Family taken as priority
[b]Of all investments, those directed towards children’s needs are perhaps the most appreciated. At first sight, it’s impossible to ‘measure’ the economic benefit of such projects but we know that such injections are always repaid many-fold. This is especially true in reference to children who aren’t able to grow up in their original family environment [/b]Five years ago, a clear priority appeared in Belarus’ state policy; social orphans (children who have at least one living biological parent) who were being brought up in state orphanages and boarding schools would acquire new families. Years of practice have shown that children need a family environment to grow up with a positive, life-affirming attitude. Belarus has now taken important steps in overcoming the problems facing children without family guardians. What seemed incredible in the early 21st century has now been realised, with orphanages and boarding schools closing countrywide. The number of alternative forms of placement is ever growing, with 1,414 orphans (from 19 orphanages) transferred to new families in the past three years.
Five years ago, a clear priority appeared in Belarus’ state policy; social orphans (children who have at least one living biological parent) who were being brought up in state orphanages and boarding schools would acquire new families. Years of practice have shown that children need a family environment to grow up with a positive, life-affirming attitude.
Belarus has now taken important steps in overcoming the problems facing children without family guardians. What seemed incredible in the early 21st century has now been realised, with orphanages and boarding schools closing countrywide. The number of alternative forms of placement is ever growing, with 1,414 orphans (from 19 orphanages) transferred to new families in the past three years.
Various forms of family life are available — from adoption and guardianship to foster care and family-type children’s homes. Naturally, all are regulated by legislation to ensure children’s safety. Moreover, the country has revamped monthly child allowances, which are now the same for adoptive parents, guardians, foster parents and parent-teachers in new children’s homes. Belarus was the first post-Soviet country to introduce monthly allowances for adopted children, in 2000. Meanwhile, procedures of adoption and guardianship, as well as those governing the creation of foster families and family-based children’s homes, have been simplified.
This is my village
Belarus’ first children’s village opened in Borovlyany, near Minsk, in 1995. In August 2004, SOS Children’s Village International began operating in Maryina Gorka and the third village opened in Mogilev this summer. Similar facilities have also been set up in Kobrin and Minsk, with the foundations for future villages laid in Bobruisk and Minsk district.
This vital project is being promoted with state aid and that of foreign charities. Famous international SOS-Kinderdorf has injected around 2m euros into constructing a children’s village in Mogilev, with funds primarily raised in Germany. The Germans have been inspired into some extraordinary actions in pursuit of fundraising. For example, Wallbush, which manufactures men’s clothes, has won a place in the Guinness Book of Records for its Huge Shirt for Children event. It sewed a vest the size of a football field, which it then cut. Pieces were sold for 10 euros each — generating 500,000 euros for Mogilev’s village.
Children’s villages are arranged as contemporary, cosy settlements, with an administrative building, a park zone and playgrounds. Each two-storey cottage is equipped with household appliances and environmentally green furniture, accommodating a family: a mother-teacher and 5 to 10 children. Each operates like a true family, with its shared concerns and joys. Young village residents are educated on site and can visit creative workshops and sports clubs, as well as museums and theatres.
Home and family
Family-type children’s homes are also a successful form of placement in Belarus. Annually, two such homes, adopting 5-10 children, come into operation in the capital and in each regional centre. There are now around 140, with the last opening in Gomel. The latter boasts an unusual story, since, at the end of the last academic year, Gomel’s city authorities were obliged to close their comprehensive boarding school for orphans and children left without parental care. It was once the largest in the region, designed to accommodate almost 400. By the time of its closing, just over 60 children remained, with most finishing this year. However, by September, the fate of around 20 children still needed to be determined.
“Most of the children have been welcomed by adoptive and foster families,” notes Gomel’s Mayoral Office. “Some were being sent to other social institutions in the region when, suddenly, Svetlana Kalinina — a teacher of the former boarding school — proposed the setting up of a family-type children’s home for her group of seven children. She’d worked with them for seven years before the institution closed.”
The city authorities responded immediately but lacked any suitably sized flats or houses to offer Ms. Kalinina and her pupils. It was impossible to construct something within a month, while the children recuperated in Italy. However, the city authorities couldn’t reject the idea; they decided to temporarily accommodate the children in one of the buildings of the closed boarding school, prepared for them within just a few days. Repairs were made and the building was equipped with the necessary furniture and household appliances. Next year, a cottage-type house is to be built for the children, in a new city suburb.
The new family comprises Veronica Kalinina, aged 8, 11 year old Vitaly Galkin, Nastya Ogorodova and Mikhail Zaitsev, both 12, Tolya Stepchenko and Arten Belousov, both aged 13, and 14 year old Zhenya Konstantinov. The courageous hostess of the new home resembles a fresh graduate of the pedagogical university. She cooks doughnuts in
the huge kitchen and the children call her mother.
“Believe me, we’re happy that everything has worked out,” notes Svetlana. “I couldn’t leave them after spending so many years together; I’m their only kindred spirit.”
Zhenya Konstantinov is the eldest in the family. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his mother and sworn brothers and sisters. For the past five years, an Italian family has been trying to adopt him, but difficulties arise every time. Finally, the Belarusian authorities approved the adoption and Zhenya began preparing for his move. However, as soon as he learnt about the family-type children’s home, he decided to stay in Belarus.
“Yes, I made the decision,” Zhenya explains, as he studies how to use a new microwave oven. “While we were living at the boarding school, we dreamt of such a family, where we could all live together with our mother, Svetlana Vladimirovna. I’ll visit my Italian friends for vacations, of course; they’re very glad that I have a family now.”
By Violetta Dralyuk