But by ‘Success Story’ we actually mean “Disaster”!

Very often in the mass media Latvia is being named as an example in crisis recovery. Latvia is being granted title of “’Success Story”. Hearing these words is quite difficult to comprehend, a specially looking at vast majority of the nation hardly making their survival.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) recently published figures that hardly match a “Success Story” line. High proportion of people in Latvia are at risk of poverty and social exclusion. Just in 2013, the number of such people was 645 000, or almost 40% of the population.

For the last five years we have been reaching out to Families with Children and Elderly People who have no means to survive. The social benefits they get are not even enough to pay whatever utility bills they have to pay, not mentioning food, hygienic essentials or medication which are priced as average in the EU. These Families are coming to us with one simple request, “Would you PLEASE give us food”. And suddenly the “Success Story of Latvia” becomes a disaster.

Visiting with these Families is a challenge not for faint hearted people. It takes a lot of guts to see the conditions many of them call HOME. It takes a lot of humility to share a cup of what it might be called tea. Feeling the smell, seeing their life and hearing their cry, the “Success story” words ring awfully loud and annoying.

Thirteen-year-old Almants lives amid this impoverished reality. He and his mother, Iveta, with nine other family members and make their home in an abandoned movie theater. Almants’ two older brothers suffer from schizophrenia and are unable to work. Jobs are impossible for Iveta, too, as she cares for her challenged sons and a five-year-old daughter. Apart from a monthly 11 EUR government allowance per child, the family’s only source of income is recycling. So Almants and his siblings scrounge daily through heaps of toxic soil in an old shipyard, looking for metal and plastic, but the payout is less than 100 EUR per ton of plastic.

Anna lives in Latvia, but she doesn’t have a real home. Her heart has no place to rest. She often finds herself in one place, and then another, and then somewhere else. Sometimes they stay with friends, but mostly they congregate with others just like them. Anna tags along behind her mother, a single parent in her fifties. They are homeless.

The first time we saw Anna and her mom was about a year and a half ago. They asked for help with food and clothes. We gave them both. They stayed around for a while. We noticed that Anna would always wear a hood over her head, even when the weather was really warm. Anna always covered her head. We inquired further and found out why. Anna’s hair was full of lice and nits. Immediately we treated her with medication and then helped her with basics of hygiene.

The Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the country does not provide adequate government-funded support for its poor. In fact, Latvia spends less on social welfare programs than any other European Union member state.

For example, when compared to Estonia, which spends 40% more per capita on social protection programs annually for the poor than Latvia, the lack of poverty-reduction programs from the Latvian government is quite conspicuous.

One of the most at risk groups in “post-recession” Latvia are single mothers, families with children and pensioners. The cost of living has increased over the last few years, due in a large part to changes in tax policies which caused the price of heating and water utilities to rise significantly.

Multitudes of families that come to us for help, can’t afford to buy or even run a refrigerator, so the family lives off of a meager subsistence of room temperature dry foods and water. The tiny apartments also often do not have a shower, so the children are forced to wash in the gym locker rooms at the primary school, a school where they attend classes with no educational supplies because their parents don’t have the money to buy them.

On a weekly basis, for almost five years we have been feeding the poor by reaching out to their homes and trying to provide simple essentials. The hardest part are the kids. They don’t deserve to live like that. They don’t deserve to be humiliated and ridiculed by the class mates for not having a sports uniform, shoes or even proper school clothes. They don’t smell good in class because they don’t have a shower at home.

Our goal is to save these children. We want them to look into the future with hope. And we are seeing changes. We are seeing them smile. We see them raising their hands to ask questions and becoming active in discussion. We see them dreaming big and reaching out for their dreams. We hear them talk as if they were not poor. We see them going back into their classrooms with intentions to study hard. This is very hard work, but the rewards will be see in these children’s lives, and in future generations.

All the food we give and the refrigerators and washing machines we buy is a huge challenge to us. We do not have reserves, we do not have big savings accounts. How can we do this? Seeing kids go hungry! We too need help, not for us – but to help these Families. We need your kind support to help these needy children and lead them into a brighter future. Please help in whatever way you can.

What do we need? We need funds to purchase food for over 170 Families on a weekly basis. We need funds to help them pay their electricity and heating bills, to buy toiletries for their children’s hygiene, to buy medication, to have clothes and shoes for the cold winter months, to purchase washing machines, refrigerators, school supplies and study requisites. The list is endless, but with your help there is hope!

Please help us to extend that hope to these needy people – and meet their needs.

If you would like to help us with the support of these needy children you may go to our website to make a donation www.smethurstministriesusa.org or you may send a check to to Smethurst Ministries Inc at PO Box 566 Cape Canaveral FL 32920. Thank you for your compassion and kindness.

Thank you so much for your kindness.

David Smethurst