For the last hundred years Russia has experienced a third wave of orphanhood. The number of orphans is currently even higher than after WWI and WWII, which took millions of lives. The statistics are: in 1945 there were 600,000 orphans in Russia. By the end of 2008 this number reached more than 700,000. 90% of today’s orphans are social orphans, whose parents were deprived of their rights to be parents by the state.
Official statistics say that every 100th child in Russia will be an orphan. For 280,000 juvenile Russian citizens home is in an orphanage. Today, there are more then 2,000 orphanages, 1500 social institutions and 1400 special orphanages where children without parental custody and orphans are taken care of (live and receive education) in Russia.
The number of so called “social orphans” (children without their parents’ trusteeship) is growing every year. Social orphans are children whose parents refuse to take care of them or were deprived of their rights to be parents. The main reason for this huge number of orphans in our country is an unhealthy moral and psychological atmosphere inside the family, poverty, alcoholism, and crime.
It is possible to imagine those apartments that are visited by guardianship and trusteeship specialists from the government when they receive a call about trouble in a family. This is the first sign that a family and child cannot live well together. Typically, the parents drink and the child is abandoned. As a result parents partly lose their rights to be parents and the child is taken away from them by the state.
There are also cases where a normal mother and father, both businesspeople who provide for their family, have their child run away at the age of 10-11 years old to live on the streets or in a train station! Nobody took care of this child in his family. The child was abandoned emotionally. He is an orphan even though he has parents, a cell phone, and some money. There are written reasons for the limitation of parents’ rights in the law. One reason is difficult life circumstances. There is even a 6 month period for the “reeducation” of the parents.
The Government will return the child to the parents if they reform themselves, or else the government will completely deprive the parents of their rights to the child. In some cases the limitation of parental rights helps the situation. The family is rehabilitated and the child returns to his family. This is possible when parents still care and are willing to change. But what if it’s too late? Every year the number of orphans grows by almost 30%. In 2000 around 100,000 new orphans were officially registered, and two years later the number is already 150,000.
Orphanages occasionally don’t have elementary things like clothes and shoes. Attention to the children and a good education are missing as well. Nongovernmental organizations, enterprising groups of business people, and private citizens must come to the rescue.
Graduates from these orphanages are the most vulnerable social group in the entire world. Most of these children in the orphanages have parents, but they lost their rights to be parents because of alcoholism, drugs, abuse, etc. Only a fraction of these children are really orphans whose parents have died.
Russian have a stereotype about orphans, saying that they must have physical defects because Russian mothers often refuse to take care of children with disabilities. This also applies to children whose parents were too poor to take care of them.
All these facts show that children from a very young age consider themselves out of place and lower class. The atmosphere in the orphan and foster-care system often leads the children towards illegal acts and suicide. Children often have psychological traumas, and the children are not at all adapted to society after they graduate from the orphanages, because the orphanages damage their perspective of personal boundaries (what is yours or mine).
Isolation from their parents also makes the emotional world of these children very poor and makes it difficult for the children to feel deep love, attachment and compassion as they grow. Instead, these children become distrustful of outward things, which other people view as “bad” behavior. Children cannot find resolution in conflicts; they cannot control their moods and behavior. Their aggression, insularity, falsity and touchiness are attempts to protect themselves. They protect themselves from possible danger. They have survived a lot of stress and trauma, so their emotions have developed differently. Typical examples include: one-sidedness, poor daily motivation, constant dependence on an adult for behavior. This inability to self-actualize causes them to imitate other people and to become aggressive. As a result, the self-affirmation of the children manifests itself in the rejection of moral regulations. Abnormality in emotional, self-actualization spheres, difficulties in communication and self-control, defensive behavior: these all require a delicate individual approach, and this is something orphans don’t have very often.
Children aged 7-12 years old need emotional warmth and lots of hugs. They also need help in school and help learning to organize things in their spare time (games, reading, sports, classes, walking etc.).
For teens from 12-14 years old the most important thing is fellowship with peers and adults they can trust.
For teens from 15-17 years old it is important is to discover their position in life and in society, and to think about their future. Companionship and communication remains of the top priority.
One of the foundational conditions of a child’s development is the psychological feeling of protection (contentment and the understanding of their rights in all situations). Children often don’t know all their rights which are written in the constitution of the Russian Federation; the laws of the U.N., in the civil and family codes, and so on.
Age-related changes are not taken into consideration and as a result teens are treated like children, which is a very serious mistake. Teachers who don’t have special qualifications try to force their own principles on the kids often resulting in arguments, loss of self-control and even insults being used against the children. Educators unknowingly deprive teenagers of emotional support, which affects teens in terrible ways. All attempts to force teens to obey actually prompt them to rebel.
The conditions of orphans creates a unique inner world: psychological estrangement from people and themselves (they are nobody’s child), the absence of self-determination and responsibility for their own behavior, and the limiting of their life goals and plans. Though children are protected in the orphanages, it doesn’t help them face reality after they graduate. As a result we have a phenomenon called “social and psychological exposure” under official existing social protected conditions. After graduation this perspective of “nobody’s person” grows into “one against all”. Graduates feel discrimination from society and are easily attracted into the criminal world. Orphans are used to thinking that nothing is up to them, that they don’t get to decide anything. Therefore, these children feel like victims, and tend to push for as many free benefits as possible as orphans.
