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The DAY weekly digest: Ukraine to train “professional mothers” to raise children in a Kyiv-area village

January 16, 2009, 9:00 2869 Author: Inna Filipenko www.day.kiev.ua Ukraine, the home of 100,000 orphans or children who have been abandoned by their parents, has declared 2008 the Year of National Adoption. In addition to adoptions and fostering, Ukraine is now applying a new model of family-style upbringing for children — Children’s Villages — a method that has been practiced in various countries for over 50 years

Anyone who has ever lived in an orphanage knows that children ask “Are you my mommy? Will you take me away?”. The dream of all orhpans is about to come true in a special village near Kyiv

Ukraine, the home of 100,000 orphans or children who have been abandoned by their parents, has declared 2008 the Year of National Adoption. In addition to adoptions and fostering, Ukraine is now applying a new model of family-style upbringing for children — Children’s Villages — a method that has been practiced in various countries for over 50 years. Ukraine’s first Children’s Village will be opened later this year in Brovary, near Kyiv. According to organizers, 13 families will live in cottages where they will raise more than 80 children.

This “mom” is a trained professional

The village can take in children who are now living in orphanages in Brovary and other cities of Kyiv oblast. In making their selections of the future residents, specialists are giving preference to children under 10 years old because their characters have not been formed yet, and they have an easier time adapting to living with a family. If a child has brothers or sisters, all the siblings will be taken in. Should biological parents or other relatives appear, their children will be able to maintain contact with them. The women who will become their mothers are also being selected now. “The selection process is underway in various regions of Ukraine via media advertising,” said Maria Melnychenko, manager of the SOS Orphan Village, the international charitable foundation that is sponsoring the construction. “The main requirements are to love children and be over 35 years of age: younger women are not psychologically prepared to bring up several children. No one will be hired without taking psychological tests and training sessions. We give preference to women who have raised their own children. Since it is difficult for one woman to do everything — take care of the children, bring them to school, help with housework, etc. — each of them will have an assistant, a so-called aunt, while the village director will tackle urgent everyday problems.

Once they arrive in the village, each woman will become a “professional mother” and take care of the children until they are 18. Then she will take on a new generation of children. To help the children make their way in the world, SOS Children’s Village will provide financial aid for a period of three years. In the future, the village will be supplemented by youth centers to help former residents enroll in higher educational institutions and find a job after graduation.

Upgrading skills abroad

Six “professional mothers” and 17 children have already been chosen to live in the village, while families are staying in rented lodgings in Brovary. While the village is still under construction, the mothers are attending psychology classes, seminars, and upgrading their skills abroad. Viktoria Kokorina, one of the future residents, already has two “sons,” Volodymyr and Oleksii. They have been living with their new mother for the past 18 months; the selection of families for the Children’s Village began in 2005.

“When I first saw them, I realized that they were carrying a heavy psychological load on their shoulders,” Kokorina said. “One of the boys had never lived a single day with a family: he came to an orphanage straight from an infant home. They were all covered in bruises. I kept asking them about the bruises, but they kept a stony silence. Then they finally told me: that was the way their pals at the orphanage ‘said goodbye to them.’ It took a lot of effort to restore their mental balance and make their eyes gleam with happiness again: the psychologists who work with us also helped. At first I was surprised that experienced adult women are being taught how to bring up children properly. But then I saw that I didn’t know much about the components of children’s, especially orphans’, psychology. For example, when they start living with a family, they should be given time to adapt, at least six months, and it may take years to establish psychological contact with them.”

Kokorina’s new position does not scare her: having brought up two children of her own, she took to the new work easily. When I asked what her profession is, she said, “mother.”

No way without charity

Building a Children’s Village or anything else requires funds. So the organizers, together with Nutrition Ukraine, have launched a charitable campaign called “Let’s Help Orphan Children,” which will last until the end of 2008. Ten kopiikas from the sale of every Nutrition Ukraine product will go to furnishing the cottages at SOS Children’s Village and purchasing washing machines.

“In conducting this campaign, we are guided by the principle of caring for the health of little Ukrainians,” said Iryna Baras, marketing manager of Nutrition Ukraine. “We are trying not only to support the children who are being cared for by SOS Orphan Village, but also to draw public attention to the problems of parentless children because the situation of orphans in Ukraine has grown to formidable proportions. It is very important for the public and sponsors to join this project.”

The organizers are counting on people with empathy. And although 10 kopiikas is nothing, any kind of help for orphans is worth its weight in gold.

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