Prepared by Zivile Seporaityte | Communication and Fundraising Coordinator | Heifer Baltic Foundation
The Peoples Skills Restoration project in Lithuania works to increase the number of people in rural areas involved in the labor market. With a primary focus on those with social risks or who are often excluded by society, this project aims to improve their incomes and their lives.
The Heifer Baltic Foundation (HBF) received a grant of around $1 million for three years from the European Social Fund Agency (EU) to fund the project, which began in the spring of 2012. Trainings in agriculture, both horticulture and animal husbandry, and crafts will be organized for 14 groups in six communities in different regions of Lithuania. Additional services will be provided to help the socially vulnerable unemployed adapt to the diversified circumstances of the labor market.
In Lithuania, three-fourths of people living below the poverty line are in rural areas where industry is underdeveloped or non-existent, making jobs difficult to find. This lack of work leaves many people depending on agriculture as the main source of survival for themselves and their families. Most local households own small plots of land and raise small animals, garden or produce crops. A lack of a reliable source of income, however, hinders their development, as farmers are often too poor to buy both animals and feed. In addition, they lack the resources and information on how to expand to business-oriented small farms.
A study conducted by HBF showed that people facing social risks generally get their income from occasional jobs and social benefits. Some of them pass their land to neighbors because they have neither the knowledge nor the tools to work it. As a result, it becomes difficult to maintain a family budget that allows for normal quality food and medicine.
The problem of social exclusion, particularly in rural areas, continues to grow in Lithuania. Many families are pushed into poverty and social exclusion because of individual family member issues, such as alcoholism, gambling addiction, lack of social skills, passivity or the lack of motivation to change. Data also shows that people want to engage in agricultural activities for small businesses, and livestock and plant breeding, but there is a big gap in knowledge about how to start and continue small-holder farming activities. Seminars and trainings are typically organized in the centers of the regions and do not achieve desired results because the traveling distance is too far and the target groups lack the motivation.
Thats why the activities for this project take place in the communities, close to home, and are coordinated with the cycle of farming, adapted to local needs. Taking into account all the facts, HBF and partners initiated this project with the main goals being that all project participants earn higher incomes, practice sustainable farming, and are better integrated into their communities.
Partnering with Heifer in this project are the Vilkaviskis Region Communities Union, Zlibinai Community, Linkmenys Women Occupational Center and Gelvonai Community Center. Overall, 1,000 families will be involved in project activities, while the primary target group will be assisted with all trainings, services, and Heifer International gifts including sheep, rabbits or poultry per family. Additional groups of families will receive plants and benefit from participating in the trainings. Each family in this project will Pass on the Gift®, according to the Heifer principles.
Four groups have already started project activities and have participated in Heifers 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development training, motivation training, and social skills restoration workshops. Everyone is anxiously awaiting other trainings and the animal distribution. Community leaders say that this project is very important especially for those economically and socially vulnerable families, because it empowers reintegration, not only into the labor market, but also into social community life.