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05-06/2010 Fast search  

Social orphanhood. Is it a problem of the government, society or children?
Igor Danilov, Yevgenia Mishina

The autonomous nonprofit organization Social Marketing Agency (ANO SMA) and VIP-Premier are implementing a joint project titled “Effective Ways to Solve the Problem of Social Orphanhood in Russia”. The purpose is to develop a system that would replace orphanages. Magazines for 2009 (##5-6, 7-8, 9-10, and 11-12) and for 2010 (#1-2, 3-4) published Russian top managers’ reflections on this matter. Project managers are Yevgenia Mishina (ANO SMA) and Natalia Kosova (VIP-Premier). Now the magazine presents the position of Igor Danilov, Chairman of the Board of the Children’s Program Fund “Dynamo”.

Igor Vadimovich Danilov is the Chairman of the Board of the Children’s Program Fund “Dynamo”. He graduated from the Faculty of International Relations at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1971 as a specialist in Oriental studies and Arab countries, worked at the Soviet embassies in Syria, Sudan, Iraq, and Egypt. In 1990–1994, he was a member of the Commission on UNESCO Affairs, and in 1994–1995 worked as Russia’s deputy representative to UNESCO (Paris). He then worked at the UNESCO Office in Moscow and later as a consultant for RUSAL’s charitable programs. Since 2007, he has been an adviser to the chairman of the All-Russia Physical Culture and Sport Society “Dynamo” and “Dynamo to Orphans” Project supervisor. Danilov is an academician of the International Pedagogical Academy.

– Igor Vadimovich, studies show that 80 percent of the money spent in Russia on charity come from big businesses and government-affiliated entities, and 20 percent are donated by individuals and small firms, whereas it’s the other way round in the rest of the world. When asked who should help orphans, 85 percent of respondents in Russia name the government, then business and public organizations, and lastly individuals. How can you explain such a situation?

– I think the decades when we had no real public institutions and when all decisions were made for us taught Russian people to shift responsibility for all actions and processes to the government. I think Russian people are much stronger advocates of statism than anyone else in the world. The role of public organizations in the Soviet Union was relegated to that of a “driving belt” that was supposed to communicate the government’s policy to citizens. No more than that. This was not conducive either to developing a habit of having one’s own opinion or feeling the need for implementing one’s decisions when it came to public life, not personal interests.

Now that Russia is building civil society, the number of public and non-profit organizations is growing and they become increasingly active in helping the government address social issues. This means that people become more self-conscious. I believe we will come to understand that much depends on us ourselves when our current system, which can be defined as “undeveloped capitalism”, assumes more civilized forms. We should come to understand that the burden of helping orphans, the sick and the poor is distributed among all elements of society: the government, regional authorities, the business community, public organizations, and citizens. The institution of private donations will certainly develop with time when people see that their money helps solve many important problems.

– When asked “which groups of people do you think need assistance most of all?” the absolute majority of respondents named children who have been left without parental care and who live in orphanages. You know about social orphanhood from first-hand experience. Do you think that orphanages can be closed in Russia and their children will go to families?

– I do. But I am categorically against using administrative methods in this process. Given the state of our society, the task of “giving out the children to families” can be set only if there is a well designed, tested and effective mechanism of further support to these families and children. Just think about it: if there are several hundred thousand parents in our society who have brought the situation in their families to the point where they have been deprived of their parental rights and their kids have been put in a children’s home, how can we quickly find several hundred thousand people in the same society who would be ready to take these children and raise them?

– I would put it this way: if there are people like that, there should be their opposites as per the law of conservation of energy.

– This law does not apply to public conscience. Mendacity, immorality, soullessness, consumerism – the more society is afflicted with this, the fewer people advocate certain values. This is why we need a system for finding foster parents and training them, pedagogically and psychologically. This is what we should think of in the first place when planning the dissolution of children’s homes.

Our fund operating under the All-Russia Physical Culture and Sport Society “Dynamo” helps a family with 29 adopted orphans from children’s homes. This family is like a small children’s home, but it’s a family. There are already nine grandchildren, and all the children maintain contact with the parents. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a rare, quite exclusive situation? But there is no guarantee that such strong and good families can be found for all the kids from children’s homes.

