Belskoye-Ustye… how ROOF started work there

In March of 2000, Georgia Williams, Irina Ryazanova and Dasha Golovina from ROOF first visited the psycho-neurological orphanage in the small village of Belskoye-Ustye, near the town of Porkhov in the Pskov region. Up until this point, the children in this orphanage had been almost completely without access to education.

ROOF began by organizing a summer camp staffed by ROOF teachers and both local and foreign volunteers that summer. This camp became an annual event, and has now been running for ten consecutive years. In 2003 we began using a house in the nearby hamlet of Baranovo as the base for summer camp volunteers, and in 2005, by way of a grant from Linklaters, we purchased the houseto use as a base for all of our activities working with the orphanage.

We began additional educational programmes in the orphanage itself the following year, beginning with simple educational activities for small groups.

Since the orphanage is of the psycho-neurological category, most of the children there have been given some sort of diagnosis, such as the notorious ‘oligophrenia’. This has meant that when the children reach a certain age they are automatically transferred to an adult institution. In order to overcome this, ROOF has been a pioneer in obtaining for some children the removal of the diagnosis (which is stamped in their passports and therefore prevents them from living independently in any way).

As part of this programme, we also set up our first halfway house, called a ‘social hotel’ in Porkhov so that those who have come out of the orphanage have an alternative to institutional care. ROOF set up the first ‘social hotel’ in the town of Porkhov in 2002. In 2003, this project became independent from ROOF and grew into a separate organization called Rostok, which focuses on working with young people from the Belskoye Ustye orphanage.

Demand for places in the ‘social hotel’ was high, and in 2005, ROOF opened a second halfway house in Porkhov, which we called the ‘Abilitation Centre’.