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I am writing this article for those who once having had desire and opportunities to help others disinterestedly, typed "charity" or "volunteering" in the search box. And then having thought who needed help the most, added “orphan asylum”.
First of all, it makes me happy that in our challenging world there are still a lot of people who are capable of selflessness and noble impulses. And from here further I will address more to the intellect than to emotions, because both charity and volunteering represent a sphere where excessive emotions and sentimentality often result in making a real mess of things. Actually, it applies to any sphere. The difference between charity and business, for example, is that the first usually begins with emotions. But then, if a person really wants to help and not to show his own mercy and delicate psyche to himself and others, he should start thinking reasonably.
So let’s say, one is going to help orphanages. It goes without saying that we want to help orphans, but as they are in children's homes, therefore, we will direct our help there. The majority of our fellow citizens believe that a children's home is a place where parentless children should stay in order not be left alone. Of course, life is not easy there. To say more, it is harsh. And of course, it is better if they are taken by their relatives as ward or adopted. But adoption is pretty rare nowadays. And being in an orphanage is still better than being in the street. This idea of a children's home is the first stereotype that needs to be broken in order to get the proper understanding of the situation.
And the truth is that a children's home is not the place for a child. Why is it so? It’s a long story, and I can’t cover all the aspects of this problem within this article. But anyway, I will state the two main reasons.
The first and most important one. In order to grow up normally and learn the surrounding world without hindrances, a child must be attached to the person who takes care of him. To be attached to the only significant adult who feeds him, puts to bed, carries is his loving arms and comforts when the child is hurt or in pain. This person must completely "belong" to the child and not to disappear from his access zone at night or at the weekend. It’s clear, that in an orphanage or children's home, such conditions are not provided. They are with an educator, a teacher, a nurse during the daytime, with another nurse at night; adults constantly replace each other, and no matter how loving they are, they will not substitute for a child’s mother. Simply because there are a lot of them. A strong attachment is not formed, and it is a necessary condition, "reliable basis" for understanding the world. If it's not available, life turns into a survival. The entire child’s energy is spent not on the development, but to strike out for himself, conquer a place under the sun, trying to get even the crumbs of love and warmth at any cost. Therefore, one and all kids in the orphanage are behind other children of their age and once they are in a family, they catch up very fast. In other words, good children's homes do not exist, even if the most wonderful people in the world work there.
There is a belief that as a minimum an orphan must be provided with food, clothing, and a roof over his head. As for the rest, it will go as luck would have it, within the limits of the possible. This is delusion. First of all, any kid needs affection, which means he needs mom or dad. Alexander Gezalov, an orphan and the author of the book "Salty Childhood" (which is worth reading) writes about this as follows: "Very few people realize true - internal – unhappiness of a child. It's a terrible, wild, absolutely overwhelming loneliness with no future points of reference".
The second factor that ruins an orphan’s fate in the orphanage is life with all expenses paid. A child in a family knows that his parents are at work from eight am to seven pm in order to make their living, earn money for food, clothing and toys. If all of them eat at a cafe every day, they will have no money to go to the sea in summer. They have to remember to be ready to spend some money on such items as toothpaste and detergents, to pay for utilities and when necessary for repair of household appliances. Children in orphanages do not face such problems. But they are very well aware of the fact that food, clothing, footwear and their assisting staff will be provided by the state. They know that if they tear a jacket, they will get a new one and that they will always have a three-course meal. Regardless of anything, just because they are orphans. Not only the above, besides the state, the society does a lot for them for no special reason. Free excursions and concerts, five morning performances at New Year's holidays, plenty of chocolate... When leaving a boarding school, they have parasitical way of thinking. And they keep thinking that everybody around is obliged to them. And it turns out that once they are no longer children, no one cares that they are orphans. They try to wring apartment which they are supposed to get and privileges out of the authorities. Having achieved nothing, they get frustrated and often look for easy money. And it's hard to blame them as the society had been keeping them in hothouse conditions for 18 years, throws them helpless out on the street.
