human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Caritas Latvia, free Internet and online solutions

The situation in Latvia, a country right in the middle of the Baltics, seems hopeful. These days we are grateful for several things: proactive decisions of our government, patience of Latvian people in observance of all new restrictions, as well as our natural ‘physical distancing’ habit more typical to Nordic people! On top of that, one should not forget that we are about 2 million people, with a density of 34.3/km2.

As of April 16, 5 deaths have been recorded and 675 cases of COVID-19 have been detected. Our government is aiming not to overload the health system which is surely not ready for such critical situations. Although everyone is encouraged to stay at home, it seems that Latvia will outlive the pandemic without imposing obligatory quarantine for all.

Even if we in Latvia, by nature, tend to apply ‘physical distancing’, we can’t claim that about our hearts. Many very good and spontaneous initiatives have been undertaken in this time of uncertainty – free lunches for doctors and various volunteer actions.

As Caritas, we issued a statement calling on parishioners to help those in need. But since the parishes are closed and there are no public prayer services to go to, Caritas groups are in shortage of donations. Nevertheless, Caritas groups keep reaching out to those in need, while, of course, considering the safety requirements.

The Caritas Latvia office, in cooperation with a parish Caritas and other donors, provides cheap tablets and free Internet for two months for those in financial hardships (seniors, people in need), primarily in order to ensure access to online prayer services, but, of course, there are no limitations to the purpose of use of the Internet.

I am personally dealing with the project ‘KNOW and DO!’ for NEET youth (young people who are Not in Education, Employment, or Training). This project is funded by the European Social Fund and implemented in cooperation with the municipality of Riga. Many projects involving young people are suspended, because of the imposed restrictions, and only a few can continue.

We have to find new solutions (online classes, for example) and be creative to go on with the project activities. In some cases, those solutions are not enough, because either young people want to follow the guidelines issued by the government strictly and stay home, or because they are so vulnerable that their mental condition has worsened and it has become too difficult to connect with them.

This project initially was planned until the end of October, but, most probably, it will be continued afterwards.

In the Caritas social service centre, House of Therese, for children with disabilities, some of the employees are working from home. They provide online classes and consultations. Caritas employees have started to organise consultations in the centre for those children whose parents’ consent and, of course while observing all binding restrictions.

The monthly Caritas radio programme Good Samaritan on Radio Maria in its latest broadcast (April) dealt with spiritual and mental wellbeing issues in this time of change. The guests were a Jesuit father and a psychiatrist who discussed isolation and possible ways to find assistance.

In these times, when churches are not allowed to gather together the people for liturgy, we must look for other ways to find Christ in our everyday lives. Caritas, for sure, can be one of them; this is the opportunity to serve Jesus in ‘the least of these’.