CAF reports on 25 years of social change in Russia
In order to mark its 25th anniversary, the Foundation for the Development and Promotion of Charitable Work, the Charities Aid Foundation, yesterday published a draft report for the NGO community on “a quarter of a century of social change” which explains how charity has evolved in Russia over the years and the important role played by NGOs in the sector.
“We decided to tell the story by highlighting specific achievements that were made possible through civil society action, symbolising the social change which has occurred in the intervening years”, say the report’s authors.
The Foundation sought the views of 55 experts in identifying significant changes that have taken place in the social sector with the help of NGOs since 1993. As not all the years in the report are complete, NGO staff can still add details to the timeline of something they feel is particularly important in the development of Russia’s charity sector. Here, the Agency of Social Information (ASI) lists a few examples highlighted by the experts:
1996: Help charities start to appear
The rise of help charities began with the emergence of Rusfond in 1996. Nowadays, a lot of charities are ready to provide help in the most challenging environments where other resources are not available, e.g. by assisting people with mental disabilities and those with rare diseases, as well as helping seriously ill children in need of expensive treatment, victims of violence, the homeless and all those who, up until then, didn’t know where to turn for help. Several charities have therefore been set up specifically to help those suffering from rare diseases such as cystic fibrosis, epidermolysis bullosa, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, congenital immuno-deficiency and other illnesses. NGOs have enabled them to receive wide-ranging medical, social and psychological help.
“Examples of charities reaching out to free people from poverty and disease are becoming increasingly common. We already know of many instances of charities raising money for urgent and complex operations, providing much needed items for the poor, rehabilitating disabled children, administering palliative care, helping people suffering from shock, e.g. as a result of a devastating medical diagnosis or having to deal with the loss of a loved-one”, says Elena Topoleva, Director of ASI and one of the report’s consultants.
2004: Treatment for HIV sufferers
Antiretroviral treatment is now available in Russia thanks to the efforts of HIV activists. The first treatment programme began in Russia in 2004 with the support of NGOs. By the end of the 2000s, agencies other than charities were funding this treatment. Seventy percent was provided by the State which also oversaw the public procurement of vital antiviral drugs. However, there is still not enough medication to go around (according to data from various sources, only 30-40% of HIV sufferers are currently receiving the necessary medicines), with existing Government programmes mainly aimed at work to stop the spread of the disease. NGOs are involved in work on secondary prevention, halting transmission of the virus by infected people and support for those receiving treatment.
“The role of NGOs in ensuring access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV sufferers cannot be overstated. This includes training volunteers, encouraging sufferers to fight for their lives and rights, and providing practical advice in setting up organisations, associations and community networks. The fact that treatment is becoming available for most HIV sufferers and that this is being provided free of charge by the State reflects great credit on NGOs and their volunteers”, says Igor Pchelin, Chairman of the “Steps” charity and one of the report’s consultants.
2006: Protection of Lake Baikal
In 2006, the “Transneft” oil company started work on an “Eastern Siberia to Pacific Ocean” pipeline whose planned route took it very close to the shores of Lake Baikal. Any oil spill that affected this highly sensitive area would result in an environmental disaster. Environmental and other NGOs came out in protest against the pipeline during January to April 2006, with thousands of protest meetings held in Irkutsk, Tomsk, Moscow, Yekaterinburg and other large cities. In April 2006, “Transneft” agreed to abandon their original route and divert the pipeline away from the Lake.
“One of the most important roles of environmental NGOs in Russia is to represent and defend society’s interests. The work of international environmental organisations in Russia has helped increase the interest of the public and business sector in protecting the country’s nature and to encourage them to take part in environmental initiatives”, says Igor Chestin, CEO of WWF Russia and one of the report’s consultants.
2007: The creation of a repression archive
In 1998, human rights and other public organisations began work on creating a database of victims of Soviet political terror to help people find their friends and relatives. More than three million names are now included on the database which receives more than a million hits each year from those trying to find out what happened to their loved ones.
Volunteers and NGOs organise many commemorative events in memory of the victims of Stalinist repression. For example, a Remembrance Day Ceremony for Victims of Political Oppression “Restoring the Name” has been held at the Solovki Stone in Moscow each year since 2007 in which thousands of people regularly take part.
“In working closely with a range of different partners, we have been able to create an electronic database of victims of political oppression. By using the database, thousands of people now have information about their ancestors and some have found their relatives as a result”, says Elena Zhemkova, Executive Director of the international organisation “Memorial” and one of the report’s consultants.
2012: The emergence of inclusive education
The first inclusive educational institutions appeared in Russia in the early 1990s when NGOs were actively campaigning for the right of all children to education. The concept of “inclusive education” was incorporated into the federal law “on Education” in 2012 which included the right of every child to study with others. Other alternative options are also available for teaching disabled children including home-schooling. Various programmes are run in large cities on social adaptation of special needs children including those with mental disabilities.
“Children have a right to education and should all have the opportunity to learn and develop their own potential. It is important that disabled children have the same rights to be included in society as their able-bodied counterparts. Inclusive education doesn’t mean sending children to study in a separate and specially allocated place. No, he or she should be able to study in the same place as their brothers, sisters and neighbours so that they feel part of society”, says Yulia Sayapina, Project Coordinator at the NGO “Ark”.