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.

IMG_1292 IMG_1284

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

IMG_1288 IMG_1279

IMG_1273 IMG_1282


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.

IMG_1255 IMG_1265

IMG_1301 IMG_1299

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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A freezing cold week at Grasi! by Cassandra Gleadhill

The last week at Grasi has brought with it freezing cold weather, but amazingly the children are yet to get sick with the typical winter colds and coughs (I bet now that has been said, this time next week they will all be sick).


On Thursday and Friday it was too cold for the children to go to school because the temperature fell below minus 25°C. It turns out they have a rule in Latvia that states if the temperature is below 20°C the younger children (under 13’s) don’t have to go to school, and below 25°C none of the children go to school.


Early on Thursday morning the temperature fell to minus 34°C, and the novelty of it being so cold definitely hasn’t being lost on me. It is looking like it may stay this cold for a little while longer however as it is still very cold in Russia, and Latvia often has similar weather to Russia just a little bit later.


There has been photos all over the Australian and British news about the cold snap in Europe at the moment and back home (in Perth, Australia) my parents even saw a special mention of Latvia on the news- it was something about a very high rate of amputations due to the cold. Which was interesting to hear as Latvia rarely gets a mention in Australian news.


The children have spent most of their extra time off inside the houses, playing cards, listening to music and cooking. On Thursday afternoon I taught the children in Oslejas how to make a butter cake with chocolate icing and on Friday we made a banana cake in Ozolini.


On Friday the children from Ozolini and Klavas house spent the day together as Klavas house got a little bit to cold. The lakes near Grasi have now completely frozen over so the older children have been busy cleaning the ice so they can ice skate. Over the weekend the children spent most of the time indoors and were occupied with playing board games, doing chores, going to church/chapel and watching the occasional movie.

IMG_0986 IMG_1028

On Saturday Viktorija went to Riga for her big music concert. By the time she arrived home on Saturday night she seemed very happy with the outcome, so hopefully everything went well!


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back at Graši: one year on! By Cassandra Gleadhill

I am an Australian volunteer who first visited Grasi Children Village (Grasi) in December 2010, now just over a year later I have been fortunate enough to come back and see how things have changed. All of the children have grown up a little (well for starters they are all now a year older, and most are quite a bit taller as well) with some changing more then others. It was a nice to return to so many smiling and familiar faces, as well as some smiling and curious looking new faces. Sadly in the time I’ve been gone a few of the children have left Grasi.
Grasi is situated about 10 minutes drive from Cesvaine in rural Latvia. Cesvaine is a two and a half hour drive east of Riga, the capital of Latvia. Grasi was the first privately run children’s orphanage in Latvia and was officially opened in 1995. Grasi is home to three houses for the children, an office, chapel, farm and a manor house which was restored and is now a small hotel (

Ozlini and Klavas house are located next door to each other, while Oslejas is a 500m walk away. At the moment the farm is home to a horse, pony, donkey, goat and about 30 sheep. The farm is run with the help of the children. Allowing the children to have contact with animals helps them appreciate animals and understand that they have responsibilities including feeding the animals.
The hotel allows the older children to gain work experience and training in hospitality if they wish, and many of the staff employed there are adults who spent parts of there childhood at Grasi and may have struggled to find employment elsewhere. The hotel has a big kitchen where the meals for the children are cooked before they are driven over to the houses.

The children live in three houses – Klavas (which means maple leaf), Ozolini (which means little oak) and Oslejas (which means ash tree). Each house has three “educators” whose job it is to look after the children, help with meals, homework and parenting. At the moment the educators in Klavas are Regina, Liene and Liga, in Ozolini there are Evita, Dzintra and Kristiana, and Oslejas has Gundega, Maris and Ilga.
By having the children divided up into three houses it allows them to have a better environment, that is somewhat similar to that of a family. At present there are 6 children in each house, meaning each child has more one-on-one time with adults, allowing for improvements in education and social development. At the moment both Klavas and Ozlini have a cat each and mylo the dog, allowing the children to spend time playing and feeding.
Over the summer some renovations have taken place, in particular the office. Renovations where needed due to a badly leaking roof, which meant water was leaking into the bathroom and corridors, and poor insulation made heating the building a problem. As a result of the leaking, the roof was replaced over the summer, while work is still continuing in the bathroom to fix the water damage. There is now improved insulation that is helping to control the temperatures inside the office, so it isn’t nearly as cold as it used to be. By improving the insulation there has been a reduction in the costs of heating the building.

This week Viktorija has been busy competing in two music competitions. First she had a guitar competition Tuesday night and then a singing competition on Wednesday night. In the last year Viktorija has taught herself to play the guitar and continues to play the violin, piano and sing.
Surprisingly there was no snow at Grasi for Christmas this year with the weather staying much warmer then it usually would for winter. That was until about two weeks ago and now Grasi is covered in a thick layer of snow. The temperatures have also started to drop and next week they are expected to hit -20. All the kids have been enjoying the snow, and have been spending lots of time sledding down the hills, skiing and playing in the snow. The older kids in particular are enjoying skiing most afternoons after school, while the littler kids enjoy rolling around the snow and playing in it!!.

A new wooden tree house has also popped up in the trees near Ozolini and Klavas house! It was built by one of the children over the summer and is situated in an ideal location near the houses and at the top of the hill. The older children are encouraged to build and design things like this as it helps them to develop hobbies and learn skills in a way that they enjoy doing.
Cassandra Gleadhill