A small trip to Lithuania can change everything

For many years my dad and Frank Woodhatch have been travelling to Lithuania, helping support efforts from local charities, supporting children in homes and families with great difficulties. What started as a convoy destination with the CWUHA efforts became a dedicated commitment to a country where they were able to see their hard work and fundraising make a difference before their eyes. I was asked for my help along with Steve Collier (another fellow postman and CWU member) meaning I’d be able to see first-hand the work Dad and Frank were continuing as well as new tasks ahead.

We arrived at Gatwick and waited for Sheila and John. Sheila Dale and John Sones have been on this journey every step of the way so it was great to put a face to two people I’d heard so much about. A late flight meant a late arrival and we quickly got our heads down ready for work to begin sharply early the next day.

The day began with a trip to the headquarters of Save the children Lithuania. Humble dwellings filled with a small and effective team of dedicated workers. The hospitality shown in the form of homemade food was to prove to be a common theme. After eating the cake made by Rasa, a long-term friend of our gang and essentially the boss for the days ahead; we were straight to the post office by foot carrying bags of parcels, of which I don’t know the content but have no doubts will be helping many people.

Following that it was a trip to the local shopping centre ticking off the list of necessities from kitchen appliances to vegetables. Our last visit of the day was to a children’s centre in the middle of a former Soviet style housing estate which the rest of the team had supported and seen grow from a weathered and unfit building into a comfortable and fit-for-purpose premises

Friday was a whole different kind of day altogether. This time we’d be taking a long drive out of the capital Vilnius towards the border of detached Russian province; Kaliningrad (soon to host the England team for the world cup). Here we would visit a 2-bed home newly acquired by a family of 13; a huge upgrade on their previous unsafely structured and inadequately insulated 1 bed, which was a danger in a country where winter temperatures have plummeted to -20 degrees in extreme cases.

Here we offloaded a fridge freezer and oven which, having seen the appliances at their former home, were way overdue. This visit was then followed by a feast laid out by a neighbour who had produced her best cutlery and homemade dinner for us to tuck into.  The Lithuanians are rightfully proud people who treat their guests incredibly warmly and have left an amazing impression on me.

Our second stop of the day was another children’s day centre. We were greeted by traditional songs and dancing which, thanks to my Dad’s big mouth, I was expected to respond to in the form of song. Rasa insisted that I sing and didn’t hesitate in locating a guitar for me to pluck some songs I barely knew the words to and with an extremely red face and no warning.   Fortunately, the children of Lithuania were unfamiliar with my song choices and I probably could’ve gotten away with making my own lyrics (I did).

More local delicacies were produced, both food and craft made by the children. We were certainly not allowed to go hungry. The laughter and singing were to turn to tears as we left however; as a member of staff’s emotional gratitude for the new washing machine triggered the children to join her. This is when it really hit home that the project is something that will always be worth working for and that every penny raised is making a difference here in a way that can’t be realised without visiting. Another 3-hour drive back to the hotel doesn’t sound particularly appealing but in a country blessed with a stunning countryside filled with rolling hills and countless lakes, it was quite enjoyable.

Our final full day took us on our second long journey. This time to a place the other guys had visited before and this time in the opposite direction towards Latvia. Here we met a mother and daughter who due to tragic circumstances were left to fend by themselves. Part of the aid delivered was an art set which John had covered. It was decided by John that the mother, who had a love of art but was restricted by the high prices of canvases and paint brushes in the country, would have her spirits immeasurably lifted should she be able to continue her hobby. This left the lady speechless and overwhelmed. Instead she responded with an array of songs on her accordion and yes… an amazing cake she’d baked especially.

So, after another day on the road we again arrived back in Vilnius in the evening and were able to enjoy a meal with local aid workers who had become friends with Dad, Frank, Sheila and John. Their company was greatly appreciated and rounded off a brilliant experience. The flight home was late on the Sunday meaning we had some time to see the city of Vilnius. Those who hadn’t visited the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fight, the former headquarters of the Soviet security services (KGB) where over 1000 prisoners had been executed between 1944 and the early 1960s, during which both the KGB and the Gestapo had occupied these premises as part of their brutal invasions of the Country. After the museum we again met the children from the first day centre we visited who were treated to McDonalds by Sheila and John. It was then the kids turn to treat us to a tour of the city visiting view points and cathedrals.