Youth integration: Latvia and Lithuania focus on sport

The pandemic has been difficult for many children due to lockdowns and school closures. In the Latvian capital Riga, events like the Ghetto Games help them bounce back.

In addition to the obvious benefits for physical and mental health, this concept based on street culture aims to attract and support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Antons Semeņaks, organizer of the event, tells us what the Ghetto Games. “It’s a movement dedicated to young people, a platform where they can develop physically and morally, where they can spend their free time doing different sports activities such as basketball, floorball or football. It’s a perfect place for young people!” he points out.

Ghetto Games is one of the activities offered as part of the RISK-FREE project which aims to help young people make the right choices in life.

“Thanks to this, they don’t hang out in the streets”

In Daugavpils, the second largest city in Latvia, this project has, among other things, consisted of setting up sports facilities in the public space. This encourages healthier behavior according to its leaders.

“These spaces allow young people in the neighborhood to meet, socialize and improve their sports skills,” says Santa Upīte, project manager at the municipality of Daugavpils. “Because of this, they don’t hang out in the streets, they don’t use alcohol or drugs, they look out for each other while making progress in the sport,” she congratulates herself.

The initiative was funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The funds were used to fit out 36 indoor and outdoor venues both in Latvia and Lithuania.

In addition to infrastructure and sports equipment, the project has made it possible to organize specialized sports training for children.

High school student Arturs Bozovics attends a new training site in Daugavpils. “This place is very popular with those who play sports, but also those who just like to be active,” he points out before adding: “Here you can develop your strength, flexibility and physical condition.”

“A turning point in their lives”?

Projects of this type are often overlooked. However, the improvement of equipment located for many, in disadvantaged areas, in addition to training and events such as the Ghetto Games, allows, according to the organizers, to put young people on the right path and thus, to initiate a positive change for them and for the community as a whole.

“Thanks to that,” says Iluta Kriškijāne, head of the RISK-FREE project to the Latgale Region, “young people have the opportunity to see what they are capable of and to discover different sporting activities for free and to realize that this one is right for them and that one is not.”

“Maybe in 5, 10 or 15 years, we will say that this will have represented a turning point in their lives,” she says to conclude.

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