«Root takers» project is one of the first social design messengers in Latvia. Jekaterina Stakle has created a humane and joyful method that has opened possibilities for social care centre residents to spend their days actively and respectfully, but for primary school children — to learn something interesting and useful.
Old age and childhood have several domestic aspects in common — both seniors and children have a lot of free time; their clothing, food and daily regime are often chosen by someone else. Seniors have knowledge and skills that could be handed over to children, if only they had a chance to meet. Jekaterina Stakle has developed a social design method that brings generations together and adds more joy and content to the everyday.
«Root takers» is a cycle of workshops, based on collaboration, learning, creating and friendship between social care centre residents and primary school students. The project brings forward a question about active and respectful old age, specially in social care institutions that carry a stigma of poverty and helplessness in society. «Root takers» has proven that significant changes can be triggered without a large financial investment. Relevance of the project keeps growing, considering that society in the whole of Europe, including Latvia, is rapidly ageing. That has left a mark on the structure of workforce, environment, services and communication between generations. «Root takers» method promotes mutual tolerance, helps inherit skills and knowledge, promotes gardening and taking responsibility of surroundings.
As social care centre residents only have limited personal finances — 4 to 10 lats a month — the gardening project makes use of very cheap or free materials. Mobile flowerbeds are nailed up of construction material pallets, but flowerpots, little shovels and watering cans are cut out of plastic bottles. The bright green leaves of plants make any container attractive, but looks are not decisive in «Root takers» project — the aim is gardening in itself as a process that adds meaning to the daily life of seniors and allows sharing of knowledge with the younger generation.
Jekaterina designed «Root takers» project together with Riga Stradins University Social anthropology master’s student Anna Žabicka, who researches daily routines of people residing in social care centres, their environment and relationships by using participant observation and in–depth interviews.
Project «Root takers» has been supported by «Rīga 2014» foundation and included in the thematic line «Survival Kit» of the programme of European Capital of Culture. The pilot project is being implemented in 2013, involving seniors at the State social care centre’s «Rīga» branch «Ezerkrasti» and 2nd and 3rd grade students of Riga 6th grammar school. It comprises planting workshops at the school and making of a garden in «Ezerkrasti», where mobile flowerbeds are adjusted to the needs of the elderly by choosing a suitable height and levels of mobility and accessibility. In 2014, workshops are going to take place in «Rīga 2014» informative tent in Esplanade, along with planting in the neighbourhoods of Riga together with local residents.
«Root takers» is more than a theoretical project — Jekaterina and Anna have already lead six gardening workshops, but pensioners at «Ezerkrasti» are carefully following the growth of plants and compete for watering responsibilities. Closing of the first cycle — harvesting and a celebration — are expected this summer. «Root takers» have inspired a whole movement — seniors at other old people’s homes in Latvia have already requested and are setting up their own flowerbeds. One can follow the progress of «Root takers» on their website, as well as Facebook page. «Root takers» is Jekaterina Stakle’s master’s degree project at the Art Academy of Latvia, and it was supervised by associated professor Barbara Ābele.