by Svetlana Tsygankova
Suicidal statistics mention orphanage children among the first in the list of victims. The reason is because young people are simply not prepared for living on their own.
Sasha Kutepov is still reminiscing on his last summer vacation. He had never before experienced anything like this. He and other children of the Veshkelsky Orphanage from Suoyarvsky District lead an independent life for two months. A big house was rented for them at the farm of Evgeniy Klepach. The boys cleaned and did their laundry, planned meals, went shopping and cooked. And helped the farmer in the fields. They helped to prepare hay for the cows and to harvest the crops. Evgeniy Ivanovich is also a beekeeper. Working with bees was obviously something the boys enjoyed the most. Such was their labour and recreation camp program, which was named O.V.I. Translated from Karelian it means "the door", the entrance to "big life". As abbreviation, the letters stand for "Experience, Faith, Interest".
"The kids were learning to live", tells orphanage's headmaster Irina Rick. "Making their own decisions, taking responsibility for each other... Everybody enjoyed the experience. Many of those who went to this summer camp used their new skills after being admitted to vocational schools".
It's not a secret that graduates of orphanages and parental schools are practically unprepared to life as it is. Upon leaving the facility where they had been raised on state's account, fed, clothed and provided with textbooks, they have hard time adjusting to new places. They cannot spend money wisely, do shopping, and prepare food. Children's homes are trying to replace the role of caring parents, but on the other hand fail to teach them the most important thing - the skills of being part of the society, taking decisions, and being independent.
This problem becomes more severe every year. Besides becoming part of suicidal statistics, orphanage alumni often return to the homes of their drinking parents whose parental rights have been withdrawn. Unable to adjust to new life, they follow their parents' footsteps, and even commit crimes.
How can we get rid of this and help these children to begin living without enduring so much hardship? It's not true to say that orphanage personnel are not concerned with the problem. They are indeed. It's not without a reason some graduates are allowed to stay in an orphanage until the age of 23. Orphanage #4 in Petrozavodsk went further, they converted their empty buildings into a shelter, where young people with a housing problem can find a place to stay. Their own place was lost for different reasons - the parents either exchanged or eventually sold it, or it was forfeited, or is unfit for living.
Not long ago two girls came back to the orphanage they were raised in. Before that, they registered at employment office and began to live on welfare, which was 11 thousand rubles (US$300-350) a month. They rented an apartment and used up the rest of money to buy all kinds of stuff. In two weeks they were out of money, not having any even to buy food. So they came back to the orphanage. There was no choice but to accept them back. Later on one more girl joined them, she'll have a baby soon and has no place of her own. So the orphanage mentor goes with her to the doctor's to have her ultrasonic examinations done. They are preparing things for the baby and actually doing all they can trying to convince the mother-to-be not to leave the child in the maternity home. Unfortunately, many times this is what orphanage girls do.
"Ten per cent of graduates have some kind of brain damage. Most children are not interested in socializing, they are suspicious of people and have no will to keep a family, no will to work", tells Irina Mazur, a teacher at Orphanage #4. The children are suggestive, indifferent to the reality, lack self-criticism and can adopt antisocial behavior.
All this was the subject of her speech at the international seminar for social integration and adjustment of orphanage alumni, which took place as part of Finnish-Karelian A Journey to Life project. The grant for this project went to a Finnish organization called All Our Children, headed by its chairman of the board of directors Yrjц Mдnnistц and coordinator Ella Lazareva. The Russian side is represented by ten orphanages of the Karelian Republic. It is planned that Orphanage #4 will serve as a base to create a department for further counseling of graduates. Some buildings of this facility have already been repaired and renovated to make a shelter for the young people. Other orphanages also repaired apartments for graduates, and Veshkelsky Orphanage organized a Work and Recreation Camp, which prepares children for independent life.
The new project will provide advice on all kinds of aspects, offer classes in home economics, healthy lifestyle and professional orientation. Housing is a special issue here. The speech given by Matti Agren, the director of the counseling center for young people of Vanta city, Finland, received an emotional response from Russian social workers and orphanage headmasters. This center has 21 apartments in their property, where young men and women are placed for counseling by appointment from social services. These people are immediately put on the housing waiting list. If they show themselves from a good side, very soon the municipalities provide them with their own apartment.
Russian orphanage graduates cannot even dream about something like that. Those who do not have a place must be placed on a waiting list with all other underprivileged groups and wait for about twenty years before they get an apartment. Department Head of Republic's Ministry of Education and Youth Affairs Galina Grigorieva made an interesting statement saying that social apartments for needy young people can be arranged in Russia as well. For that purpose, it is possible to use apartments of those children who are still living in orphanages. Usually, this property remains empty or is rented to others. Galina Feodorovna thinks that it is sensible to renovate it and use as temporary housing for orphanage's own graduates. That would solve a lot of problems.
"In the course of A Journey to Life project it is planned to create a system for counseling of former orphanage children", tells project's coordinator Ella Lazareva. Originally from Petrozavodsk, she has lived in Helsinki for almost ten years and is professionally helping troubled families in Finland. "We plan to tutor staff who will be working as counselors for orphanage alumni and help them prepare to live on their own".
Meanwhile, teachers and headmaster of one Karelian orphanage are facing a problem they cannot resolve. They are being pressed to accept back one of their former children, who has served a sentence in prison. The orphanage staff members refuse to give in to that. One cannot blame them, because this can have a very negative influence on other children. But what is to be done? There are no counseling organizations in Karelia for children with criminal record.