– Do you know any effective programs operating in this field?

– Several years ago I studied the experience of Maria Ternovskaya and her team at Children’s Home No. 19 in Moscow. They had created a foster family service that was finding foster families and supporting them. What I saw there was an example of thorough understanding of the problem and proper work to resolve it. If we want this issue to be addressed nationwide, we should study this experience and promote it. We believe that a person should be taught astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, etc. But we don’t think that one should be taught how to raise a child, as if this comes from God. As a result, unprepared parents take a child with difficult past-life experiences, who is not always easy to deal with even for a specialist. We will face negative consequences of thoughtless transfer of children to families if we do not create a system of training “professional parents” and a foster family support service.

– But Children’s Home No. 19’s project has been stopped, and a law has been adopted that basically bans foster family care. The government prioritizes adoption that gives a child the full rights of an own one, but deprives him of the right to his own abode and social allowances as an orphan, and offers no financial assistance to the adoptive parents. How could you comment on this?

– Adoption turns into punishment: “Did anyone force you to take a child? If you chose to take him, you deal with him on your own, no one must help you.” Clearly, only a few people will agree to such a step in this situation. As for other underdeveloped forms, I think it’s largely a result of the information background that is created by mass media as they mold the public opinion about adoptive parenting. A large number of stories tell of families where a child is abused, and there are almost no stories about excellent results that are produced by well-organized and professional support to adoptive families. It is always easier to ban: let tens of thousands of kids stay in children’s homes, but save us the trouble of dealing with adoptive parents in earnest. And again, the money will remain in the budget and will be spend in a centralized manner. It’s this kind of logic, I think. It’s all very sad. But I do not expect any big changes in the minds of government officials until they occur in the minds of people.

– What role should mass media play in this process?

– To begin with, it’s impossible to impose any thematic trend upon mass media from above nowadays. They are independent and this is not a figure of speech. The fact that 96 percent of media reports on orphans and adoptive parents (statistics for 2009) involve criminal cases indicates that Russian mass media are not prepared to assist in the transfer of children to families, develop different forms of foster family care, and promote this issue. On the one hand, orphanhood is increasingly portrayed as a breeding ground for future crimes. On the other hand, there are endless reports on the horrible treatment and abuse of children in adoptive families. A success story about a child who has found a new family and feels good in it is a rare thing. There is also this myth, which is hyped all the time, that genes decide everything, that a child born into a bad family will never get rid of his genetic disposition. I do not believe in this. What differs man from animals is that man lives in society and adjusts to its laws. This is why the environment in which a child grows determines his life just as much as the genes do. I think the current media approach is counterproductive. And unfortunately, it runs against positive tendencies in society towards sympathy, compassion and desire to change the life of an orphan.

– What are the origin of the children’s fund “Dynamo”, its tasks and place in the structure of charitable organizations in present-day Russia?

– I have never had any relation to sport and was invited to “Dynamo” as a person who had dealt with orphans for 13 years in order to run the new program “Dynamo to Orphans”. The program was initiated personally by sport society “Dynamo” Chairman, General of the Army Vladimir Pronichev. The purpose of the program is to actively engage orphans in all physical culture and sport programs for children in all regions with the support of Dynamo’s local branches. Unfortunately, many regions have the habit of dividing children. In many cases orphans do not take part in sport events with the pupils of regular secondary schools. In 2008, the children’s program fund “Dynamo” was created. It gets its funding from big donors and sponsors that view the fund as an opportunity to facilitate the development of children’s physical culture and sports and thus help improve the health of future generations of Russians.

– You said that the children in orphanages often have no opportunity to play sports with their peers from ordinary schools. Why?

