Jõulusoovide puu

The Christmas wish tree is made up of the dreams and wishes of children in shelters and substitute homes, sent to Santa Clause. To make sure that these do not just remain dreams, pick a gift from the Christmas tree and make a donation to the best of your ability.


“This Latvia must be a very wealthy country!”

On 2 January, 250 children from substitute homes and safe houses across Estonia had a chance to once again enjoy themselves at the Livu Aquapark, in Jurmala. Since the bus this time also travelled for an extended period through the city of Riga, in order to reach the destination, the children were able to admire the capital city of our neighbour to the south, dressed in the festive decorations of New Year’s Eve, which left an unforgettable impression on many of the children.

The excitement of travelling started to become real a few days before, even though some of the children had been to Jurmala before; for many of them, it was their first trip ever outside Estonia. The children were very excited and everyone was ready to leave early, with all the required swimsuits and other necessities nicely packed. Sandwiches and something to drink were brought on the long trip and thus we were ready to start driving.

Sveiki, ludzu, labu apetiti…

In a lot of homes, a bit of a research had been carried out about Jurmala Aquapark and Latvia. The children had questions about Latvians and the Latvian language – they inquired about the language spoken and the money used in Latvia. It was a surprise to Annika, who will be 8 in a week, that Latvians look just like Estonians... Bigger boys looked up words in Latvian via their phones, which they eagerly passed on to others: for example, hello – sveiki, please – ludzu, enjoy your meal – labu apetiti…

A long trip goes by fast when the bus driver is someone you know. On their way to Latvia, Koit, the bus driver, who was driving the kids from Järva County, reminded the kids of the different sights, including the Freedom Monument in Riga, dedicated to the War of Independence, and the longest street in Europe. The attention of 12-year-old Olga and 10-year-old’s Anton and Annika was drawn by the holiday decorations in the city of Riga. Olga pointed to several sights of interest and churches which we drove past. In her opinion, Riga is much more of a beautiful city than Tallinn.

In the other bus, after crossing the border of Ida Viru-County, it was discussed how many towns they were going to have to go through in order to reach the Aquapark in Jurmala. Seven towns were counted in total, three of them in Estonia (Mustvee, Tartu and Valga) and four in Latvia (Valka, Valmiera, Riga and Jurmala). Upon reaching Tartu, the kids instantly remembered the Aura Water Centre, but the most knowledgable announced immediately that the “Jurmala Aquapark is bigger, there are more awesome pipes, which Aura doesn’t have, and it’s also different on the inside...”.

Bigger children knew that the capital of Latvia is Riga. In a joint debate, the conclusion was reached that if nearly 700,000 residents live in Riga and nearly 395,000 in Tallinn, then Riga is nearly one and a half times bigger in terms of the number of residents. The children also learned that the national bird of Latvia is the white wagtail, whereas ours is the barn swallow. Upon driving into the city, they noticed things that seemed different than back home – they admired a tram which looked like a train, and a trolleybus which looked like a bus, and they had a lively discussion about the differences between trams and trains, and trolleybuses and buses. Children also admired the tall and beautiful buildings of the city, where some were built in the old-fashioned style and others were modern in appearance. The children learned that Jurmala is located on the shores of the Gulf of Riga and is mainly a summer town. Using a map, they calculated how long their journey had been from their starting point to Jurmala.

Vitja: I’m in Riga!

Thirteen-year-old Vitja, who is a youngster with special needs, was very satisfied that he was now in Riga. When driving trough the town, he looked ardently out the window, turning his head left to right all the time and cried out: “I’m in Riga!”

At the start of the journey, Vitja was most interested about the border between Estonia and Latvia; about how the border really is drawn between the two countries. When they stretched their legs in Ikla, Vitja asked to be shown where this line has been drawn on the ground, on one side of which is Estonia and the other Latvia. He also wished to see the border guards. Due to the fact that Vitja’s older sister Ilona had previously told him a story about her trip to Belarus, where at the border documents were inspected and there were border guards, it had to be explained to Vitja several times that it is not possible to see the border of Estonia and Latvia as a line drawn on the ground, as it is depicted on the map, and neither are there any border controls because these countries are both members of the European Union, are mutual friends, and people can move easily from one country to another. With this trip, the issue of borders was made clearer to some of the children.

Smooth teamwork

Upon arrival, it became clear that we had to wait for quite some time before getting in. The little ones began to lose their patience, but the bigger children helped the teachers to keep an eye on the smaller ones. Afterwards, the teachers noted that these types of outings are also interesting because it lets them see the children engaging in a completely different kind of activity. With each new trip, it seems that the children are well behaved and also attentive to the needs of others: no one is left in the lurch and the bigger children happily contribute to the success of the event by assisting the smaller children.

