КРОМО «Равновесие»
Просьбы о помощи
О детях-сиротах
Отказные дети
О детских домах
Об усыновлении
О заключенных
О бездомных
О церкви
О семье и обществе
об организации
Rambler's Top100

«Yellow Submarine» Will Save Orphanage Alumni




Original article is published in russian at Miloserdie.ru

Karelian Young People's Public Organization "Ravnovesie" is finalizing the work on the new national project called Russian Orphan Alumni Achievers Club "Yellow Submarine". The project is aimed at helping orphanage graduates in their social integration and adjustment. Alexander Gezalov, one of the project's leaders, has shared with us the problems faced by orphanage alumni and how they can be solved.

by Alexey Reutskiy

They Are Not Retards!

- Alexander, what is the biggest problem for orphanage alumni?
- It is the problem of living in dependence, one that becomes very severe the moment a child leaves children's home. Having acquired a habit of using government benefits, donations from organizations and private sponsors, all free of charge, a young person is not prepared for a life in a new world, in a different environment, and he cannot use wisely these advantages that came upon him/her. For instance, they receive welfare allowance that they waste on rubbish. They use social benefits like food, housing and educational grants. They can get into college with C's in all subjects, but very rarely do they use this opportunity. As a result, 96 per cent of all orphanage children get into vocational schools. Vocational school is a place where you don't have to study, it's enough to be there on record. They leave vocational school as worthless non-professionals and have neither strength, nor money, nor desire to study further and receive higher education. When they turn 23, their public crib shuts closed and they suddenly discover that the time has passed by and their orphan status is no longer with them. Therefore, they are faced with new challenges. Being drafted by the military can be considered God's blessing - if they qualify. In many cases their physical condition is such that 50 to 60 per cent are unfit for military service.

The biggest problem of orphanage alumni - the problem of living in dependence

- Which challenges in particular are you talking about?
- First is that many of them are very immature. They are very uptight, have no social skills, cannot sell themselves at a job interview, and are poorly educated. A graduate who leaves orphanage at the age of 17 has achievement age of a 12-year old. Can you imagine a child who has to take on life's challenges at 12 years of age?

Being 12, how can he begin to stand up to these challenges? And most important is that he cannot make use of the available government benefits. Money allowance which they receive (and they can get from 30 and up to 60 thousand rubles [appr. US$1000-2000 in 2008]) is simply thrown away on God knows what. They buy some useless trash, or gifts for their friends and acquaintances. One time there was a boy from a village orphanage who spent his graduation allowance on cell phones for the entire village. And it wasn't even serviced by any mobile carrier! So that's it, he wasted all of his money by one thoughtless action. The way out is teaching them to appreciate what they have, showing them how to build relationships and set goals. They have no goal in life.

- Why nobody teaches these skills in an orphanage?
- Because the system in its present state is not designed to set goals for children. It is designed to maintain them. To be honest, orphanages are quite good at doing that. What is missing is the function that prepares a child for his further adjustment and socialization in the future. Or else this function is faked, when children are taught how to cook and do their own laundry. But there is more to the basics, like teaching moral values, for example. Why do they end up in gangs and criminal groups of all kinds? It is because their moral benchmark is way too low. They cannot comprehend the gravity of breaking the law, committing a crime. Very often children commit a crime inside the orphanage walls and receive no punishment for that. It is the orphanage headmaster who is brought to justice. Having got used to being in such position, they graduate from the orphanage and commit more severe crimes. Even in jail, they sincerely believe that they have been wrongfully convicted! I visit jails very often, and hear the same thing from them, "When I was in an orphanage, they'd always let me get away with it, and now I have to do the time for this?" That's right, you do now, because you are a responsible person. It's very hard for them to understand this.

- You are speaking about them as if they are retarded.
- They are not retards. Incapacitated is a more proper definition for them. Some people haven't got arms or legs. These people lack the ability to integrate into society from the walls of a government children's home. They are missing the skill of living a normal life that everybody else is living. Example: I didn't have a good bag, only an old and shabby one. I went and repaired it, then made an alteration and got myself a new bag to carry. I mean this was something I taught myself to do, because I was striving to succeed.

Orphanage alumni have no desire whatsoever to do anything. They give their things away, barter them, let strangers into their apartments... Then strangers get in, install new doors made of steel, and kick children out. I remember something like that happened to one girl. I asked her, "Why are you not living at home?", and she replied, "Well, they kicked me out and took away the keys. Some Tadjiks live there now." So she was staying in her friend's house. "Are you out of your mind?" I told her. Well, we helped to get the strangers out, and she lives in her own apartment now. Another one, an orphaned boy, received a studio apartment from the government. Somebody found out and forced him to reassign it to a different person. After that he was killed and mutilated beyond recognition. He was 17 years old.

