Thursday, April 3, 2014

Matisse Valette

     A bit about myself first. I am an Australian who volunteered a Grasi for a month between January and February 2014. My name is Matisse Valette and first of all I want to answer the unspoken question, why would I volunteer in Latvia, of all places? Well, to me it was a natural thing. My grandparents were Latvian, my mother could speak Latvian, why not try to relearn the language of half of my heritage?
    I arrived at the children’s village of Grasi during the last week of January, ready to begin my four week stay. The first couple days were spent getting to know Grasu Pils, its children and the work I would be doing. Speaking to Sandra prior had given me some idea of what I was supposed to do; “clearing snow and chopping wood”. I found that the sun and the warm temperatures (0-3*C) did most of the first job for me leaving me mostly the second job to focus on. 
Not to say it didn’t snow! We had some pretty good snow fights! I also spent a lot of time on the ice pulling the little ones around and around and around! Each house had their own favourite game, in one, a board game of ice hockey, in another, UNO and in yet another, spinning tops.
It must have been halfway through the second week when I made a large breakthrough in how to live in Latvia. Milk (‘piens’) comes in bags, not plastic or cardboard cartons like elsewhere in the world. I also have to mention the tea. I have never before been to such a tea-adoring country.
Finally, I have to thank the wonderful community of Grasi for the wonderful time I had. A big thank you to Sandra for organising this unique opportunity and also for dropping me off and picking me up from the apartment I was staying at. I also have to thank Maris for picking me up and dropping me off to my apartment. This saved me the trudge through the snow each day. Thirdly, I have to thank the educators for the kindness in which they treated me day in, day out. Last, but never in the whole world least, I have to say ‘paldies’ to the children who readily (and patiently) let me into their homes. All in all, I had great time and I hope to return in the future.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I am an Australian who volunteered at Grasi for a month in July 2010. By Genevieve RICHARDS.

My name is Genevieve Richards. I am an Australian who volunteered at Grasi for a month in July 2010. After seeing that Grasi has started up an English-language blog, I jumped at the opportunity to tell my story!

Volunteering at Grasi was such an enriching experience – it gave me the chance to learn about a whole new culture, history and language, see the world through someone else’s eyes, and I hope, helped all the children at Grasi have a great summer, and gave their carers at least a little breathing space!

I was provided a cozy bedroom in a large and well equipped apartment in the nearby village Cesvaine. I shared the apartment with Marilyn, a French student undertaking an internship at Grasi. Cesvaine is a great little town, boasting a beautiful castle built in the Tudor Neo-Renaissance style and set in large gardens.

I was kindly lent a pushbike for my stay, which I rode to the village every morning down a beautiful country road. I loved watching the stalks in their nests, admiring the hand-made haystacks dotting the landscape, and waving to the friendly locals. Sandra and the gang made me feel at home straight away, and soon I was learning basic Latvian vocabulary for all the important sentences, such as “es krāsoju !” (“I’m colouring in!”) and “Nikita, ko tu dari?! (“What are you doing, Nikita?!).

The Russian fires across the border led to a heat wave in Latvia (which suited me, an Australian, just fine!). The children were on school holidays, and the hot weather meant they couldn’t do as much playing outside as they would have liked. Instead, I read them stories (in English and French, and sometimes in Latvian!), brushed their hair, played the piano with them, played cards, and with Alina, lots and lots of colouring in. We coudl also go outside to play on the equipment and fed the donkey and goats, if we wore our hats!


Marilyn and I supervised some berry-picking and consequent jam-making, which was appreciated by all.


I had such a fantastic, informative and heart-warming experience at Grasi, and I hope to return in the near future to see how everyone has grown!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Valentines day and my final day here… By Cassandra GLEADHILL

Well firstly- this week the kids celebrated Valentines Day! It surprised me how big it is here.. At school the children handed out Valentines Day cards, and in the afternoon the children had a Valentines Day themed afternoon tea. It was super cute and a really nice touch.

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All the kids came home from school very happy that day and the older kids have a Valentines Day themed dance on Friday night.

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My visit at Grasi for this year is almost over and sadly it is my last day here. I would like to thank everyone so much for once again been so welcoming during my stay. The children have been wonderful.

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Thanks again!

Cassandra Gleadhill


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Now it’s not so cold. By Cassandra GLEADHILL

The weather has finally got a littlewarmer, (it is only -6°C at the moment) and you can really feel the difference.
It seems tobe snowing a lot more again, and it is so nice to sit and watch it snow.






