to homeless children
In this situation the state has failed to take effective measures for dealing with homelessness. The state-run orphanages, which are 2 thousand in Russia, have given asylum to 67 thousand children, 27 thousand more live in 150 boarding schools. However, most of these children, though appearing to be placed more or less satisfactorily, do not fare well at all as 10% of the orphanages and boarding schools lack normal sanitary facilities, 48% are in grave disrepair, and 5% need emergency repair. In many places, children's institutions have been denied even budgeted funds. Embezzlement and misuse of budget allocations have been perpetrated by the orphanages' administrations on a massive scale.
Children in state-run orphanages have not enough clothes, writing materials and sometimes even food. In some regions, children have not been subjected to medical examination for 2 or 3 years. As a result, many children in state-run orphanages grow weak and suffer from chronic diseases. They are often abused and beaten by their mentors. As a rule, they leave their orphanage completely unprepared for life and receive no practical or psychological support in settling their further destiny. This results in another terrible statistics: 40% of orphanage and boarding school leavers become alcoholics and drug-addicts; 40% find themselves among criminals; and 10% commit suicide. Only 10% of them come to regulate their independent life more or less successfully.
Various public organizations have tried to help homeless children somehow. They have arranged meals in the street and in soup kitchens, offered psychological assistance to homeless children, created their own orphanages and asylums, including family-type homes. This activity has brought concrete results, but, unfortunately, covered only a small percentage of homeless children.
The Russian Orthodox Church has also taken part in aid to homeless children and orphans. One of the areas of this work is visiting state-run orphanages and asylums. Priests talk to children, telling them about faith and the Church and baptize those who wish. On church holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, church workers arrange festive performances for children and distribute gifts. Where possible, excursions are organized to various monasteries, churches and Orthodox holy places. Sometimes they succeed in involving children in some work at church or in Sunday school.
Another area is establishing orphanages and asylums at parishes and monasteries. Here church structures have encountered tremendous difficulties, the main problem being a lack of facilities and funds. Even a small orphanage needs a separate building or facilities where bedrooms, classrooms, playing rooms, toilets, bathrooms and other facilities can be accommodated. Even if such a building is available, which is a rare case, its readjustment for an orphanage costs a lot of money. Large sums also needed to maintain an orphanage. However, even in those cases when material problems have been somehow solved by securing sponsors' support, almost insurmountable red-tape difficulties arise in getting an orphanage officially registered. Permission has to be obtained from several commissions which, following formal instructions, tend to find faults with the least deviations from the prescribed norms, while state-run children's institutions are allowed to function with much more serious violations.
In this situation many church-run children's orphanages have to exist illegally, without any support from the state. Only a few orphanages that have been founded by church organizations have managed to obtain an official status and state financing.
Another form of work carried out by church organizations with homeless children is the establishment of social stations where children can eat, undergo a medical check and sanitary treatment and receive psychological assistance. The staff of these stations also seeks to return children to their families or to place them in orphanages.
Whatever the form of aid to socially orphaned children may be, church workers see it as their major task to "warm up" their children spiritually, to prepare them for life on their own and to help them find a spiritual and moral support through introduction to the Church.
In our November 1996 issue, we wrote about several Orthodox orphanages. In this issue we return to this theme and tell our readers about some initiatives undertaken to help tackle the problem of children's homelessness.
The Grand Duchess Elizabeth herself was present at the opening of the orphanage named after her. Moskovskiye vedomosti (Moscow News) reported: "Today, May 4, 1983, the Moscow Board by the highest consent of His Majesty the Emperor opened at Peter's Park and blessed an orphanage for 20 children of both sexes aged from 1 to 7. The orphanage built in honour of the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna is awarded the name of Elizabethan. For the new orphanage, the Board has added a spacious two-storey building to the one accommodating the Orphanage of His Highness the Prince of Oldenburg, so both orphanages now have a common entrance. The house is surrounded by a magnificent shady garden. On the occasion of the inauguration, the buildings of the both orphanages were decorated with flags and green garlands. Her Highness arrived at 11.00 in the morning… Two orphan girls were honoured with an opportunity to present the Grand Duchess with a magnificent bouquet of natural flowers. The Grand Duchess proceeded to the building of the orphanage where the administrator of the Moscow diocese, Bishop Alexander of Dmitrov, conducted a thanksgiving with the blessing of water. The choir of the girl's vocational branch of the Dolgorukov's and Xenia's Orphanages sang harmoniously. Then all the rooms of the orphanages were sprinkled with holy water. The Grand Duchess inspected them and proceeded to the terrace looking on the garden, where she was offered coffee. The orphans settled themselves next to the terrace and their united choir, conducted by F. Boguslav, sang beautifully "Glory" and the hymn devoted to their Imperial Highnesses. The Grand Duchess was very much pleased with the singing. The rooms and décor of the both orphanages also made a good impression on her".
