What is the Pskov Post-Orphanage Centre?

In 2016, the Russian Orphan Opportunity Fund opened a Pskov Post-Orphanage Education Centre, based on its extremely successful Moscow Post-Orphanage Education Centre, which has for more than 15 years helped hundreds of orphanage graduates establish themselves in a stable adult life.

Our Post-Orphanage students – who are now young adults – grew up in institutions where they were exposed to little stimulation beyond the four walls that surround them; those from psycho-neurological institutions were not given even a full primary education, although all are capable of achieving a secondary education. Day to day, our Pskov Centre works hard to correct for this situation, providing basic literacy and numeracy – meeting each student at his or her own level, helping them to find work and secure housing.

Many people – even in Russia – don’t know that most orphanages, especially for the handicapped, are far removed from the bright lights and teaming population of urban centers. Many orphaned children grow up outside tiny villages – almost in the forest – without even a neighbourhood shop to visit. Those of us who have spent our lives in families and among friends and loved ones, in the warmth of towns with their bright street lights and decorated shop windows, movie theaters and other cultural venues, can’t imagine what it is like to spend your whole life just staring out of one window in the bedroom you share with 10 people. It is that one window that our orphans grow up with spring, summer, autumn, winter…and all over again. And although the TV screen provides pictures, most times it isn’t really possible to feel part of that world behind the screen, and overworked orphanage carers rarely find the time to read stories and fairy tales that might open young imaginations.

As most of us begin to build ourselves and our lives we make choices that are presented to us by the world around us. But where are these children from orphanages to find their examples of creativity in their world of little choice?

One young man we know from a remote orphanage is extremely handy with everything from carpentry to car repair. When I asked him what he would like to do as a profession he said, “I’d like to be a tractor driver.” “Why not a mechanic or master tradesman of some sort?” I asked. “Is that really possible?” he asked in amazement. “Where would I study to learn that?”

And so, orphans “graduate” at 16 or 18 to the world of their local regional center, where they quickly waste their money on smart phones, the “coolest” brands of cigarette, and alcoholic drink, to keep up with their peers.

And what’s next, after a couple years of meaningless professional school? Usually it’s life on the dole, on skid row, or back to life in an institution – back to the one window, the tasteless meals served ever day at the exact same time. Back to a place where it isn’t necessary to think, because “tomorrow” doesn’t cause you to dream, believe in yourself, or work toward your personal goals.

How does the Pskov Post-Orphanage Center change the lives of these orphanage graduates? Here is one young man’s story:

One of our students who barely knew who Pushkin was a year ago, is now fascinated by literature, drama and theater. Having read and then viewed in every possible rendition Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades”, he wants to start a drama club. He was the first to note a recently released new film about Gogol, and pull the rest of us to go see it in the cinema. He doesn’t have a place to live – so he lives with us in our staff apartment in Pskov, for the time being. He works at a carwash where sometimes he can sleep, but is already hard at work restoring personal documents that were destroyed in a house fire that he will need to apply for the housing the state promises him as an orphanage graduate. And he’s just received his international passport, and will be coming on our trp to Europe at Christmas time.

Another young lady, who lived in an adult institution a year ago (we knew her from orphanage days), was gainfully employed as an assistant to a local taxidermist within months of beginning to attend the Pskov Post-Orphanage Center. A year later, she now has her own student taxidermist to train, and the boss’s brother came over to her the other day and whispered, “I hear your a star.” To us that has been obvious for months – she loves her work and seems to a key factor in the business’s rapid growth. Not surprising since she never skips to chance to do an “all nighter.” She, too, lives at our Pskov apartment, and calls at 11pm to say she’ll be home later, or the next morning: “their bringing in a surprise bear and the boss is still in the field – I’ll have to handle this one myself.” And this woman spent 10 years in an adult institution for no good reason at all.

How do we open to these orphanage graduates the world of amazing possibilty that surrounds them? The riches that so many centuries of human history and culture have to offer? How do we kindle within them the living fire of enthusiasm that then becomes an ongoing source of inspiration, strength, and personal dreams? One friendship at a time; by loving Life ourselves and sharing that with our friends from orphangaes. That is the business of our Pskov Post-Orphanage Center and the mission of its staff and volunteers.