Latvia-designed mobile care centers up for EU award

Mobile care vehicles improve the lives of elderly people who reside in rural areas by bringing much-needed services right to their doorstep. These vehicles were designed by the Samaritan Association of Latvia. It has now been named a finalist of the 2015 European Social Innovation Competition and will fight for one of three €50,000 prizes on at the awards ceremony on 25 November in Brussels, reported Latvian Radio 4 Monday. 

Andris Bērziņš, head of the Samaritan Association of Latvia, was the first to have the idea of creating a care center on wheels. His 90-year-old grandmother was living in a village and refused to move to her grandchildren's place in the city. As a result, they had to go to the countryside each weekend to fetch water, chop wood, go to the store, and so on. Many elderly people are living like that, and some have no one to help. 

"We [our vehicles] have everything, including electricity (there are two generators) - a shower, toilet, a laundry machine, a hairdresser's and a small kitchen," said Andris Bērziņš. 

There are six such buses in Latvia, and they can serve about 600 elderly. There are many more in need. According to estimates of the association, a total of 20 vehicles are needed to service everyone in need. Now people from 30 municipalities can enjoy such a service. For example, the brigade of Karīna Vecā services the area around Balvi and is visiting hundreds of lonely elderly people every week.

"There are two people in the brigade. One is the driver, and the other does housework. The driver can also do part of the work – like fetching firewood. While the second worker handles products and offers to go to wash to the car so that the person feels satisfied, clean and happy in her own home," said Vecā.

In the beginning, when they just started driving around the villages, elderly people took upon a careful manner against the workers, while now they are almost the only people with whom they can talk.

The invention of the Samaritans was among the top ten contestants for the nomination for the 2015 European Social Innovation Competition. About 1,500 took part. The award will be handed on November 25. 

However, they are not about to stop there and are already working out new, innovative ways to help elderly people. They are working on solutions to make easier such time-consuming tasks like chopping wood and shoveling snow. A device that would lift people who have trouble going up on their own is also in the works, said Bērziņš. 

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