The FSAOF (Former Salvation Army Officers Fellowship) headquartered in the UK learned of the plight of children living in two abandoned Latvian villages in early 2008 and immediately visited both Sarkarni and Seda to investigate how they might provide assistance. Among the project initiated were regular visits with SA teams to teach, provide practical assistance in the form of clothing, medical and financial support, and I’m privileged in having served as chief medical director on two of the ten mission trips conducted to date. Here’s a bit of history.
MISSION FIELD: SEDA and SARKANI
Sarkani, is a village located just a stone’s throw from Skangali, a SA training center and ‘safe house’ located on a dirt road best known to the thousands of Storks that migrate there annually. Skangali serves as our home during our time serving with our Latvian, Russian and Ukrainian Salvationist officers and friends.
Sarkarni was a purpose built remote village not far from the road leading north to Estonia, and the rail road tracks leading to Beloruss. The eight apartment buildings that represent the bulk of Sarkarni’s residents were until the 1980’s Soviet troop barracks. And Skangali had been commandeered to house the Russian military officers and to serve as command head quarters for the north east section of Latvia. It is within two hours of Riga and two hours of Tallin, Estonia’s capital.
Perestroika signaled freedom for the three Baltic states and with it followed the withdrawal of Soviet troops to their home states. The barracks and Skangali were stripped and abandoned. Concurrent with Perestroika came new social policies to modernize and make Latvia presentable to the west. All of the former soviet states were competing for the attention of western countries and corporations eager to form joint ventures with the former Soviet states, most possessing rich natural resources and available and willing work forces. The country was also eager to move as many Russian citizens back home as possible. However, Mother Russia was less than willing to accept those of her children living in satellite states. As a consequence Russian speaking Latvians became ostracized with many becoming homeless and stateless. Those with any physical infirmities or afflictions were treated as second class citizens and those with abuse problems removed from the cities that were seeking to attract tourism and trade.
The barracks at Sarkarni became a first choice in ‘dumping’ Riga’s Russian speaking alcoholics and their families. The buildings were already derelict and the forced occupation of those without income or a trade worsened the living conditions. What remained of the buildings interior that had any value was stripped and traded against vodka and other liquor with the bootleggers who traveled the countryside. The village became an alcoholics’ haven where drink and drinking buddies could be found 24/7 Amidst the besotted adults living there were some 50 children of school and pre-school age. As in the case of Seda The Salvation Army began its work in Sarkarni just five years ago its commitment was immediate as they renovated one of the flats to serve as an after school refuge for the children. And there’s where our work takes place.
Edinburgh Gorgie Corps