- Should orphanage boys and girls be treated differently when being helped with their challenges?
- Absolutely. The boys' biggest problem is obsession with rearrangements of all kinds. With girls it is early pregnancy and a baby on their hands. Just a year after graduation they give birth. In Karelia we have an orphanage alumnae club, there are 25 girls in it, and 4 of them have babies. They are facing a problem of surviving with a child.

They have no job, no housing, no relatives, vocational school education or else no education at all. And father of the child is Tadjik, who abandoned her and returned to his home country.

- Is priesthood in Karelia involved in mentoring orphanages?
- Yes, it is. And when orphanage kids graduate, we tell them: "Guys, if you find yourself in a difficult situation which you cannot solve yourself, do not go to your roommate for help. Come back to us, to the priest, to the church. A priest won't misadvise you."

Right now we have a hotline that children can use to resolve a vital issue, or make arrangements for baptizing. By the way, it should be orphanage alumni answering that phone, but it's not. Although the questions they have are quite simple. The important thing is that they receive the support they need.

- According to your estimations, what percentage of orphanage alumni become criminals?
- There are two kinds of cases. About 70 per cent of the children have been involved in criminal situations, e.g. have been in a detention facility and questioned by investigation officer. But if we take the other type, which totals 50 to 60 per cent of the children who end up in prison, it happens because of one simple reason. It is because in every orphan's life comes a time when he has to make a decision to do something worthwhile. One choice is to hit the books and study hard while working part-time. The other choice is to commit a crime and be sentenced back to the government crib. Once a child stumbles, crime becomes their routine. Another thing that I would like to pinpoint: when I was an orphan, people rejected me because I was from a children's home. When I have made my way in life, people began to reject me because I succeeded despite being an orphanage child. Unfortunately, in our country success of an orphan is perceived as nonsense.

This is a very severe issue, because if the government helped orphanage children become successful in life, number of criminals among them would be much lower.

- Can you give an example of successful persons who came from an orphanage? Those who have overcome all the hardship, who have received education and social status, currently working, with families, etc.?

¬- In general it's roughly 8 per cent, those who succeed. The rest is either behind bars or six feet under. An optimistic example would be our priest, Holy Father Grigory Mikhnevich. He finished school of music after graduating from the orphanage, which is not considered cool among the orphaned. There were 14 alumni in his graduation year, and he is the only one who has lived to be 39. The rest of them are in another world now. He is now managing the Successful Orphanage Alumni Club in Karelia. Spiritual help is also very important for an orphaned kid. Even when the financial support is sufficient, the spiritual component is often left out.

- You just mentioned that it's considered "not cool" to nurture one's artistic talents?
- Of course not, who gives a damn about you? Orphanages only have music workers who organize events, parties, etc. That's it. It is mother who can take her child to music school, pay for his private lessons or classes. Who will take an orphan to music school? It's nobody's business. But despite that, Father Grigory became a guitar and piano musician. He has struggled through all difficulties thanks to his one passion for music. All that time he had been showing perseverance, patience and humility. An orphan child must have some kind of occupation that forms these personal qualities. And also with it the skills of getting along well with the rest of the group, being in the public eye.

I'll give you more examples. We have another priest at our Successful Orphanage Alumni Club, deacon Dionisius Betarashvili, also an orphanage graduate. He set a goal for himself to become a priest. He received his deacon status thanks to his perseverance. He takes great interest in churches, monasteries, Lives of Saints, etc. There's also Alik Gulkhanov, who lives in Moscow. He is master of sports in hand-to-hand combat. He takes in former orphanage kids and trains them. There are also successful businessmen, but they don't like to enlarge upon their orphanage past. That's why I don't know any successful businessmen willing to help us who have come from a children's home. Perhaps there is some breaking point when, having succeeded in business, you don't want anybody in the business environment to know that you were an orphanage kid.

- They want to forget it as soon as possible?
- Of course, and this is understandable, on the one hand. But on the other hand, there is one successful lawyer, Nayil Shamsutdinov. He came from an orphanage and doesn't have a problem recalling those past events. He is helping orphans of Moscow in settling such legal issues as housing, etc. And the fact that he can freely talk about himself as an orphanage alumni who has succeeded in life is a sign he has risen above his pride. This speaks of his spiritual inner world. Father Grigory very often does the same thing, whenever he meets new people, he introduces himself as a priest, but mentions that he came from an orphanage just like these children.