There are many other factors that often derange and ruin children's state of mind in children's homes. More detailed info regarding this issue can be found here, here and here. If you want to help reasonably and look for information about orphanages, you will sure to come across the word "system". Volunteers and children’s right defenders used this term to describe the system of orphanages in the former Soviet Union and it was so concisely. It really reminds a conveyor, which was stopped in civilized countries and is still working in our country. This "system" is vicious. But, unfortunately, it is not so easy to destroy it.
There is an alternative. I am talking about family-based education. And the next stereotype that needs to be broken is that "it is impossible to find a home for all children". It is very possible. If not for all of them, but almost for everyone. It is evidenced not only by the experience of developed countries, but also an experiment carried out in our country, in our region. Non-profit organizations along with the local authorities have been carrying out a regional project "Family for a child in the Dnepropetrovsk region" for the last 2 years. At the beginning of 2011, when the project started, about 2.3 thousand children lived in residential schools. For the time being, nearly a thousand of them found a family which means that it took 2 years to reduce the amount of orphans to a half in orphanages.
What is the point of all above said? The most crucial help to a child in the orphanage is to help him get him out of it.
What do the most benefactors imply? To load orphans with candies and toys, clothing and footwear at holidays. Put a plasma TV and computers, to make modern repairs. They spend bunch of money and forget to think that even with a plasma TV it is still a children's home, and candies never make people happier. The results of such donations are described here and here in the posts and comments. Those who stimulate their mind are ready to pay for extra classes or hobby clubs, for example. However, pretty often studying for "orphans" is a wasted effort or as another saying states “like caviar to the general”. Why should they put a lot of efforts and study hard if in any case teachers will give them satisfactory middle-level grades and they will be promoted to the next class. Who or what is the reason for them to study?
This is the way volunteers usually try to help: they come to the orphanage and slop over kids: to wash – to feed – to walk – to play. Indeed, it is very important for a child's development that someone comes to him at least twice a week for 2 hours. Others come to the children's home with games, guitar concerts and performances, workshops of hand-made and other "dances with a tambourine". Sorry my being so disrespectful. Of course, workshops, for example, are more useful than a concert. And yes, children need to communicate. And the worst of all the “entertaining programs” is tons of chocolate for the New Year and the International Children's Day as it spoil teeth and gives stomachaches.
But there is another kind of harm, a hidden one. Imagine what a child feels when the great number of strange men and women are willing to give him concerts and sweets several times a year, but there is no one willing to let him into their lives. On the one hand, it seems that everybody loves him, but on the other hand, the kid still feels the same total loneliness.
Another quotation of Aleksnder Gezalov: "Here you have arrived. You are happy - a child is happy. You experience emotional upheaval and enjoyment of your own act: you have just sung songs, made friends, held hands, hugged, taken pictures. What’s next? You left and a child remained. And nothing really changed in his life".
Experience of people who genuinely want to help orphans go to work in children's homes or become volunteers, shows that it is impossible to play this role forever. It is very hard to watch the "system" ruining children for years, and at the same time realize, that there is very little you can do to fix it. There are two options: just to walk away or to leave, having taken an "orphan" with you, who is (to be more correct) your foster child now. Quite often people start with volunteering and then have a foster family. But you can’t expect this from a volunteer; generally, it is unacceptable to agitate people to take children in the family. Because to bring up someone else's child might be too much for some people. Each adoptive or foster parent has his or her own difficult way to the decision. But if you do want to help orphans, there are other reasonable ways to do so.
The first of them is to support projects directed on placement of children in families. For example, the charitable organization "Rainbow Light" has a project "Mediapasport". This is a database with videos and pictures of orphans who are subject to family placement. The website started work in April 2012 and the result exceeded expectations: 80 children, whose profiles were posted on the website "Mediapasport" have found families within a year, 15 of them are the children with special needs, and the rest 65 are mostly children older than 8 years old.