By 1894, the both orphanages fostered 80 children from 5 to 7 years of age.
Under the Soviet regime, the church and the orphanages were closed. After divine services resumed at the church of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh in 1990, its parishioners also resumed the tradition of care for orphaned children.
On October 6, 1990, the Day of the Conception of the Holy Prophet, Precursor and Baptist John, children from the neighbouring Orphanage No. 8 came to the church and asked to baptize them. After the service was over, the rector, archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, baptized the children, with parishioners becoming their godparents. At the children's request, the parish priests began to take spiritual care of the orphanage.
Later these children were transferred to other orphanages and boarding schools in Moscow, but contacts with them did not cease. The friendly and sometimes parental concern of the parishioners for their fate attracted other children. They asked to take them to church; many were baptized.
With time the children grew up, left their orphanages and boarding schools to begin life on their own, which proved hard for most of them. But in their grief the children knew the place where they may come for help and where they will be supported, fed and comforted.
As the number of children coming to the church of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh kept increasing, the Parish Council decided to found an orphanage. The Northern District Prefect M. T. Demin supported the initiative.
With the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia, a centre of social rehabilitation called St. Pavlin's orphanage was opened in 1999. On May 20, 1999, it was registered with the state. It was named after St. Pavlin the Merciful, Bishop of Nola, who was known for his care for orphaned children and who is commemorated on January 23/February 3.
One of the major tasks of the centre is to prepare its children for life in a big city. The children are taught various working skills necessary for independent life. They also work at the adjoining farmhouse, growing flowers, bushes and trees. They help adults in repairs, learn various crafts and do household work.
In the first place, however, the children coming to the orphanage have to be "warmed up". Therefore, all relations are built on the basis of love and mutual understanding. The children are brought up as Christians and church people, as according to St. John of Kronstadt, "it is the Church that can give the best pedagogical education". On the face of it, the pedagogical principles adopted by St. Pavlin's orphanage are very simple, yet they demand great patience and self-control from all the staff. Love and care shown here towards children help them to learn to be kind and sensitive towards those around them. The children learn to live according Christian commandments.
The centre observes the principle of free development, that is, children are given an opportunity for expressing their individuality, interests and abilities wherever this does not contradict the adopted rules of behaviour.
Discipline, obedience and work - these are the essential components of the formation of a child.
St. Pavlin's orphanage is small; there are only 10 children living there permanently. But during 1999, it helped 80 children. Parishioners of the church of St. Mitrophan of Voronezh have continued to take care of children from orphanages in Moscow, Moscow region, St. Petersburg and other cities. They have worked to inchurch children: over 60 children were baptised in their church during the last year alone.
The purposeful work for spiritual and moral education of children and aid carried out for this short nine-year period of spiritual nourishment has brought good results. Our children differ from children of the same age in other orphanages in that they are more merciful and more critical to their own bad actions.
The most important thing, however, is that children when starting life on their own and encountering troubles and miseries know that there is the Church, their protectress and patroness, and their Home.
Director of St. Pavlin's orphanage
The principal aim of the rehabilitation centre is to teach children who found themselves in adversary conditions to survive, to be ready for life on their own and to help them return to their families, if possible. Working on the staff of the centre are 8 social pedagogues, 4 methodologists, 3 psychologists, a psychotherapist, a physician, 2 nurses, a leisure organiser, as well as personnel of the kindergarten and technical staff.
The centre runs two sections: a teenagers department for children from 8 to 18 years of age and a pre-school department for children from 1 to 7 years of age.
The teenagers departmentMost of the teenagers in the centre either have no parents or their parents evade the responsibility to bring up their children. Some of them live permanently in the street, while others have left their families for a short period. Still others would pass the night at home but, having given up school, spend the rest of the time in the street. The education of even the eldest of them does not go beyond the third or fifth grade. The primary task of the centre is to identify children who need our help. At this stage, we work together with inspectors for minors and school social workers. The centre's social workers deal with street children, inviting them to the centre. In recent times, many children have begun to come to the centre on their own or on an advice of their friends acquainted with the work of the centre.
