For Needy Family in Latvia, Job Training Helps Reverse Economic Impact

September 5, 2012


For Konstantin, 25, and his family, the global financial crisis isn’t a newspaper headline. It’s a chapter in their tumultuous story, which has been playing out in Riga, Latvia for decades.

Konstantin’s parents—Leokadia, 47, and Andrey, 50—were hit by the recent economic downturn first. “My mom works at the railroad, where her salary and benefits were drastically cut due to the crisis. My father, who always wanted to have his own business, was forced to close his shop and go to work as a driver, now bringing home a fraction of what he used to earn.”

Together they try to help Konstantin’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who lives alone and can barely survive on her state pension. But by the time they pay their bills, they have no disposable income to do so.

“I live at home and want to help my family as much as I can. So after my first year in university, I started looking for a job,” says Konstantin. “I worked at a factory, then a warehouse…but hard as I tried, I couldn’t find anything stable.”

Konstantin’s family is one of thousands in their Jewish community struggling to survive from one day to the next.

At the end of 2010, unemployment stood at 18.99% in Latvia, the hardest hit country among the Baltic States. The impact was particularly severe among professionals, who had comprised the region’s emerging middle class; now many families found themselves facing foreclosure and eviction, or in need of food, medicine, or counseling to help combat anxiety and depression.

The young middle class has been especially affected, so that now, instead of helping to support the Jewish community, they find themselves in need of assistance. Riga’s Jewish institutions are struggling to adapt to the new reality, providing material and spiritual succor to Riga’s Jews while at the same time continuing to develop the community infrastructure that will help Riga overcome this crisis and remain a strong center of Jewish life for years to come.

As the economy faltered, JDC’s welfare program has become more important than ever. Together with traditional assistance such as food cards, hot meals, and medical care, new services have been added: winter relief for children and families, emergency grants for housing and utilities, vocational training for the unemployed, and scholarships to community renewal activities.

To get the tools he needed to find work, Konstantin turned to JDC’s Ariel Job Center.

“I took courses in resume writing, job-search literacy, and English, which I knew would help me get ahead. I received individual attention and lots of advice and counseling on my job search,” Konstantin explains. “I learned how to compose my resume, what to do at an interview, and how to answer questions with confidence.”

JDC launched the pioneering Ariel Job Center model in Argentina a decade ago to help individuals recover in the wake of that country’s economic crisis. It has since exported the model to Jewish communities elsewhere in Latin America and as far as the Baltics and other European countries to provide educational and career development courses to people struggling in the most challenging job market many have seen in their lifetimes. These centers provide seminars, language instruction, and training on job searching, interviewing and resume building, as well as computer and other professional skills.

“To get hired I had to go through several rounds of interviews,” says Konstantin. “My second interview was in English—and only because of the recent course I’d completed at the Ariel Job Center, I was able to successfully complete the interview.”

Today Konstantin works at a private logistics firm, coordinating naval transport. He is responsible for data collection, analysis, and reports. “This program really helped me during a challenging time in my life. I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t have gotten this job without everything I learned at Ariel.”

In the span of the 2011-2012 educational year nearly 200 people have availed themselves of the different services Ariel is providing—many of them young adults fresh out of university—and a large percentage are finding work within a few months of finishing the job center courses.

“The support and the professional counseling at Ariel helped me gain confidence for my interview, and for my life. Now I can continue to grow in my professional development, handle my job’s challenges, and climb the career ladder.”

Konstantin’s sense of purpose extends beyond his job, too. “I feel useful and productive. Thanks to this job, I am able to secure the financial situation of my family today…and the family I hope to have in the future.”

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