SOS Children’s Villages started working in Belarus after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. In co-operation with the "Children of Chernobyl" charity foundation, SOS Children's Villages started its work in the capital city of Minsk. As well as offering care in families, the attached social centre offers children, suffering from radiation damage, accommodation for the duration of their out-patient treatment. SOS Children’s Villages work has continued and it now runs programmes in three locations in Belarus.
Hardships of living in a transition economy
An SOS family sitting on the sofa (photo: B. Neeleman)
Borovljany is a small town about 20 km north-east of the country's capital, Minsk. Our organisation is situated in a rural area and is surrounded by many farmhouses and hostels accommodating the staff of numerous clinics in the vicinity. The children from the area attend the kindergarten and schools in the nearby town of Lesnoj.
As the capital city, Minsk is at the centre of the country's economic and social developments. The manufacturing and service sectors are important sources of employment and income, with many key industries still controlled by the state. However, the transition economy has resulted in instability. Unemployment and underemployment continue to be high. The social welfare system does not manage to protect the most vulnerable. The cost of living has continued to rise and many families now live in poverty. Households with many children, single- parent households and those where only one parent works are more likely to live in poverty.
In addition to economic factors, the main reasons why children lose parental care in the area are parental neglect, alcoholism or the deteriorated health of the parents. Many of the children who SOS Children's Villages works with have faced many difficult situations such as family violence and suicides. These traumatic experiences which affect all areas of their everyday life mean that they are in need of psychological support. Special attention is given so that they can concentrate in school and therefore profit fully from their schooling.
Providing support for those who need it most
Although the state has taken some measures to help children who have lost parental care, our work in the area remains as crucial today as it was when we started working in the area. SOS Children's Villages has been very active in influencing the social care standards in the country. In addition, the provision of support to families and children who have lost parental care, the training of local educational staff, and the tailored support to young people embarking on an independent life have formed the core of our organisation's work in the area.
What we do in Borovljany
Creating a work of art (photo: B. Neeleman)
SOS Children's Villages aims to strengthen local families by offering access to essential education, nutritional and health services. Working together with local authorities and other agencies, we support families who are at risk of abandoning their children. We advise on parenting skills and income generation. Furthermore we strengthen communities so that vulnerable members have someone to turn to in times of need. An important part of our work is directed at the improvement of education in the area. We enhance the skills of teachers and support individual children with their schooling.
Children whose families can no longer take care of them can find a loving home in one of the 12 SOS families. The children from the SOS families attend nearby schools or kindergartens together with local children, which helps them become part of the community.
In 2001 SOS Youth programmes were set up. The young people can live in special houses during their vocational training or further education and can prepare for an independent life under the guidance of professionals.
In June 1992, the Social Centre started catering to children who arrived in Minsk from all over Belarus in need of medical assistance as a consequence of the Chernobyl disaster. Up to 360 families can be accommodated per year, giving children and their mothers the possibility to stay together in a home-like environment during the duration of their therapy.
The SOS Social Centres also run a series of workshops and advice centres. We offer health counselling and various courses are run to enhance the skills of the local population, for example IT, business and office skills have been offered in the past.