Belskoye-Ustye & Baranovo

Photo of work in the orphanage

ROOF founder Georgia Williams working with a group of children in Belskoye-Ustye orphanage.

The village of Belskoye Ustye has a population of about 100 people. The nearest city (the district centre) is Porkhov, which is 16km away, and has a population of approximately 18 thousand people. The regional centre is Pskov, a city of 300,000, which is located approximately 80km to the northwest of Porkhov, and nearly 100km from Belskoye Ustye.

In Belskoye Ustye, there is an institution for the mentally handicapped, which is home to approximately 70 children and young-adults from 5 to 23 years of age. The institution was originally a children’s home of the psycho-neurological type, but has recently had its name and its status updated, so as to allow residence of adults, as well as children.

Psycho-neurological orphanages are a creation of the Soviet era – homes for those who were expected never to be able to care for themselves. These institutions are usually found in very rural places – hidden deep in the countryside. After the fall of the Soviet Union these institutions became terribly poor, and the state stopped providing the children who lived there with any education or training in practical skills.

ROOF has worked in Belskoye Ustye since 2000. For 14 years we ran summer programs for the orphanage, inviting volunteers from Russia and abroad to take part in summer camps which had educational, developmental, cultural and sports components. ROOF summer programs in Belksoye Ustye and Baranovo have, since 2014, been focused more on orphanage graduates and community building.

Since 2001, ROOF has run alternative living programs for the young adults who leave Belskoye Ustye, providing them with a chance to live outside of the institutional system and integrate into society, rather than being transferred to an adult institution.

As a result of increasing economic stability in Russia, as well as all the attention shown to the orphan age in Belskoye Ustye over time, the material conditions there have become much better, and a school has even opened inside the orphanage. Two other charities which are offshoots of ROOFs original programs, Rostok and Vverkh, continue to work with the orphanage, Vverkh having taken over the work of running traditional summer camps within the orphanage, and Rostok beautifully systematizing social support services for orphanage graduates.

Our house in the village of Baranovo – the neighbouring (tiny!) village to Belksoye Ustye, has served as a base for summer programs since 2006, but more recently has become a common second home to a group of friends, who support ROOF programs in the region with their presence. Orphanage graduates can live in the Baranovo community, rather than in institutions for adults. Over time, we seek to help those who participate in the community to apply for and realize their own property rights, as per Russian law. Every orphanage graduate is entitled to living space, granted to him or her from the state.

Our main goals is the creation of economic and societal opportunities for the orphanage graduates, whether this be in small economic activity (bee keeping, woodworking, the sale of homemade edibles), or in terms of community integration, for instance in local Orthodox church parishes.