But what a joy, when they finally got into the water! Gone was the exhaustion from the long ride and anticipation. At the water park, the children gave the place a quick once-over and then the fun began. The bigger boys immediately conquered all the pipes and the smaller children found more joy in the fast flowing river and children’s fort. The pool where the big waves were created was also a popular attraction. Refreshment was provided in the form of a modest snack in the aquapark’s cafe and a very delicious ice cream milkshake straight from the poolside bar. And the riot continued at full swing.

It was nice to see children sticking together. Due to the fact that there were so many people at the aquapark, it was easy to get lost in the chaos. But the children grouped together nicely: bigger kids together and smaller ones with each other. Everyone kept an eye on everyone else, and there was a feeling of teamwork in the air.

More courage and independence

As always, the children felt happy at being able to put their courage to the test, and quite a number of children overcame their fear of water. The children are already eagerly awaiting their next visit to Jurmala. At first, some of the pipes seemed too scary to Annika, so she instead enjoyed herself in the hot tubs with her teachers; only afterwards did she try out some of the smaller pipes, growing much more courageous in the process.

The teachers said afterwards that it was great to see how the children also dealt with things independently, when they had to. Olga and Anton were able to find all of the attractions by themselves, arrive at the eatery on time, and redeem their cocktails. They also found their flip-flops and towels from the right place, and remembered the numbers of their lockers.

Nikita and Andra had fun splashing the water from the cannon, especially in the direction of the teachers. The smaller children had a good time as well, with showers of water falling on their heads from a big water barrel – this became an expectation and joy for the children in itself. The children also loved riding the inflated rings along with the current. Here they needed skills and strength in order to get themselves on the ring, but staying on the ring and collisions with each other also created much excitement. 

Getting closer to the kids

A happy smile did not disappear a single time from Vitja’s face. His sister Ilona became more relaxed with every passing moment, and she was conspicuously happy over Vitja and expressed her joy as well. Seeing that the teacher was noticing that joy, the girl felt the need to hide her emotions. Later, the teacher found the right moment to say that she shouldn’t feel embarrassed by her feelings and that feeling joy was a very good and very human reaction. By doing so, the teacher took a step closer to the child.

Another teacher had the same positive experience with another boy. Artjom started talking by himself about his past and relations with parents, things he has overcome, concerns and fears. The teacher was glad that Artjom opened himself up like that and that it was possible for them to talk without interruption on the bus because the others around them were all asleep. In their normal environment, children do not tend to talk about themselves, and often the teachers, too, simply do not have the time to listen to the child calmly and privately at the precise moment when they would like to open up.

It was also nice to go to the sauna and enjoy the hot tub, where everyone sat with satisfied and happy faces. The hot sauna made everyone thirsty, and we enjoyed delicious cocktails while sitting on the steps in the water. This was a real surprise and moment of joy for the kids: “It is so nice and good to sit in the warm water and it is such a delicious cocktail, too!” approved Ele and everyone repeated unanimously “Mhmm!”. Bigger children also enjoyed what the outside pool had to offer.

Different reality

Some children also managed to go to the shop. In that shop, the prices were, indeed, slightly more expensive, but this was outweighed by cool labels in Latvian and different packages. It is likely that no one was in a hurry to buy saldejums, since the sweet taste of the cocktail from the aquapark still lingered in the mouths of the children. One girl expressed her opinion that the shops here in Latvia are so beautiful and that this Latvia must be a very wealthy country.

Mario discovered something completely surprising and new to him during snack time after swimming. He is a big boy (soon to be 14), and he very much likes to drink coffee, but with sugar. He was unable to find the sugar bowl, but he did find the sugar substitute dispenser. Thinking that these were tiny sugar particles, he stacked quite a lot of them on his saucer. It was a big surprise to him when he learned from a teacher that one such grain corresponds to one spoonful of sugar. Satisfied with the new knowledge, he announced that his house should also have a sugar substitute...

Joy from doing things together

To many teachers, this Jurmala trip was an important chance to get to know the children better and from a slightly different vantage point, and to strengthen their relations with each other while being away from their typical environment and situations. The teachers admitted that at the safe house they can see the development, advancement and excitement of the children before every event. Some of the children protest against taking part in joint events when they first arrive at a substitute home. After a little time has passed they participate in the events without having to be enticed, write positively about the experiences, and when talking about it afterwards no longer claim that they did so simply to be left alone.

To an 18-year-old youngster, it was a surprise that the adventurous day was not paid for by the city government, but by the SEB Charity Fund, i.e. regular people from the streets. We had a lengthy discussion about what makes a person help someone whom they actually personally do not know. The conclusion was that despite the fact that Estonians are considered to be typically selfish and withdrawn, helping others is what we like to do.

Participate Thank you, if you have already supported our charity programme or if you are going to do it in the future! Sign a standing payment order contract in SEB Internet Bank for 3 euros a month or support with a single donation.