The centre is engaged in the implementation of several programs for teenagers.
Small children and teenagers receive free meals at two soup kitchens. One of them is located near a metro station, and all children know it well. Any child or a teenager can come to it on his or her own. Meal tickets are distributed at the soup kitchen by a social pedagogue. Psychologists take turns to be in constant attendance in the soup kitchen. Here they first meet a child and find out what kind of assistance he or she wants to receive from us. After meals children come to the centre. This soup kitchen largely takes care of those children who still attend school or do not feel ready yet to attend studies at the centre. The second soup kitchen is located at the centre proper. It is intended for the centre's pupils. Meals here are sponsored mainly by the CIDC. Those children who study at the centre are fed at the state's expense. At present both soup kitchens provide meals for 60 children.
Small children and teenagers who come to us are kept under a constant medical and sanitary control carried out by the centre's physician and nurse. Measures are taken to treat and prevent pediculosis, scab and other skin diseases. The centre has a special facility with a shower, hot water, a washing machine and a first-check box to examine and treat children. Once a week, the children visit a bathhouse in our district, while taking showers during the rest of the days.
Small children and teenagers are patronised by social pedagogues and have psychologists and a psychotherapist working with them.
The basic method of work with children is their involvement in work and introduction to the Church. No child or teenager is given anything free, except for one-time assistance in case of an emergency, but has to earn it. Work is distributed according to one's ability: some sweep rooms, while others wash floors and still others water flowers and do the dusting. All repair work in the building is carried out by the teenagers directed by masters.
Besides, we take part in the annual city contest for temporary jobs for children under age. This program makes it possible to pay for teenagers' work at the rate of 2 minimal wages.
Seminarians and members of the Orthodox sisterhood of the Holy Martyr Elizabeth take an active part in inchurching the children. They look after them in church, organise pilgrimages, read with them the akathistos to the Holy Martyr Elizabeth once a week and pray together before meals. They also arrange excursions to museums, theatres and the circus and sightseeing tours.
The centre's social workers try to meet the teenagers' parents to find out the reason for which the children have come out in the street and to return them to their families. Sometimes they have managed to place children with their relatives and in some cases they have to send a child to an orphanage.
The centre's psychologists seek to discover children's personal peculiarities and help them choose a vocation. They work to strengthen children's motivation for general and vocational education. Those teenagers who seek education can attend studies at the Inter-church Educational Complex.
Vocational training is offered for house painting and plastering, woodwork and typography. Workshops and classes for theoretical studies are situated in the centre's building, except for the printing-house, which is located at the CIDC's main building, 200 metres away from us.
Since the teenagers who are trained for a vocation at out centre have no sufficient school education, we have had to open optional classes for them to catch up with the school curriculum and subsequently individual classes for general education. The CIDC has not yet obtained the license for instruction on general disciplines, so we have concluded an agreement with a school for both the interim and final certification of our children and for granting them 9-grades graduation certificates. Teachers who give children instruction on general disciplines are also staff members of the centre.
Pre-school departmentThe pre-school department has been opened to give support to families in crisis and to identify children in risk-groups. It has been opened at a kindergarten and occupies the second half of the center's building. There are 5 sanatorium-health groups: 1 day-nursery group of 10 children and 4 kindergarten groups of 15 children in each.
The day nursery and kindergarten are free for parents, thanks to the sponsors. Humanitarian aid, when possible, is given to families whose children come to the day nursery and kindergarten.
The center carries out social work with families in many ways. Working with parents are psychologists, a psychotherapist, social educators, a lawyer and an employment officer. Jobless parents are offered retraining.
It is planned to open a mini-individual labor exchange for jobless parents who hold an individual work license for them to get information about local demands for services. Requests for services come through the district Social Service Center, with which we have an appropriate agreement and which has on its books disabled persons and sick and poor pensioners.
Director of the rehabilitation center
The primary area of these efforts is work in state-run orphanages and foundling homes. Today it can be said with certainty that this form of social work is gathering momentum. At present, the clergy of the Moscow diocese are patronising over 50 state-run foundling homes and orphanages.
Cooperation with the state-run Kolosaya orphanage in the town of Mytischi can be cited as an example. There are 15 children in the orphanage. Along with ordinary personnel, the orphanage is serviced by two families and parishioners of the church of Our Lady of Vladimir. Members of these families spend at the orphanage all their time free from work and studies. They help their charges with homework, participate in common games, hold individual talks and seek to attract children to prayer without being obtrusive.
