Charity work not very easy in Latvia

  • 2000-04-13
  • By Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - It is not too easy trying to collect money for charity in Latvia. There are a lot of different permits one will need and sometimes one will even have to pay to beg.

David Young, who has been a Salvation Army officer for 36 years and spent three of them in Latvia, thinks Latvians in general don't think of other people who might be in greater need.

"They don't have a sense of awareness of other's needs and people here are just not used to giving. Most of the donations we get come from our own members in our four churches," he said.

Young also thinks that Latvians may be very little informed about how nongovernmental organizations work and how they spend their money.

"It's a question of making yourself known. Funding and everything must be very clear," he added.

Young also said it's the poor who usually donate money and not the rich.

The Salvation Army in Latvia works mainly with street children in various projects throughout the country. They also organize church centers with soup kitchens during winter in several of the larger cities. On an average, they served 10,000 meals per month last winter. They also give out equipment like wheelchairs and even clothing if necessary.

Of course, it costs a lot of money to keep all the activities running. Most of the Salvation Army's budget is paid by their Swedish counterpart.

"It has become tax deductible for companies to donate money in Latvia. I think its up to 80 percent of your donation the government will pay back. But I wouldn't want to ask for that kind of money. It would be bad for the government and there are so many other things they could be doing with that money," Young said.

It's not cheap to ask for charity in Latvia. Most of the things one wants to organize cost money because one will need a permit. For instance, if one wants to go and knock door to door, one will need permission, and organizing a choir to sing in the street to collect money will also require a permit. But there are other ways to ask for donations.

Vilhelmina Savicka is the head of fundraising for the Red Cross in Latvia. The organization thought of trying Lattelekom's 900 charity number but backed out because of the price.

"First we would have paid 60 lats to get the number and then 25 lats in a monthly fee for keeping the number plus four to six lats for the subscription. That was the first contract. The second would stipulate the percentage Lattelekom would charge for each call made to the number," she said.

Last year, during the international song festival in Latvia, members of the Red Cross walked around with donation boxes. A total of 16 lats were donated during the entire week.

The Red Cross also has boxes set up at the Riga airport hoping that foreigners leaving the country will have a heart and donate whatever change they might have in their pockets.

"Private persons donate more than companies, and most of the time they donate more than one lat at the time. Last year a private person donated more than 28,000 lats," said Savicka.