I did infer in my last post that there had been more than just the opening of Bauska hall which have given cause for celebration in the past few weeks. On the Friday before Bauska’s Big Day there was a slightly more low key, but nonetheless important, opening here in Riga.
One of the expressions of the Salvation Army in Riga is a Social Centre colloquially referred to as Avotu Street, for the simple reason that that is where it is situated. For any readers who are old-time Salvationists, it reminds me of the Goodwill Centres where Slum Sisters visited people in their homes in deprived areas during the last century. Two charismatic ladies run the show. The officer in charge, Lieutenant Aldona, is a formidable lady, and her loyal assistant Envoy Anita is equally ‘fired up’ about the work they are involved in. The main emphasis of their ministry is visiting people in their homes and offering practical help, spiritual support and signposting to authorities where they might find help with benefits and housing. They are passionate and visionary about the work that they do. Aldona’s vision is to take over the world – well, if not the world, then Riga at least!
Thanks to Rotary International, funding has been made available to them for three years to extend their work and to add some life-enhancing features to their programme. These include offering hair-dressing services and manicure and massage for those who attend the Centre. What has been more difficult has been finding a place where the work can be extended to provide more showers and washing machines for people to use. For over six months the search was on, and a number of properties were investigated all to no avail. Eventually the day came when we found a suitable premises, and the rental contract was signed. However, I was to discover that NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) is an attitude that is not restricted to the UK! Some of the neighbours surrounding the property protested forcefully that such a centre would lower the tone of the neighbourhood and increase the incidence of crime in the area. As with most of these protests these neighbours knew little about the project, and showed even less interest in entering into dialogue so that they could discover the facts of the matter, which would have reassured them that their fears were groundless. Graciously, I thought, the Finance team here counselled quietly withdrawing from the contract so that once again we were back to ‘square one’ looking for premises.
In the end a bright idea saved the day. The basement of one of our own buildings was converted and additional showers and washing machines added. This solution gave the added advantage of providing accommodation, albeit limited, for one of the volunteers from Avotu Street who is to oversee the project there.
….so, although we had not waited for the opening of these extra facilities for 15 years, as was the case with the hall at Bauska, it was still a cause for great celebration and rejoicing when the ribbon was cut and the new premises were open for inspection. As always, the celebrations were accompanied by the mandatory refreshments afterwards.
I don’t think I had quite realised how apt the name of the street is where this Centre is located. ‘Avots’ from which the word Avotu comes means ‘spring’. In so many ways this Centre provides new springs for people – quite literally, with the hot water for showering and washing clothes, and in perhaps a more profound way by showing people the ‘springs of living water’ too.