ALA’s New Initiatives During the Pandemic

May 14, 2020

ALA members, friends, partners, American Latvians!

We hope that you are all staying healthy and keeping your spirits up. Spring is here, and, we hope, with it comes a brighter future. We sympathize with those who have suffered due to the pandemic, that have contracted the virus, or have lost a job or had a drop in income due to the economic crisis. What a shame also that for many months our communities have not been able to meet and work together in person.

Still, it is good to see that the Latvian community in the U.S. has been working virtually with so much success. We are especially proud of the Latvian schools and congregations here in the U.S., that have now on a regular basis held virtual events and activities, which are helping to uphold a sense of community.

We, the American Latvian Association board and staff, regularly hold short virtual meetings as well, and have begun new projects to continue important work during this crisis. Moreover, ALA, as the largest Latvian umbrella organization in the U.S., would like to lend support to those who need it most during this time.

In response to the challenges posed by Covid-19, ALA leadership has made several resolutions and started new projects:

  • Support & Aid to Latvia. To help provide low-income children without computers at home with the opportunity to learn from home during the quarantine, ALA organized a fundraiser, which, including matching funds, raised $51,165. With the help of the Children’s Fund of Latvia, the Angel Heart Society, and the Ministry of Education and Science, these computers will be purchased and distributed to needy families.
  • Virtual Cultural Events. ALA has been working with the American Latvian Youth Association (ALYA) to hold a virtual meeting opportunity for the Latvian community every Saturday this spring, with the use of Zoom, Facebook Live, and YouTube. So far the events have featured the folk duo ImantaDimanta, DJ Ai-Va, poet Kārlis Vērdiņš, and jazz singer Arta Jēkabsone. The event series will continue through the beginning of June.
  • Coordination with the Latvian Schools. There are 21 Latvian schools in the U.S., and more than half of them have continued to operate this spring with remote learning. ALA’s Office of Education regularly organizes virtual meetings with school principals to discuss new ideas, exchange experiences and new learning materials and methods. ALA is also helping to sponsor Boston Latvian School’s initiative “U.S. (Latvian) Student Virtual Combined Choir”.
  • Assistance for Summer Program Participants. Understandably, summer educational programs will be limited this season. ALA’s own educational trips to Latvia have been canceled, and we are following the decisions of camp administrators closely. If camps should open this summer, we are ready to increase the amount in scholarships for children attending, particularly for those families experiencing financial hardship due to the economic crisis.
  • Coordination with Education Institutions in Latvia. ALA has been in regular communication with its typical educational partners in Latvia, VISC and the Latvian Language Agency, to share new tools and methods with Latvian school teachers in the U.S.
  • Heritage. The ALA Office of Cultural Affairs has recently updated information on the ALA website regarding preservation of archives. While you are stuck at home during the quarantine, we invite you also to take a look at your archives and objects with potential historical value.
  • ALA’s Political Advocacy. Despite the fact that it hasn’t been possible to meet with your congressmen in person at this time, ALA continues to follow the global political situation and to share relevant information with our members. Recently ALA has helped with several initiatives to draw attention to the reality when it comes to events and statements commemorating the end of World War II, with a reminder that the Baltic nations still suffered under communism for 50 years afterwards. ALA also congratulates Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Tom Cole (OK-04), who have joined the Baltic Caucus.
  • Support for Latvian Media in the U.S. In response to the President of Latvia Egils Levits’ call for support of the independent press during the pandemic, and following WFFL’s initiative, ALA is offering one-time financial assistance to local Latvian press publications in the U.S.
  • Support for ALA Member Organizations. We understand that several ALA member organizations may be experiencing financial difficulty due to canceled events and programs. In extreme cases, ALA offers the opportunity to obtain a loan which will cover necessary operating expenses while the organization has temporary loss of income.

Our biggest event of the year, the 69th ALA Congress, which was planned for April 2020 in St. Paul, Minnesota, is postponed to October 30, 2020, in the hope that it will be safe for all of us to come together for the event at that time. We are following government restrictions and health expert evaluations closely to understand whether we can go ahead with the event in October, or whether we have to resort to a virtual alternative. If we meet in person in October, we will be taking into account potential hardship experienced by member organizations and thus offering a reduced Congress participation fee.

For more information about these and other ALA projects, please explore our webpage. We hope that we will soon be able to return to our regular programs and events, with an improved understanding of our members’ priorities and new, innovative methods gained during the pandemic. Stay healthy and safe! We believe that the hardship that we are dealing with currently will only strengthen our community and our sense of belonging to Latvia!