This demands a special spiritual tact. As a rule, the children in the boarding school are either indifferent or hostile to religion. They are reluctant to listen to what they are told about the Church and Orthodoxy. There were cases when, brought to a church for an excursion, some of them refused even to enter it, not to mention making confession and communicating. To the credit of our colleagues, they have never forced children or brought pressure to bear on them.
Nevertheless, the benevolent and compassionate attitude of our workers to orphans helps to soften their distrust of the Church, and many children in the boarding school agree with time to receive the Holy Baptism and participate in church life.
Of course, it has not been set as a direct task of our church workers to necessarily bring all the children in the fold of the Church. The most important thing is to warm up their "frozen" hearts by motherly love and to muffle as far as possible the dreary feeling of orphanhood and loneliness.
Another area of the Church's involvement in the fate of homeless children is the creation of orphanages attached churches. It can be said with certainty that almost every church has children gathering at it. At some churches they are only a few, while at others they are dozens. Their ranks are in continuous shift as some come to warm and cloth themselves and then leave to be replaced by others. This migration defies all calculation. Apparently, these children have no place of permanent residence, and the need naturally arises to place them somewhere. This is done at parishes, sometimes without any coordination with the local administration and, of course, without any support from it at the initial stage.
We have such a parish at the church of Our Lady of Vladimir at Mytischi. At present, there are 10 children staying at it. Most of them are from troubled families. They have not been given even an elementary education; many have never attended school. Therefore, our principal task is to fill the gaps in their education and formation, to prepare them for school, to help them hold out through the secondary school and, having identified the most gifted of them, to help them receive a higher education. To this end, we have special tutors who help the orphanage children to do their homework. Children also attend the Sunday school at the church.
The children have an opportunity to come out and visit the families of their school friends. Since the orphanage is located in the territory of the church, children in their spare time participate in services. The elder ones help to clean the church and work in the kitchen to cook meals for the staff, clergy and the poor. They also work at the food store and in the garages.
The children are fed well and clothed modestly, of course, but the most important things is that the staff take care of them as of their own children. Of course, despite all the care and attention, they remain orphans, and the seal of orphanhood is impossible to be wiped fully off their faces. Much has been missed in their lives, and it is not easy to make up for it. However, it can be said with certainty already now that the children who have come in touch with the Church or spent some years within her walls are now different from those who live in railway stations and market places. Of course, they are not without vices peculiar to street children, but these vices are not so terribly predominant as they are in those children who have not experienced the beneficial influence of the Orthodox Church.
Such "church-parish" orphanages exist in many parishes and monasteries in our diocese. Unfortunately, most of them have not been registered officially because of the red tape and in some case because of resistance on the part of the local authorities. These orphanages, however, do fulfill their calling. Love and care with which church and monastery clergy and workers surround the orphaned children help to eradicate from children's memory the remembrance of their dreadful homeless existence outside the walls of the church and give children an opportunity for entering life on equal footing with the children of the same age who have parents and homes. In short, it is necessary to solve the problem of parish and monastery orphanages by lifting up red-tape obstacles on the way of their organizers.
In this respect, the experience of Catholic monasteries in the West is interesting. There are orphaned children brought up at every monastery. They receive secondary education, while those more gifted can get a higher education. Their further destiny is up to them. Only a few of them become clergymen. The most important thing is that they receive a profession and a start in life. Our monasteries in Ivanovo, Yaroslavl and other cities in Russia also have such an experience, but unfortunately there is no general church policy in dealing with this burning problem. The time has come to do it on the level of the whole Church.
Hegumen Alexander Agrikov
In charge of social work in the Moscow diocese
We built a house at the church of St. Matthew at the Piskovichi village near Pskov and accepted first those two teenagers, then two more and later more and more. Most of our children are leavers of correctional boarding schools for mentally retarded children, so they normally come to our orphanage at the age of 15 or 16. We also had two orphaned boys who had no deviations in their development whatsoever. For the seven years of its existence, our orphanage gave asylum to 15 small children and teenagers. Concurrently there were from 7 to 12 children. During holidays they were visited by their brothers and sisters, also orphans staying in various foundling homes.
To provide the children with work and to secure some material support for the orphanage at St. Matthew's, a workshop has been organised to produce church candles. Most of the children work in it. One girl works as a cook at a secondary school at the church of the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women. Smaller children attend the sixth and the eighth grades of the correctional school.
