  He sits in his favourite spot on the sofa and listens to our conversation. The family lives in a deteriorated apartment of 30 square metres.  Kristers sleeps on the couch with his sister Daniela Sandra is shy and ran and hid when I first arrived at the apartment.  But when I gave her a cake she understood that I wasn’t so dangerous.  She then sat happily in the armchair and ate the cake The family’s apartment in Cesis The stairs to the family’s apartment on the second floor. The house is old and the stairs creak loudly A Latvian family from Taurupe The family consists of mother Evita and her three children Linda (15 years old), Oskars (14 years old) and Everts (3 years old).  They live in a deteriotated apartment of 20 square metres in a delapitated, barn-like house in the village of Taurupe in the Latvian countryside, 65 km east of Riga.  They have no running water The apartment is very old and worn. Evita is much pleased to have a modern washing machine (which she received from DOP Velku Fonds).  She has no running water so she collects it from the well and pours it into the washing machine manually The only heat comes from an old stove located in the living room of the apartment Linda dreams of becoming a graphic designer but she has no computer and designs magazines by hand. When I tell her that I have been working as a graphic designer she becomes very embarrassed and even though I know she has many questions, she dares not ask them Evita outside her apartment in Taurupe.  Evita lost her husband two years ago.  He went out fishing in order to get the family some frsh fish and drowned.  Evita was left alone with three children Evita and her little boy, Everts.  The family has just enough money to survive.  They can only afford to eat porridge and potatoes in wintertime.  Evita receives a social benefit of just $172 per month.  She used to work for the home-help service in Taurupe but when the local kindergarten moved to a village 25km from her home she had to quit her job and take full time care of her little boy Everts Everts sits quietly in his mother’s lap during my visit. Everts is shy and unused to visitors.  But when I get up to go he leaps up and shouts, “Goodbye Uncle!” in Latvian and waves happily at me A Latvian family from the countryside The family consists of Grandma Edita and her grandchildren Elina (15), Rihard (10), Anna (8) and a poodle. They live in a small apartment in a house far out in the Latvian countryside.  They have no running water and have to collect it from a well in the yard.  They share an outdoor lavatory with two other families in the house.  Their heat comes from a stove in the kitchen and from a fire in the sittingroom. Edita, Anna and Rihards. Edita’s daughter left Elina to Edita when she was only a couple of years old, Edita’s daughter also left Rihard and Anna to Edita at the hospital directly after they were born.  Her grandchildren mean everything to her.  Anna is very fond of animals. THe family has a dog, two cats and a few chickens and ducks that she takes care of.  The poultry provide eggs and meat.  Anna doesn’t like it when her grandmother slaughters the chickens, even though she is very fond of fried chicken! Until two years ago, Edita had a night job as a security guard/caretaker at a construction company.  The job was not well paid, but it meant the family could live a decent life.  Today Edita, like so many other Latvians, is unemployed and she has no income and has to rely on a small social benefit. Rihards is a happy kid and likes to play football with the other boys at school.  Rihards dreams of being a professional footballer when he is older. Edita’s kitchen is very old but its clean and concentrated around a stove that gives out warmth.  Edita is concerned that the apartment is clean and tidy, although she wishes she had some money to modernise it. Edita and Elina outside their apartment.  Elina dances in a local folk dance group but its difficult for her and her siblings to hang out with friends.  They live far out in the countryside and have no access to a car or public transport. A Latvian family from Cesis The family consists of mother, Maruta and father, Armins. They have five children, Martins (18), Edgard (15), Laura (11), Diana (9) and Alice (3).  They live in a small three bedroom flat in a residential area in the outskirts of the Latvian town of Cesis.  Maruta and Armins are highly educated.  Two years ago this was a proporous family.  They had everything they needed.  Now they are unemployed and have nothing. The family lives in a typical suburban neighbourhood that was built in Soviet times.  Although the house looks good on the outsside, the interior standard is low and the house has not been renovated since it was built in the 1960s. Martins wants to be a computer technician like his father and plans to study computer engineering at the techinical university in Riga.  He is highly motivated and takes good care of his younger siblings and helps his parents with various things. Alice suffers from severe eczema, but her parents can’t afford to buy the treatment that she needs. Alice and Maruta.  Although the family barely has enough to get by on, Maruta and Armins always put their children first and give them what they have plenty of - love and care. Alice, Maruta and Laura. Despite their tough economic situation the atmosphere in the family is happy and optimistic, thanks to Maruta who is an incurable optimist, “The situation for my family is tough but I can still see a bright future for my children.  I must be optimistic for their future.” Edgard, Alice and Laura.  The children are very well behaved and pleasant. Edgard shall be an artist, Laura a hairdresser and Alice will play a lot when she grows up.