Year ones have this week off as school holidaysso little Renars has been enjoying his time off.
So far this week he has spenta lot of time playing in the snow (I lost count as to how many times he sleddown the hill yesterday), climbing trees, helping on the farm, drawing and watchingmovies. 


You would think he would betired of playing outside by the time the other children get home from school,but instead he spends most of that time outside too.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Help us build a fourth children’s house!

Plans are well and truly continuing on the construction of the fourth children’s house. The architects have now finished the drafting of the design and a local building company has been contracted. The house will be wooden and built using traditional Latvian construction techniques. Depending on finances the construction of the house will occur in two steps over a period of two years. In the coming summer the first part will take place, which involves laying the foundation and construction of the main building. The next step, which will hopefully run from April to August 2013 concerns the interior of the house. Heating, electricity, water, furnishings, equipment, the garden and construction of a road will ideally occur during this stage.

The house will be 280m2 which is large enough to comfortably accommodate 8 children, three educators, and have enough space for a guest room if older children, parents or friends of the children wish to stay (this way the kids will be able to have sleepovers with their school friends). The children will sleep in four bedrooms, with two children per bedroom, and two shower rooms for the children. There will also be a room with an en suite for the educators, a guest room, dining room, kitchen and garage.

This project is financed entirely through donations to Grasi Children’s Village, with one substantially generous donation helping to finance the exterior of the house, allowing construction to commence this year. However we are still looking for sponsorship to help finance the interior of the house, as this will enable us to open the house up for children in 2013. Any offers of help towards this project are gratefully appreciated and if you could help in anyway you can contact us at

Translation: Cassandra GLEADHILL

Sunday, February 12, 2012

This week at Grasi, by Cassandra Gleadhill

Thisweek Grasi welcomed two new children, two and four year old brothers. Thelittle boys arrived from a town near Riga called Salaspils and have alreadybeen adopted by the children of Klavas house. They arrived late on Thursday andhave already spent time settling in and getting to know the other children. Itis great to be able to have more children at Grasi.

On Monday morning it was only minus 22°C,so after four days off thechildren where able to go back to school. The forecast for the next week is nowbeginning to warm up just a little bit (it isn’t expected to reach the minus30’s again).

One of the educators, Dzintra has had to taketime off due to an operation and slowly she is returning back to the children’svillage, much to the delight of the children.

Alviscelebrated his 13th birthday on Saturday night with a small party inKlavas house. It was a nice sit down dinner with lots of games, screamingchildren, cake and presents.

Planning is now underway for the building of afourth house for the children. This house will be situated next to Oslejas, sothat there will be two pairs of houses that are neighbors to one another. Atthe moment we are still looking for sponsors to help finance the full house. Howeverit is hoped that this summer the outside of the house can be built and then intime when there is funding available the house can be finished. Having a fourthhouse will allow more children to live at this orphanage and experience the environmentwhich makes Grasi unique and leads to better outcomes for the children here.
Although there isn’t any national statistics,the information that has been gathered so far has found that the children whohave grown up here have a higher rate of reaching higher education then thosefrom traditional orphanages. This is because of the care they receive and theconstant support from a range of donors from around the world who help to fundthe education of individuals who are definitely bright enough, but may not havehad access, simply because of they grew up in an orphanage and don’t have afamily to provide support.











Every year people contact the orphanageoffering to volunteer and help, and of those many make the trip and most stayin touch. Any past volunteers who may be reading this- if you have any stories,photos or memories of your time here that you would like to share- we wouldlove to hear from you. Volunteering in an orphanage is a great experience as itallows the children to meet people from a range of countries, helping todevelop their language skills, but it also encourages the volunteers to reallyexperience a new culture and make a difference. The volunteers normally havelunch and dinner at the orphanage, where traditional Latvian food is eaten (inboth times I’ve been at Grasi there has been Swedish, Spanish, French andAustralian volunteers and the food has always been very different from backhome). The volunteers are also encouraged to take part in the different eventsthe children attend- school concerts and performances, church, chapel andplaying with them outside. In the afternoons the volunteers normally help theolder children with their homework, and by helping read, write and talk in English.

Ps.just as I said would happen- Grasi went from having 3 houses full of healthy childrento a few sick coughing children during the week.