by Elisabeth Sewall, Assistant Editor
Apr 25 2007, 21:36
© KP Media, photo by Konstantin Klimenko
Stefan-Arpad Madyar, director in Ukraine of the international humanitarian association “Triumph of Heart,” discusses the barriers facing private charities in Ukraine working with orphans and street children.
Two new foreign-run centers aimed at helping street children have opened their doors, offering non-conventional alternatives to Ukraine’s largely state-run and ineffective child services institutions.
Run by two unrelated private organizations, the centers in Chernihiv and Kyiv aim to fill the gap left by state-run institutions that are not equipped to handle the unique problems posed by the country’s population of street children.
A report published in November 2006 by UNICEF, “Children and Young People Living and Working on the Streets: The Missing Face of the HIV Epidemic in Ukraine,” said that “many health and social services … often fail to provide even the minimum standard of care and support that the Ukrainian State guarantees to its citizens.”
It also says that many children’s homes are “destitute” and that funds for these homes are “not even sufficient to provide adequate food and clothing.”
The opening of the centers follow in the wake of the “2006 State Program on Homeless and Neglected Children” initiated by the Ministry of Family, Youth and Sport. The program is geared toward tackling the country’s largely unaddressed problem with street children through more cooperation with NGOs.
Although recent initiatives taken by Ukraine’s government may help street children find more outlets for assistance and care, NGOs still face some legal and economic hurdles to offering their services.
According to state estimates, Ukraine has an estimated 130,000 children living on its streets. However, experts say that street children move frequently and often do not have identification documents. That makes them nearly impossible to track.
Ukraine’s under-funded social programs have been struggling on their own due to the legacies of the Soviet system of childcare, wherein the state held full responsibility for providing social services for children.
New drop-in center
On April 20, Doctor’s of the World (DOW), a US-based NGO that provides underprivileged and vulnerable populations in different countries with quality healthcare resources, recently held the grand opening of a new drop-in center for street children in Chernihiv.
Funded by the United States Agency for International Development and the World Childhood Foundation, the center is based on an innovative outreach model, offering a multi-dimensional approach to healthcare for street children, combining medical, psychological, pedagogical, social and legal services.
The center is modeled after one in St. Petersburg, Russia, which DOW has run for several years.
According to DOW, the number of orphaned and street children in Chernihiv Region is estimated to be around 2,600, with 300 in Chernihiv city. Of the orphans in Chernihiv, 75 percent are believed to be “social orphans,” meaning they have living parents who have abandoned or neglected them.
Unlike at state medical centers, a child isn’t required to produce identification or documentation to receive treatment at the new center.
“The kids face a lot of discrimination and stigmatization if they want to receive healthcare services in the regular healthcare system,” said program manager Allison Lynch.
“[Maybe] they haven’t taken a shower in a couple of days, or don’t have their identification documents. They’re considered a problem. The people who pay the most attention to them are probably the police.”
DOW’s approach includes outreach programs geared toward building lasting relationships with street children and their estranged families.
“If we have a child at the center, and we see that there is a [family] crisis, someone from the case management team will be sent directly to the family to find out what’s going on,” said Oleksiy Kurka, the project’s coordinator.
“Not all of the kids spend their entire life on the street. Some of them spend a couple of weeks once in a while. Some are living in families where parents are alcoholics, or where there is domestic violence, or both, and the kids have to get away for a couple of days… So, it’s always better to work with a family when there is one, to preserve family ties when possible, and avoid youth becoming homeless in the first place,” said program manager Lynch.
“When the connection with the family starts breaking down, the child starts getting used to a totally different lifestyle,” Lynch said.
Anna Shapoval, DOW’s country director in Ukraine, foresees the center annually working with 100 children and their families, who will make about 1,000 combined visits in the first year.
Shapoval said they anticipate the center’s costs will amount to $180 per child per year.
