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The round table, initiated and held on November 25, 2010 by the Development of Ukraine Foundation, has once again gathered people who for the recent 7—10 years have been and continue trying to do all they can not to allow strengthening of orphanage system: representatives of NGOs and the Ministry of Family, journalists and community leaders.
This time the subject of the meeting was not only presentation of the research “Life Journey of Those Leaving Orphanage Facilities, Family-Type Children Homes and Foster Families”, but also the desire to find additional arguments and “keys” to stop the initiative related to strengthening of orphanage facilities. Let us recall that this summer Mr. Azarov (Prime Minister of Ukraine) gave the green light to a “unique project”: before 2011 to create in the regions “basic facilities” for training of talented orphans and from September 1 of this year to start training of children from low-income families in… orphanage facilities.
Probably, this round table could have become a simple “reaction campaign”, if not for the special guest present at the meeting — Russian community leader, author, chairman of Karelian Regional NGO “Ravnovesiye”, editor-in-chief of the web-sites stop-abort.ru, uspeshnye-siroty.ru, gezalov.net, author of “Teary Childhood” and orphanage leaver Alexander Gezalov. All the information, which sensible people only try to structure and digest, has been long used by Alexander, who lived in orphanages for 16 years, as a platform to develop programs and projects aimed to help orphanage students and leavers. Although, this man, who has spent his whole childhood striking and being on the run, does it in a rather unusual, and sometimes at first sight very controversial manner. “When volunteers come to an orphanage with concerts and toys, this is a disaster, — says 42-year-old Alexander Gezalov. — E.g., I never visit any orphanages on the New Year Eve — I’m scared! Once while living in an orphanage I was given a plastic saxophone. An elder guy told me to bring it to him. So I have broken this saxophone with a stone. Then I was beaten. Who is to be blamed? The volunteer who gave it to me. People do not realize that with their actions they create conditions for criminal acts in orphanages. Better sell all the toys you have gathered, go get some training and then come to an orphanage and teach the children… Volunteers, have you seen that all your toys are standing on shelves? Once I asked a housemother why they were standing there instead of children playing with them. She replied: “And what shall I say if we have an inspection?..” You do not have to be very clever to bring a toy — though you do, when you want to become a part of this system. Let’s go further. As for the hygiene. Sorry, but volunteers bringing sanitary towels to girls from orphanages are not doing a good thing. The girls should be able to buy such things themselves, form a habit of carrying them around, and know how much they cost. And orphanage employees should not be afraid that girls would stuff lavatory with those towels or keep them at a storehouse to maintain proper paperwork.
…Now we are counseling a major investment company, which owns elevators and production facilities. And we are trying to build relations with them in such a manner, that they would offer job and accommodation to orphans within projects aimed at such orphans. Though we could have come to them and said: “Guys, let’s build a roof at an orphanage!” The way NGOs translate their programs to businesses defines if such businesses become wiser. There is no need to plate the cage with gold. NGOs should offer businesses such projects which would allow to take children away from such facilities. So, volunteers, when you are doing something, stop and think: are you taken away with your emotions again or are you helping to eliminate orphanages. Bringing up one orphanage student requires 10 years. If “as a result” you get a person who is already 16 years old, you face a big risk that you will become a “never-ending sponsor” for him, and he will constantly demand money from you and make you do everything for him. But “smart crutches” shall be taken away timely. Those children should not be all protected with airbags. The angel shall come when he is most needed and not hover over the child until entirely closing him with his shade”.