After leaving the orphanages children face many difficulties: financial, domestic (paying bills, housekeeping), social (inability to talk to strangers and organizations), professional (finding a job) and so on. Children can’t find jobs because of their low level of skills and knowledge. Those who graduate and find jobs often lose their jobs very quickly. Also, graduates get into crime very easily or become victims of crime. One of the reasons they get into crime is their inexperience with being independent. The government gives graduates apartments, but teenagers who have just graduated are not able to manage their apartments or pay their bills. Many children end up turning their apartments into criminal “dens”, and some children rent their apartments and are very often cheated out of money. Because of this many children lose their apartments and become homeless, which leads to alcoholism and other problems. Frequently, girls get pregnant and later on leave their children in orphanages as well because they don’t have the desire or skills to take care of a child. In this way many girls become just like their parents. As we can say through many years of experience, history often repeats itself.
Work and school often disrupt daily chores like making the bed, and cleaning the table. Often these simple tasks can be highly stressful for orphans. These children get used to poverty and they don’t try to own things or take responsibility for things. There are examples where orphanages try to practice systems of self-government, which is pretty difficult as children don’t believe that their opinion is important and that they can change anything at all. The inability to control the resolution of problems and grievances causes distance between the orphans and their peers, which makes children even more embittered and helpless.
The current situation shows a clear difference between the orphans’ education and modern society’s expectations. Modern children in the orphanages need a strong moral foundation, which is a necessary condition for personal development. From this perspective it’s hard to overestimate the need for the development of social connections between orphans and outward things, the opportunity to enter into healthy relationships; and besides all these: to have their own identities.
Moral development deeply affects personal and social welfare.
“Moral personality” can mean the moral attitude towards a person (him/herself) and towards society. Understanding this factor is an important step in forming a culture of moral personality.
Morality should be seen as an essential condition of successful interaction with society and as a necessary factor of happiness.
The value of moral behavior cannot be taught like most skills, but must be formed through the teaching of particular subjects (knowledge).
The thoughts of high school students prevent moral behavior from being valued as it should be: Research has shown that the perception of the personal importance of moral behavior of senior pupils is as follows:
1. Socially successful people are happy and are good at building personal relationships
2. Socially successful people are not necessarily moral
3. Money and social status are the most important factors in strong health and successful personal communication.
These conclusions (which were made after analyzing the options above) are important for communication with the students:
1. Happiness doesn’t depend on money and social status.
2. Health depends on the inner and outer condition of a person.
3. Social success is not a sign of the morality or immorality of a person.
Overcoming contradictions between the needs of society in the 21st century calls for innovative methods in organizations working with orphans. Working in this direction, a number of successful programs that have been operating for many years have already been organized by HOPE worldwide – Russia.
Because children communicate with an extremely small, local group of adults, this communication is changed from that of practical activities into disciplinary actions. This emotionally impoverished communication with adults determines the specific needs of these children. Their peer group is extremely limited as well.
The moral needs of orphans are characterized by a number of factors which are unknown to children who live in normal families. That’s why individual attention is a top priority as a method of forming moral knowledge. Needs are considered as a motivating factor of a person’s activities which are constantly developing in various ways.
The PR director of HOPE worldwide – Russia, Igor Fedorov explained: “The most important factor is of course the individual approach towards each individual child. This is what we are doing. Practice has shown that children treat volunteers differently than teachers and tutors. Children take their teachers and tutors for granted, as they see only the execution of their jobs. Volunteers give children their spare time and show personal interest which helps children feel valuable, which is a step in forming healthy morals in teens. Also, children are gaining their social experience, communicating with different people, learning tolerance towards different behaviors and people and recognize their rights in their own behavior. Children also find new friends. Children visit our homes, we go shopping together, visit our friends together, we cook together, we help them to express their opinions and feel like a valuable member of society. This is what helps children adapt to real life before they graduate from their orphanages.”
How to be a “good” volunteer
(Some advice for developing friendly relationships with orphans)
If you want to have a serious influence on a child there is only one way – Patronage; in other words: a deep friendship for many years. What you can do to help them? A good, strong, stable relationship will help an orphan to adapt to the larger society.
A friendly attitude (smile, soft voice) is important on the first meeting. Positioning yourself as an equal friend, a peer (not like a teacher) is also helpful. It is important to listen and to be able to talk about something interesting in your own life. Don’t expect quick results and deep friendship easily. You must take your time. There are neutral subjects to talk about to get to know their interests. However, it is not recommended to win their friendship by giving gifts and making promises.
For a long term relationship, the consistency of meetings is absolutely necessary. Have a look and see which children pay the most attention to you, and follow you everywhere. Try to talk deeper with 1 or 2 children. Just be with them during the whole program. Find common interests, and you can even say that the children can call you if you are really ready for that. It is important that you meet with the child outside of simply visiting in the orphanage (examples: telephone calls, letters, invitations to visit your home).
Friendship takes mutual progress. It is important that not only you are getting know something about the child, but that the child is getting to know you, your family, school, job, and interests.
The biggest influence that you can have is your personal example, your personal attitude towards life. Having the attitude of a “Big brother” or “Big Sister” can help build a familial relationship with the child, winning their trust and respect. In this case the children will learn from you with great joy.