Example vs. Nursing
- What is the main idea of "Yellow Submarine" project?
- Actually, our "submarine" has more resemblance with Noah's Arc. It is the kind of environment that these children crave and where an orphanage alumni can find others just like himself, but who have also made their way in life. These children can be saved if they are placed in the Noah's Arc.

80 per cent of the people who live on a submarine are sailors. They are people who have simple responsibilities. And there is also the officer corps. These officers set an example which children can see and follow, and prove that they can be successful, it is their duty to become such. One doesn't have to become a criminal if he can overcome all challenges by following the footsteps of someone who has done the same for himself.

- You mean some kind of ideal character?
- Yes. Watching some lady who can make a soup is one thing, and watching somebody like you who has traveled this trail and learned to do all these things is quite another. Take me, for example, I can do practically everything. I can cook, I clean, I sew, I do laundry, I repair shoes, etc. Why? Because life forced me to learn how to do it.

It's very important that an orphanage alumnus realizes that if he runs into problems he doesn't need to panic and go to extremes. Don't blame the government, the parents, the society. Just stay calm, set a goal for yourself and work towards reaching it. This is what alumni can't do. And so they go on and on circulating in this environment, and everybody around gives them care, pats them on the back, and then eventually ... they commit suicide. Like that girl for example, who hanged herself with a scarf in the city park. She did this the day before leaving her orphanage into the big world, where hard life was ahead and she didn't know how she was going to manage it.

That's why it is vital that people who are aware about that child's problem don't love him to death, don't pat him on the back until it's sore. What they need to do is to take the child's hand and make him follow, give advice and set things the way that would enable him to overcome difficulties and proceed on his own. Children need to be offered a step-by-step approach to problem solving. Right now there are only a few people in our submarine: two priests and I. Three is company, and more would be better, and it will be better. We are just starting. I also found people on the Internet who are willing to participate in the project. There are only 6 or 7 of them. Let's say, about 10 people in total. But this is only a beginning. I believe that people who want to help will join us, and those orphanage alumni who are willing to help the children cope with difficulties will hopefully come to us in the future.

- So what do you actually do?
- Our sub's crew, the priest and I, visit orphanages, talk to the children and socialize with them. If a legal issue needs to be settled, like filing a case to solve the housing problem, there's a lawyer we know who is available. But most importantly, the kids are visited by their brothers-in-arms, who likewise were in orphanages and who tell them in simple words about the problems they will encounter.

- Well, talking is one thing, and placing them into life-like environment is another. What are you planning in this regard?
- Yes, the very problem is that after [such meetings] the kids have nowhere to go. And what we should put into their heads during our conversations is the idea that they must go to school and stay in school. Often they don't study and eventually run away. They think it's some kind of fun and free ride. Every time I visit an orphanage I ask some girl, why she doesn't study. And she goes, "Why, wha'm I gonna do there? What for?" She doesn't know that some day these carefree days will be over and time will come when she'll have to take a responsible decision. I tell them, "Study and stay in the dormitory, go to training sessions, go to the library, go anywhere useful. But don't return to the orphanage, don't hang out here, stop living your orphan life." Here, it's very important to spark her interest in learning.

I am preparing to give a speech in a nearby orphanage outside of Moscow. I will start by showing a movie of how we open a school in prison. We have also opened a class in a detention facility. I will tell them, "There is the path of those who have chosen to walk by themselves, and they ended up in a correctional facility or youth detention center. What do you have to do not to become one of them?"

Unfortunately, only this method shows real results. It's no use explaining it with words. It works only when you show them hard-core inmates studying in prison and tell them, "THIS will be your future, you'll be next to take this seat. Plus there you will be exploited, and all because you didn't do anything for yourself in this life. You didn't study hard, you hung around in the city, traveled by hitchhiking, didn't bother to work..." When I was studying I worked several jobs because I was aware that my eligibility for welfare would soon expire and there'll be no more patting on the back.

- You did have strong will to survive! Only 10% of people have that.
- Yes, I agree. But technically, not all children there are bad. The main point is to set an example for them. I don't mean putting a portrait or an icon with Father Grigory or Gezalov in it and saying to them, "Do as they do!" But we do need to create an image of a successful orphanage alumni, it's not yet on the Internet. There is a website where you can read that here, Sadalsky was a successful [orphanage] alumni, also Ruslanova, Alexander Matrosov, Astafiev, Pristavkin, etc. But children don't know these people. Who is this guy Astafiev? It's another thing when you see a person by your side who was an alumni and now he is a priest. A priest who mentors, does weddings, welcomes new flock, and on the other hand you see him reading the last rites, conducting burial services - the entire life circle. We invite to enter this circle and live in it until the last rites are read over you.