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AIF.RU: Will Charities Survive the Crisis?




by Sergey Khoroshavin

The first ones to feel the blow of the financial crisis were not the oligarchs, nor businessmen, and not even the regular working people - before the problems got to them, many companies had been and continue working on the "fat" they have gained during the good times. It was the most disadvantaged social group that remained face-to-face with the problems: the homeless, the orphanage children, the orphans - all who had occasionally been helped earlier by philanthropists. Money for charities was for many the first line to be cancelled.

RAVNOVESIE is one of the most famous charitable organizations in Karelia. Its founder and permanent leader Alexander Gezalov is certain that mass extinction of charities will begin [in Russia] in the nearest future:

- You see, many of them have been working on a grant basis. They haven't been working on establishing personal contacts with the prospective charity doers, they haven't worked with the press, haven't tried to build a reputation for themselves. Their main objective was to receive money, invest it and do report on the results. Grant programs are being shut down right now, and these organizations just can't work without them.

Alexander Gezalov feels secure about RAVNOVESIE. He came from the orphanage and in the 1990's built his organization from the ground up, when none of the businessmen were thinking about helping the wretched. He established contacts, knocked on doors, made phone calls, camped on doorsteps, and worked on making his organization transparent, so that every donator could verify how his money was spent. A person of great energy, Alexander Gezalov is sure that even in present conditions the organization will survive. It is possible, though, that some projects may suffer from crisis. At present, RAVNOVESIE provides hot meals every week to about 100 homeless people of Petrozavodsk. But every day finding money for this project is becoming a greater challenge:

- It's not that the crisis has seriously hurt the charity doers, - speculates Alexander. It's just that many have become concerned with their own financial security and decided to cut on their charity giving. At the same time they can still afford to fly to Thailand on summer vacation.

Gezalov thinks that the groups that may suffer most are those in whom donators are not interested in terms of perspective elections. In other words, they could treat old ladies to some tea hoping to get their votes at the polls, but it's unlikely for them to give money to soup kitchens or presents for the convicted teenagers. Besides that, changes in Russian legislation have hurt the shipments of humanitarian aid from abroad. Just not so long ago private philanthropists from the neighboring Finland (mainly the local Orthodox Christians) were coming to Karelia bringing loads of second-hand clothing, Pampers, food, which were forwarded by Ravnovesie to the needy. Now the customs allow a maximum luggage of 30 kg per person. But Gezalov is keeping his chin up. Moreover, he has plans to expand the work of his organization. Alexander thinks that at these times large families should be given most attention. Those who have 10, 12, 14 children may start thinking about sending some of the children to state-funded orphanages. In which case, Gezalov concludes, we'll have to help a newly made orphanage resident. Naturally, it's much easier to help him stay in the family. Alexander also believes that possibility of helping is not limited by shortage of money. There is a number of ways to cooperate in a way that would allow both charitable actions without hurting financial standing. For example is Internet project called Orphan Alumnae Club. The club has 30 young female members who volunteer to work free of charge helping old people. Besides that, same convicts who get aid from RAVNOVESIE help back by making presents for orphaned children, also without compensation. It's surprising what kind of handy men can be found in prison camps. The Orthodox youth is ready to work for free as well.

"We have a reputation on our side that is backed up by years of real work", Alexander sums up. Everybody knows that we are not trying to make a name in politics, and we don't subsist on other people's charity. That's why I think we'll survive and keep helping people. As for the others - I am not sure, not really...

Original article in Russian: http://sz.aif.ru/society/article/3613