Very seldom adoptive parents take a child with their eyes closed. Normally, they watch closely at child’s character, temperament, emotional type. Often people give pretentious accusation: “They choose a child like the goods in the store! How dare they!” And usually one can hear it from those who never adopted any children, and cannot even imagine how difficult it might sometimes be for parents - choleric to get along with a phlegmatic child, etc.
Someone finds a son or a daughter together with "Mediapassport", others having watched videos with kids, realized that it was not their way, and thus saved themselves from making a serious error. And almost a hundred children now have people they can call mom and dad. Isn’t it more important than charitable concerts and clubs?
The second way to help children to leave orphanages – an indirect one - is to help foster families and family-type orphanages. "The Rainbow light" supports them in many different ways: on-site psychological service and trainings, organization of excursions and trips, and free creative classes. And of course, they provide financial support. Because the way from the foster family to family-type children's home usually implies purchase of a bigger home or expansion of living area, as well as arranging additional bathroom and purchase of furniture. Many parents have the emotional resources to take more children, but not everyone has the financial ones for this. The considerable help in the development of family-based orphanages is provided in the Dnepropetrovsk region to the families as they are not left alone with their problems and feel the constant support.
And the third way to help potential orphans is not to let them get to an orphanage, to save the family and not to let it get destroyed. There's a lot to learn from Europe and America: social services make huge efforts there to give help to parents - alcoholics and drug addicts to recover, not to let a large family experience abject poverty and not to get to the high-risk group. We have gradually begun to deal with it, but so far the support of disadvantaged families in Ukraine is far from being provided and settled, it is much worse than supporting family-based orphanages. The "Rainbow Light" charity foundation has a "Family Support Center" program, one of its directions is working with young mothers who find themselves in difficult life circumstances. Sometimes a mother really wants to bring up her child alone, but she just can’t. And in this situation a bag of children's clothes, diapers and some legal advice saves a child from being an orphan.
Well, though such help to children is much better and more effective, but what if one still feels like going to an orphanage with a guitar. Is it bad? – Someone may ask. The answer seems to be very easy - it isn't bad. But let's look at the statistics. For the time being there are more than 12,000 registered charitable organizations in Ukraine. Let's say there are much fewer really working ones. Not all of them provide support to children’s homes. But at the same time there are still many other unregistered volunteer organizations. I think, in Ukraine hundreds of organizations help orphans. And only the "Happy Child" charity foundation in 2007 started working in the direction of family-based arrangement by publishing pictures and information about the individual kids on their website. In 2009, the "Development of Ukraine" foundation launched the first national database with photographs of orphans. However, unfortunately, the quality of the photos there often leaves much to be desired. The third such project is our "Mediapasport", where there are 2 videos of each child: an interview and a story about him told by the orphanage staff, plus a few photos. I do not know about other similar programs in Ukraine, though I carefully looked for such information. It is a pity that only 3 foundations out of the whole amount of existing ones were able to run such effective projects to support the family units. It is a pity that enormous human and material resources go to charity concerts and gifts to children's homes, when they could have been spent much more efficiently.
And developmental activities and visits of volunteers "from the outside world" are really necessary in boarding schools and orphanages for children with special needs as arrangement of family units is far from getting there. But even in these cases, before buying toys and sweets, I would rather try to find out if any of these children need additional medical tests or surgery? Because proper medical care which is supposed to be provided free of charge to disabled orphans is often not available.
And finally, I’d like to say the following: whether you have decided to be engaged in charity or not, remember that our children will have to live in the same country with the graduates of boarding schools and children who had grown up in crisis families. Do not be indifferent to those who are next to you, to the neighbors and classmates of children, perhaps just now they need your help the most. Who knows, maybe some clothes too small for your kid should be given not to a children's home but to a large neighbor family? Maybe you will save her from a nervous breakdown if you stay with her kid for a couple of hours a week? Maybe in a kindergarten at a meeting of parents protesting against a disabled child in a group, you will try to explain that such child needs pre-school education not less than the others? And then his mother will not face a scary prospect to send her child to a boarding school to earn a living and medicine.
Let us help wisely! To give a child not candies but dear people. If children grow up in loving families, it will be a much more comfortable world to live in.