– Because education, sport and youth committees often consist of officials who think that orphans are not as physically fit as their peers from families and therefore cannot compete on equal terms. There is also an opinion, which is actively supported by mass media, that orphans are bad company for schoolchildren, and communication with them is bad and will meet a negative reaction from parents and teachers. There was a story with a volleyball that disappeared after a competition in one of the regions. The head of the local education board told me: “Your orphans stole it. I am sure of that. We don’t want to see them among the participants anymore!” And I said the orphans did not even have a place to hide the volleyball: everything is in sight in the children’s home. In reply I heard him say that he did not like this practice of joint sport competitions in any form anyway. Nor can orphans attend municipal shared cost sport centers where they are asked in the third training session to buy the uniform and equipment, and pay for their trips to competitions in the future. This is why the children’s fund “Dynamo” launched its own project: we open sport sections in children’s homes and form their teams that can not only participate in regional, district and city competitions, but can also win them. The fund also pays for the equipment, uniform and travel expenses. We are probably the only physical culture and sport society in Russia that has preserved the organizational vertical in all regions: we have 86 branches and 12 physical culture teams of different ministries and agencies that go along with “Dynamo”: the Federal Customs Service, the state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, the Courier Service, the Federal Tax Service, the Federal Guard Service, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry for Emergency Situations and Civil Defense, the Border Guard Service, the Federal Security Service, and the Audit Chamber. Our regional branches employ specialists who have vast experience of working with children. They have coaches, sport organizers and referees. This year we have decided to create and finance the positions of sport organizers for children’s programs. I think this will allow us to develop faster and more effectively. The fund is an inalienable part of the All-Russia Physical Culture and Sport Society “Dynamo”. “Dynamo” has a large number of children’s programs, and our fund develops them, not substitutes for them.

– Who finances the fund’s programs?

– Our donors include companies that are traditionally connected with “Dynamo”, and when we asked them to support children’s programs, they agreed. The chemical company Uralkali, the agricultural produce supplier Prodimex (target donor for the Voronezh region), the Kopeika trade house, and OTP Bank (program sponsor) have been with us since 2008, and the pharmaceutical manufacturer Valenta-Pharm joined us this year.

– What is the difference between sponsor and donor funding?

– A donor gives money as a donation, agreeing with the fund’s programs and sharing its values. A donor expects no political dividends, and does not seek to publicize its participation. A sponsor seeks publicity and gets its participation covered in mass media. I sincerely believe that both approaches should exist. Let me say that the fund implements only target programs aimed at developing children’s sport. We do not provide PR services to companies. This is not our job.

– How do you define the role of the children’s fund “Dynamo” in the efforts to solve the problem of orphanhood?

– We certainly share the view that a child needs a family more than anything else, but in a situation where about 160,000 (according to official statistics) children stay in orphanages, it would be a crime to deny them support or socialization and wait for them to be taken into families. I believe that sport and physical culture are very effective socialization instruments that have been underestimated by society and the government. Each child needs some bearings in life, especially an orphan. Sport makes them understand that there are rules in certain situations and they have to abide by them - the rules of competing, playing and officiating. A child does not oppose these rules but learns to play and live by them in sport. I think this helps him understand better that there are certain rules in society as well. And it will be much easier for him to adapt in the future. I may be overly optimistic, but I do believe that this is useful. Besides, sport is an excellent way to increase any child’s self-assessment. This is very important. In juvenile years sport achievements allow one to stand out and satisfy his ambitions in an absolutely legitimate way, which is good. Finally, there is the task of teaching an adolescent how to organize his leisure time properly and healthfully. By the way, I am confident that by rooting for his favorite team or for the national team a child acquires vital skills of patriotism and love for his country.

This is why our role is to bring up a healthy generation with certain values that serve the interests of both an individual and society in general. I can say that we act as an integrator between the environment, in which children are brought up institutionally, and the family through physical culture and sport.

The fund deals not only with the children from orphanages and boarding schools. Over the last 18 months, Dynamo’s regional branches have organized about 200 events for more than 30,000 children in 55 regions with our financial support. We also have a special program to help organize sport and recreational activities for the children of law enforcers who have died while on duty.

The autonomous nonprofit organization Social Marketing Agency (ANO SMA) and VIP-Premier invite the press services of senior officers to participate in the research project “Effective Ways to Solve the Problem of Social Orphanhood in Russia”. The research is conducted by way of targeted interviews with CEOs of companies and corporations operating in Russia.

Please, contact ANO Social Marketing Agency at:
(495] 797-6310, 797-6311 info@socagent.ru
VIP-Premier Magazine: (495) 621-1605 pr@vip-premier.ru

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