She said the initial period of work was “quite difficult,” including problems, like the absence of telephone lines in the region and the state of the facility provided to them. DOW initially spent $40,000 on renovations.
The center will spend a substantial amount on communal utilities. Kurka said that utility tariffs during the winter amounted to Hr 2,000, or $400 per month. Since heating accounts for nearly half of that expense, tariffs during the warmer seasons will cost much less, around Hr 1,000 per month.
Under the initial agreement with local partners, the facility was subject to rental payments of Hr 845, or $173 per month. But through determined lobbying at the local city council, DOW had the rent decreased to a “symbolic” amount, project organizers said.
The center will be run by DOW for a two to two-and-a-half-year period, after which it will be handed over to the State Children’s Service, which will take over responsibility. If the project is successful, DOW hopes to duplicate the drop-in center in other regions of Ukraine.
Shapoval mentioned that the state still doesn’t have a system for social contracting with NGOs.
“That would be the biggest success, if we could effectively transfer the program and get state funding,” said Shapoval.
“Organizations working with street children are really rare in Ukraine. It’s something new,” Kurka said.
“The general understanding has been that street children should not exist. In fact, street children were not recognized as a separate category until just a year ago when the national government recognized them,” said Kurka.
“Our state system works the following way: Children’s Services together with police go out and pick up the kids from the streets. They put them into short-term shelters for up to three months. In this period, Children’s Services either returns them to their homes or puts them in orphanages,” explained Shapoval.
The Christian charitable organization “Triumph of Heart” built a new, modern facility in September 2006, called “Beth Miriam,” which currently offers after-school activities and meals to children from impoverished families.
Stefan Arpad Madyar, director of Triumph of Heart in Ukraine, would like to make the shelter’s facilities, which include lodging, available to street and orphaned children, but he is waiting for Ukraine to adopt additional legislative measures that would help facilitate non-governmental organizations to work with these groups.
“We insist that the children attend school, because this is one of the biggest problems. When there is no guidance, problems naturally arise. The children start gathering on the streets and forming gangs … and start getting into trouble,” said Madyar.
Located in a picturesque wooded residential area of Kyiv’s Svyatoshin district, the three-floor residential-style building has a large, grassy backyard, a basketball court, large kitchen and dining rooms, a computer room, playrooms, a plant solarium and several bedrooms.
The exterior of the house is painted in alternating colors of pale cream, tan and green, which Madyar, a psychologist, chose according to the principles of color therapy. The walls of the center are also decorated with complex graphic designs created by Madyar.
As a mark of its link to Christian organizations, the center also has a small chapel, employs an Orthodox priest and Catholic nuns, and has a large cross in the backyard that is illuminated at night.
“Many of our children come from large families, five to seven children in one family and only a one-room apartment for everyone. A lot of children don’t have a father or mother, they only have a grandfather or grandmother … a parent has left or someone is in prison,” said Elena Kovalevskaya, the center’s on-site director.
Triumph of Heart has been working with underprivileged, street and orphaned children in Ukraine for more than 10 years. Before opening Beth Miriam, organizers had been renting accommodations through local state authorities to provide shelter for the street children with whom they work.
They were required to pay communal utility tariffs, and the regional authorities introduced rental payments of Hr 900, or nearly $200 per month, which the organization couldn’t afford.
“They took us to court and tried to get money from us that way. Even the court was baffled that this was being done to us while we were trying to help children,” Kovalevskaya said.
“These were children from the neighborhood we were helping,” said Kovalevskaya. “We gathered, fed and cared for these children and they think we should have to pay rent.”
“We realized then that we need to be independent,” said Kovalevskaya.
As a result, Madyar appealed to European donors to help them build the Beth Miriam center.
“A lot of charitable organizations have had to close because of state taxes. It turned out that many charitable organizations were paying 3,000 or even 8,000 hryvnias per month,” said Madyar.
“They like the fact that there is help [from charitable organizations], but they aren’t ready to adopt the laws which would support us,” Kovalevskaya said.