Belskoye Ustye is a small village of about 100 people, and so the orphanage, housing between about 70 and 100 children, is a very significant part of village life. The nearest town is Porkhov, 16km away with a population of about 10000 people. The regional capital, Pskov, 98km away. The orphanage in Belskoye Ustye is an MHSD or so-called ‘psycho-neurological’ internat which is home to children and young people aged between five and twenty five.
‘Psycho-neurological’ institutions for children originated in the Soviet era; they were intended as a system of institutionalized care for children and young people who were unable to function as productive citizens. Hence orphanages of this type are usually found far away from population centres. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet system, the state of these internats became very poor and the percentage of social orphans among the children living in them went up sharply. Apart from the obvious material poverty, the children were offered more or less nothing in the way of education. ROOF began work in Belskoye Ustye in 2000.
From the beginning of this century, material condictions began to improve, with help from non-governmental organizations like ROOF, as well as significant investment from the Russian government. Educational provision was slower to improve. In 2000 we held our first summer camp at Belskoye Ustye with fun learning opportunies for the children from the orphanage. Since that time we’ve constantly had various initiatives in action to stimulate the children. Over the years we have been working in Belskoye Ustye we have seen a remarkable transformation in both the physical environment and the opportunities on offer to these children and young people, for whom, when we first saw them, would have been appropriately labelled “forgotten”. We wish to continue to broaden the children’s experience of the world, and provide them with encouraging ways to learn so that they can break out of the cycle of institutionalization.
There is still so much to do, including the most important job of all, which is to help these children find homes and form the relationships that will carry them through the rest of their lives. For over a decade, ROOF’s social hotel program (see Abilitation Centre) has focused precisely on this goal. More recently, this has also become a primary focus of our volunteer initiatives in Belskoye-Ustye, as we turn from working exclusively in the orphanage toward work in and for the life of the community as a whole. Integration of the orphanage population into that life is a primary goal of our new approach, and is elaborated here in the various sub menu items.