“Bunnies”, “foxes”, “wolves” and a “bear”…
Currently there are 100.3 thousand of orphans and children deprived of parental care living in our orphanages, children’s homes and boarding schools. Moreover, 29 thousand of those children can be adopted at the moment. Not to throw words in the air and not to repeat “empty” for bureaucrats phrases that each of those children has a heart, a soul and a huge need to love and be loved, Ludmila Volynets, the moderator of this round table, who is currently one of the chairs of All-Ukrainian NGO “Children Protection Services” and used to be director of the State Department of Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights, gave very interesting figures. Having regional data on the number of children in orphanage facilities in 2009 and information on the funding allocated to each of the institutions, Ludmila divided the total funding of orphanage facilities by the number of children. And here is the result: yearly support of one orphan in Poltava region in children’s home is UAH 76.8 thousand, in orphanage — 86 thousand, in boarding school — 48.5 thousand; in Odessa region — in children’s home 65 thousand, in orphanage — 53.8 thousand, in boarding school — 40.8 thousand; in Lviv region (the lowest cost of children’s support) — in children’s home 42 thousand, in orphanage — 29 thousand, in boarding school — 40.8 thousand; in Luhansk region — in children’s home 57.7 thousand, in orphanage — 79.6 thousand, in boarding school — 40 thousand; in Donetsk region (the highest cost of support) — in children’s home 112 thousand, in orphanage — 90 thousand, in boarding school — 49.7 thousand; in Kirovohrad region — in children’s home 70 thousand, in orphanage — 28 thousand, in boarding school — 38 thousand.
How much does is cost for the state to keep a child in a foster family or in a family-type children home? UAH 36 thousand per year! And this figure does not reflect the difference between a child who goes to the big world from a foster family/family-type children home and from an orphanage. This is what Alexander Gezalov was telling during the round table in complete silence. It appeared that he is the only one of 14 orphans who left the orphanage the same year who is still alive. “There is a strict hierarchy in an orphanage, — he explained. — It is not visible to a visiting volunteer. It is visible only from the inside. There are “bunnies” – children, who are behind others in their physical and mental development. There are also “foxes” – those who were able to adapt to the system, “wolves” who realize their “wants” in all possible ways, and a “bear” who most often rules the whole orphanage. Every time I visit Russian orphanages, when I enter the hall it seems to me that I went 30 years back: all “bunnies” are sitting in the front and singing a cartoon song. But me, I understand that those “bunnies” tomorrow will have to go to the big world with very big “bears” waiting for them, where it is vital to have a place to live, to have a profession, family connections and so on. Orphanage is a place where it is very difficult to have a good start. When you ask children having left an orphanage five years ago “Who are you and where are you from?” they go red and sweat. It is difficult for them to translate their self-identification to the society, but they cannot say they are from an orphanage. And they know it.
When we carry out trainings in camps for children from orphanages, we face with aggression from their side. Why? They absolutely lack ability to establish contact. They do not know how to communicate, what is attention, assessment or comparison. And it is really difficult to get this knowledge at an orphanage. But if a child is not able to build relations with anybody — it is a failure. With this understanding we have created a number of programs. Thus, a program has been developed for adaptation of orphans and children deprived of parental care, under Stanislavski system. I was its author. I held a drama workshop for deaf-and-dumb children, and everything went well: half of the orphanage took part in our performances. At the end the director asked me to come and told me: “Our staff members are not happy. You are too bright as compared to them. Can I ask you to apply for voluntary dismissal?” So I had to leave. But many of the children, who attended this workshop for six months, later entered a drama school and went further… We also perform various studies, e.g. on the impact of male adults on children. Only women work in orphanages, so one male physical training teacher is able to change a lot. I can assure you that attitude towards him will be much more respective than towards housemistresses. Why? Children perceive a teacher as a “depersonalized nobody”. Have you seen the Les Choristes movie? There was one person coming to the orphanage, and the whole system was broken. Show this movie in orphanages. When we showed it in a special school, deputy director told us: “Today we are going to have a reaction campaign”. Why? Children start asking questions. We called this project “We learn to watch movies”.
