Partnerships to help Russian orphans: trends, challenges, solutions
A conference at the Blagosfera Centre has examined the basis on which social partnerships could be built to help abandoned children. The conference was entitled ‘The Experience and Role of NGOs in resolving the problem of de facto orphans in Russian society’. It was the first meeting of its kind. Questions about who might become a partner and what problems could arise were also addressed.
The ‘three pillars’ of social partnership
According to Irina Ryazanova, Executive Director of the Bolshaya Peremena (Great Transition) Foundation, social partnership is best constructed on a combination of complementarity, mutual benefit and agreement.
The Foundation helps current and former inmates of children’s homes achieve educational qualifications and become self-sufficient. ‘The children themselves are our partners. They come to us independently. No effort is made on our side to draw them in. We merely ask what their aim is in life and then support them in achieving it. That is what we call complementarity. We do the same thing with surrogate parents or guardians. When guardians do not have the resources to educate a child, we tell them clearly what we can offer and what they should contribute themselves. Then we pool our resources,’ Irina Ryazanova explained.
If a child is still living in a children’s home, any additional education is agreed with the staff of the home. ‘We have a different kind of partnership with every children’s home. Some will prefer the children to come to us on their own, others will ensure that they are accompanied. Neither of these approaches is better or worse. They are simply different. In order to work with these differences, teachers must constantly re-examine their pedagogical methods to resolve problems effectively’, Ryazanova added.
Since the conditions of any partnership with a former inmate of a children’s home (and his or her social circle) are bound to vary, every student receives a specially designed personal programme. This takes into account the current needs of the student, his or her life situation and the positive attributes on which teachers can build.
‘Social partnership is essential to ensure the quality of the teaching programmes we offer, and to broaden their scope without losing their quality,’ Irina Ryazanova said.
Cooperation with teachers, higher education institutions and academics
Cooperation between NGOs and educators in teaching orphaned children is also a form of social partnership. This kind of cooperation helps guarantee that the children are well prepared for Higher Education. Some organisations also work with academics when preparing their study or training programmes.
‘Working out complicated problems demands a different kind of specialist,’ Irina Ryazanova said. ‘One of the main issues students face as they are included into mainstream education is a lack of adequate professional management.’
In Rostov-on-Don, the Don State Technical University has opened its doors to orphaned young people. In 2011, the head of the university’s Centre for Educational Methodology and Practice, Marina Kovyneva, pooled university and NGO resources to create the ‘Ot serdtsa k serdtsu’ (‘From Heart to Heart’) Volunteering Skills Centre at the university. The centre prepares older pupils from children’s homes for the Unified State Examination and entrance into higher education. Students study five subjects.
‘At first, the young people involved find it hard to function together. We understand this and that is why we have been working in particular on fostering team spirit. Students from the university have done a great deal to help. The university also has a campus on the Black Sea and we have held a leadership camp for the children there,’ Marina Kovyneva said.
The project has produced good results: 98% of those who participated went on to complete higher education courses.’
Going into schools
Arrangements can also be made to work in partnership with schools, although this can prove very complicated, the Director of the Centre for Financial Literacy in the Chelyabinsk region, Elena Pozharova says. After their release from a children’s home, orphans have a large amount of money in their bank account and, on account of this, the centre is offering them training to help manage their financial resources. A ‘game’ has been put together for this purpose, created by young people of a similar age living with families.
The Centre for Financial Literacy trains older children to act as financial tutors so that they can then go into children’s homes and teach their peers. In this way, youngsters brought up in families can meet other young people in children’s homes. Students also tend to pay more attention in these lessons.
The centre’s staff have been promoting the project among older children in mainstream schools. ‘It is difficult getting into schools – they have so many other activities to think about,’ Elena Pozharova comments. ‘But we do everything ourselves and usually come to an arrangement quickly enough – which means that we can then conduct our lessons in financial literacy.’
Some organisations also form partnerships with companies to give orphaned children work experience. The ‘Khraniteli detstva’ (Protectors of Childhood) Foundation is developing a corporate mentoring programme, under which companies give orphaned young people supervision and training. The project is taking place in five regions and every participant is given an individualised development plan.
‘In Russia’s regions, we have run methodological training in corporate mentoring with the participation of a broad range of interested groups. These have included various specialised entities and agencies, employment centres, companies, NGOs and volunteer groups. Their involvement has helped the project to take off. Since then we conducted a succession of activities geared towards professional orientation, including excursions and professional masterclasses. The feature that makes our programme different is that we always work closely with specific companies and build up a relationship with them over the course of an academic year,’ Director of the ‘Khraniteli detstva’ Foundation, Anna Kochineva, says.
Students of the Foundation have held apprenticeships at Gazprom, IKEA, restaurants and printing houses. They have also worked as assistants to chefs, sound engineers, interior designers and other professionals.
‘In the first instance, we simply request that the company arranges for us to visit. No one ever refuses. Companies find the idea intriguing. They do not have to do anything or go anywhere – we come to them. Towards the end of the year, many of them are happy to offer a student a job.’
Challenges and decisions
Expert opinion suggests that social partnerships present many challenges and issues for NGOs. These include poor job security, economic instability and unsatisfactory cooperation between the state, NGOs and business. In addition, irrespective of the professional orientation programmes run in children’s homes, there can be no job guarantees for graduates of these courses.
NGO employees believe it is vital to create a greater number of platforms for dialogue between the three sectors to help resolve these questions. Partnership projects should also be developed and the work of non-commercial organisations should be better coordinated to increase the professionalism of NGOs.
Over 120 NGOs from 42 regions of Russia took part in the conference at the Blagosfera Centre, where all these issues were discussed. The organisers were: the Presidential Grants Foundation, the Severstal Steel Industry Company and the Blagosfera Centre for Philanthropy and Social Activism. The partner organisations involved were: the Elena and Gennady Timchenko Charitable Foundation and the ‘Isskustvo, nauka i sport’ (‘Art Science and Sport’) Charitable Foundation.