Living in the orphanage, the small children and teenagers come to know the Church. Before entering the orphanage, none of them was baptised. Now they are all baptised. They attend divine services regularly, make confessions and communicate. The boys act as sextons. Almost every evening, we arrange a tea party with talks, including those about Christian faith and the Church.
Along with the direct arrangement of the children's life and studies at the orphanage, we help them receive vocational training and to arrange their further life. Four boys and two girls from the orphanage have graduated from a vocational school where they have learned the trade of seamstress, cook, mechanic and locksmith. One of our leavers is now studying at the Seminary in Jordanville. Six of our 15 children have started independent life; four have managed to obtain flats, and two have married.
However, since most of the children in the orphanage have been diagnosed "mentally retarded" and are Group 2-invalids, independent life is difficult and sometimes even impossible for them. Therefore, we have decided to build a special house in which they could live and some of them to work when they become of age. There will be 7 flats in the house, with a common room and a garage on the ground floor and workshops and storage facilities in the basement. At present, the construction of the house has been almost completed. The children themselves were active helpers of the builders, doing all the auxiliary works.
Unfortunately, the orphanage at St. Matthew has not yet obtained an official status and has not enjoyed a real support from either the secular or ecclesiastical administration. There are no permanent sponsors either. Nevertheless, we have managed not only to maintain the orphanage, but also to broaden our work.
At present, we have nine charges. Through common efforts we are building a house for them and hope to provide for their future.
Archpriest Paul Adelheim
The churches of St. Mathew and
the Holy Myrrh-Bearing Women
Cooperation between the orphanage and the Russian Orthodox Church began actually in the very first months of its work in 1995. For several years, Mrs. G. Bikmulina, a Sunday school teacher from the church of St. John of Kronstadt, has given lessons at the orphanage. She explains Christian teaching, Christian history and church holidays. She conducts Bible studies with primary and secondary schoolchildren. One of the girls of the orphanage attends the Sunday school itself. It has become a tradition to stage theatrical performances on Christmas Eve and other Christian feast days.
After a certain time at the orphanage, yesterday's waifs and strays come to know intimately the life of the Church. They join in religious life, attending services at the church and, if there is wish, receive baptism.
Two years ago, we had an idea to open a circle of the orphanage leavers at the workshop at St. John of Kronstadt's. The reason was that the orphanage had no workshop at all so necessary for boys. The rector of the church, Father Andrew Simora, responded to our proposal. The educational department included the workshop as a separate item into the cooperation agreement between the Kemerovo administration and the Kemerovo diocese.
Thus, the circle known as "Church Workshop" has been in operation since December 1, 1998. Two boys from the orphanage became its first apprentices. While the facilities were installed, the boys would cleanse the territory of the church from snow. Consequently, they watched the work of a master operating a milling machine, a circular saw, various chisels and planes. Soon they had an occasion for joy: they made an icon frame with their own hands. "We did it" Sasha triumphed. "I myself planed it" Andrew exclaimed. Later they performed an order from the Sunday school for benches, planning, sawing and polishing them. They succeeded in producing several benches. The boys were proud to inform the orphanage about their achievements. Nowadays, 10 children of the orphanage are working in the Church Workshop. They are delighted to learn and work, and even if they will not make carpenters, they will learn in this very workshop to do the elementary man's work.
Gradually the boys come to know various aspects of life in church: how to make a sign of the cross when entering it and leaving it, to take off one's cap in church and to ask for a blessing upon their work. They have learnt why the bell rings, why the cupola, etc. The warden of the church, Mrs. Raisa Bakovskaya, answers all these questions, thus educating the children in the spirit of respect for the faith.
Our children have also been introduced to other forms of work at the church. Once they came to the workshop and saw carpenters removing snow. "Wait a little", they asked the boys. But the boys demanded that they should be given spades and joined the work. Clearing away snow has been in the work plan of the orphanage ever since.
In spring and summer, our children help to tend flowerbeds which the diligent clergy keep in good order to please parishioners' eyes till late in autumn.
We are convinced that whatever turn the life of the deprived children may take upon leaving the orphanage, they will certainly remember this road to church, and may be for some of them the Church will become the principal support in life.
Cooperation between the orphanage and the Orthodox Church continues today, and it can be stated with certainty that a system of joint work has established itself. A plan of joint activities has been developed for 2000.
There is every precondition for involving a certain category of the orphanage children in the Church. We hope that it will help develop in them the feeling of compassion for other people's misfortune and the desire and ability to give and take.
N. B. Vitrenko
Director of the orphanage
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