War and barricades
Despite the fact that representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Health and other Ministries having impact on the life of those children had been invited to attend the round table “Sell toys – help a child from an orphanage!”, we did not see any officers representing those authorities. Why? For many years already there is a silent war among the Ministries in which each of them is trying to protect not a specific child but their own interests. And the Cabinet of Ministers instead of regulating the procedure of their activities and transferring all the powers necessary to reform the orphanage system to the Ministry of Family, for some reason does quite the opposite: helps to strengthen the existing system. It is not a secret for anybody that for three years the State Department of Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights was fighting with the Ministry of Health for the latter to extend the list of diagnoses which would allow an orphan not to wait to be adopted by Ukrainian parents for a year. Children with severe forms of infantile cerebral paralysis, hemophilia, Down’s syndrome and other diseases are almost never adopted by Ukrainian parents. At the same time foreigners are eager to take them, but the Ministry of Health remains uncompromising in this issue. But, according to another speaker of the round table, current director of the State Department of Adoption and Protection of Children’s Rights, Ludmila Balym, things should be done together even when in the professional community there is no understanding that family is very important for a child.
Alexander Gezalov also shared his thoughts on this issue. “I have got a two-year old son Fedor, — he told. — When I enter the bathroom to shave, he is standing there with a shaving kit and is “shaving” the same way that I do. And he is doing it to follow me. But in orphanages it is not possible to organize family-type upbringing. That is probably why at the first meeting of orphanage leavers I saw girls wearing high hills and gym suits with their underwear being visible. I told them: “Girls, look at me. I came to meet you as a man. And what about you?” They do not have any clothing culture or culture of behavior, so we are facing all those things. Moreover, as soon as they leave orphanage they give birth to one or two children and do not know what to do. What does the system teach them? Is anybody interested in the inner life of those children? Not long ago a 14-year-old boy approached me and said: “After meeting you I do not know how to live my life. I am a bad student, I play cards and am registered with the commission on juvenile affairs… What shall I do? How shall I live?” Those children have tears running inside them. Their soul is broken. They easily part with their life. They do not see its value. It is difficult for them to build relations with parallel gender as they call it; it is more convenient for them to stay in their environment. The issue of mothers and fathers is also very difficult for them. In orphanages the idea of family is not supported, not reflected upon. Nobody says: wherever and whoever your mother was — but she still was your mother. We have a project “Looking for a Mother”. Thanks to this project we have been able to give families to more than 3.5 thousand children. And one of the mothers told me: “I do not want the child to know that he is adopted”. So I replied to her: “Then how do you treat this child? Where is your respect to his roots, his life story?”
Peace, quiet and God’s grace?
According to Program and Project Manager of the Development of Ukraine Foundation Darya Kasyanova, holding this round table has become another try to give arguments to the state and to bring it to choosing priorities in the issues related to development of family forms of children upbringing. One more speaker of the meeting, director of the Hope and Homes for Children Charity, Galina Postaliuk mentioned that though the number of children in orphanage facilities is going down, the number of such facilities is growing for some reason. Thus, if in 2000 there were 173 orphanage facilitates in Ukraine, now there are already 240 of them.
The “miraculous resolution” of the Cabinet of Ministers says that it is allowed to send to orphanage facilities children from low-income families, dysfunctional families etc., though it is said nothing about the development of services for families in critical life circumstances. “The state should turn its face to healthy families, — Alexander is convinced. — That is where future prisoners, homeless people and orphans later “pop up”. But they have all been children. What made them “mess up” their lives? When did they break down? And it appears that the break-down once happened in their family. It is considered that we need to help a dysfunctional family but why don’t we help a healthy one? Dysfunctional family is a very costly business, but before it became dysfunctional there had been two more stages: when the father had been fired from work and when he had started drinking. Basically saying, the state is waiting for the family to get down on the knees to later take the child away from it. We do not have a signaling system as e.g. in Finland where I go from time to time. There the family gives signals: “I feel bad — I need another profession”, “I am not well — I am looking for re-training” and so on. In a European family a husband and a wife jointly master seven or eight professions, and in our reality — one or two. So as soon as something happens to our family, it is not able to readjust quickly”.
…The round table “Sell toys – help a child from an orphanage!” is over, but there is no doubt that all those present carried out lots of new ideas out of it. Unfortunately, in this article we were unable to tell how “state-supported children” enter colleges, technical and vocational schools, what in reality stands behind their “voluntary” choice of profession, why their medical record cards are so alike and so on. You will find this and a lot of other information in the second part of our publication.
To be continued.