SOS Quilts arrive finally in Vilnius, Lithuania. We have just returned from Vilnius in Lithuania to deliver your beautiful SOS Quilts to the children there, and are excited to tell you the story of the trip.
If this is the first time you’ve heard about this project before – click here for more information.
We started the day at 2am on Monday to get to the airport in time for a 6.30am flight. It turned out that we had plenty of time (this is unusual for us in the Alice Caroline studio but it seems that that no one else is on the M25 at 3am! Lovely!). We did need lots of time as transporting 6 huge bags of quilts takes a bit of time to transport and check in than 1 ‘Ryan Air sized’ carry-on bag.
At the other end, Vilnius airport was a much smaller affair. It felt like a short walk to passport control and the baggage retrieval area – needless to say we were delighted to see the 6 bags full of quilts arrive safely at the other end. A small caffeine fix was followed by hiring a car to carefully transport the quilts to the village and children.
We arrived at the Vilnius SOS Children’s village mid-afternoon after a short drive from Vilnius city centre. We were warmly welcomed by Jolanta, a wonderful case worker and one of the aunts. Jolanta explained that there are 12 houses in the village, each home to around 6 – 7 children who are looked after by a ‘mother’ and 2-3 ‘aunts’. The model of the charity is to give the children a stable, small family unit where the ‘mother’ looks after them and guides them through life. The ‘aunts’ give additional support in the home through cooking, cleaning and helping out. The mother and aunts help the children learn to cope with life, to learn essential life skills. The temporary accommodation case manager said ‘hardly any of the children who come here know about household cleanliness or how to look after themselves. They are not taught these things by anyone before they arrive.’
One of the houses we visited was called a ‘temporary home’. The children arrive here after becoming orphans or having been removed by social services from parents who are unable to care for them. This was a place where children can live for up to 1 year, after that time, they either return to their biological home, are permanently housed in one of the other houses in the village or hope to be fostered. These children have been taken away from their homes due to many harrowing reasons and the SOS village provides a more stable place for them to live and a new start in life. In some cases these children had not received a phone call from their biological parents since they arrived over a month ago. The caseworker said that people want to adopt and foster younger children and so when teenagers arrive at the village there is little hope of them finding a permanent family home outside of the village. All of the children in this house were vulnerable in some way.
The caseworker and aunt showed us around the house before the children returned from school. We met Snowflake the cat and Thomas the turtle (even though Thomas is in fact a girl!) the house pets. Their hospitality was warm as they welcomed us with sweets, peanuts and cakes made from curd which we ate with delicious jam. As we sat in the kitchen it started to snow heavily (the first snow of the year). We were shown the children’s bedrooms. Having seen the clutter in our own children’s rooms this was quite a shock to see how sparse each room was. The beds were neatly made with brown blankets. We imagined the new quilts decorating the rooms and giving so much colour where there was none. The case manager said that as it was getting colder, the windows often leaked so the quilts would be good for keeping the children warm.
We met a sweet 15 year old girl who chose a quilt for both herself and her sister. She chose a beautiful and yet grown up quilt for herself and what she called ‘a more girly quilt’ for her sister which was gorgeous and mauve in colour. After this, two boys came shyly into the kitchen just as we were leaving. They asked who we were and if they were ‘in trouble at school?’. When the answer was no and they heard we had gifts they came rushing in ‘Where are the gifts?’ they excitedly asked. Their faces lit up when they saw the quilts. They chose their quilts and clutched them to their chests as they hurried upstairs.
We are restricted in what pictures of the children we can show you, due to child protection issues and as such we took very few images of the children. These are extremely vulnerable young people who have had difficulties in their lives that we find hard to imagine. We are not allowed to post images of the children without their permission and authorisation, but, we are hoping that the village will send us pictures of the children that we can share with you. Sadly, it is impossible to take a photo of every child with their new quilt – some are wary and nervous and most need protection. The village gives them this protection by not allowing many visitors and by not allowing many photographs. We felt privileged to be meeting them in the private surroundings of their family home and took the decision to prioritise their privacy over our wish for images. We can tell you that each and every quilt will be loved and cherished by its new owner. The excited joy on the faces of the children is one we will certainly remember for a long time. They don’t get gifts very often!
Jolanta said to us: ‘All of the children here have had very hard lives. It is wonderful to think that people across the world are thinking of them by making those quilts. I have worked here in this village for 23 years. Around 10 years ago some women visited from Austria who had brought blankets for 1 of the houses. This was very special then but was only for 1 house. I can’t believe that you have made quilts for all of the children in the whole village!’
She also said ‘The quilts are so beautiful – I can’t believe that each one is so lovely and handmade.’
A big thank you to Jolanta, the mothers, aunts and all of the children, for welcoming us to your village, it was a delight to meet all of you.
Partnering with SOS Children’s Villages has been a brilliant experience. They are a fantastic charity at the forefront of supporting children in need around the world. Their work over the past 67 years, in 125 countries, has focused on caring for orphaned and abandoned children, and children whose parents can no longer care for them. They also work in communities to support families at risk of breaking apart. Creating a stable, loving environment for a child is their priority, so that they can flourish and reach their full potential; we were very lucky to see this in action during our trip.
The 2018 Project
We are holding the project again for 2018 and will let you know which country and village we have chosen in the new year. If you would like to start making a quilt for the 2018 project please check out the details here.
Love, Alice & Anna x