Why it matters...
or, what happens if nobody helps?
Life on the 'Inside' (Orphanage Life)
The orphanage facilities in Ukraine are divided into baby homes and children's homes. The baby homes host children from birth to approximately 3 years of age. At age four the children are moved to an internat, a type of orphanage commonly translated as a 'boarding school'. Internats are managed by the Education Ministry.
These post-Soviet children’s homes are overcrowded, run-down, and under-funded. Even in the ‘best equipped’ orphanages, children are undernourished and physically small for their age.
On the positive side, there are many orphanages run by directors and care-givers who sincerely care for the children and strive to create a nurturing environment. The children in these orphanages are affectionate and spirited, and often very creative despite scant resources. Some are exceptionally talented in the areas of music, art and sports.
Unfortunately, these state run institutions are not in a position to do anything to prepare these children for successful adulthood. Educational standards vary wildly due to limited budgets and other priorities. Children have few, if any, opportunities to develop the life or work skills necessary to integrate back into society. At a time when children should become increasingly independent, the stultifying nature of these schools inhibits personal growth and self-reliance.
Two essential life skills that orphans typically lack are critical thinking and decision-making skills. The state makes all significant decisions for them and orphanage directors rarely solicit their opinion on matters concerning them. The only thing required of an orphan is obedience. As a result, these children – who are already plagued with self-worth issues and low self-esteem due to being abandoned by their own parents – have never learned how to make positive decisions for themselves. They have little confidence in their abilities and are easily influenced by others.
Life on the Outside
Graduation day is possibly the worst day in the life of many orphans. For some it is the beginning of the end. The most tragic moment for such kids is a graduation party at their boarding school. They soon realize that their teachers and caregivers are releasing them into an uncertain world, and the state is washing its hands of them. At this point the protective walls of the orphanage disappear, and the nightmare of life without a family turns into reality for these children.
When these young adults leave the orphanage and re-enter the 'real' world they are entirely alone. This is the most critical juncture in an orphan’s life – the point at which immediate survival dictates their decisions and drives many towards a life of desperation and abuse. Both the child and society suffer as a result.
Consider the challenges faced by most newly released orphans:-
- Food and Shelter – If an orphan does not have a relative willing to offer temporary housing, survival becomes their first and only objective. These children often end up turning to crime and prostitution, just to eat and have a place to sleep. One third of all orphans end up in prison. From the start they are in a state institution, so they just go to another institution.
- Poor Primary School Education – The vast majority of orphans lack the proper education needed to be admitted to the secondary educational facilities, or they drop out quickly if they manage this feat due to the pressures of providing for themselves without proper support.
- Most Possess No Work Skills and Few Life Skills.
- Few Jobs (including menial ones) Are Available – Eastern Europe will be struggling to emerge from communism for many years. In Ukraine, nearly 28% of the population lives below the poverty line and there are few jobs for anybody – least of all for teenage orphans.
- No Support System – Once a child is released from the orphanage, they are completely on their own. Basic survival drives their actions, leading many into abusive situations and destructive behaviors.
- The Stigma of Being an Orphan – Stereotypes and stigma run very deep in Eastern Europe. Common thinking is that if the orphan’s parents did not want the child, something must be very wrong with the child. The orphan is not only ill-prepared to integrate back into society; he/she is also rejected by society.
These children – without the benefit of guidance in many areas – are asked to walk out of the orphanage doors, find a place to live, find something to eat, find a job, find a life.
It is no surprise to discover that there is a very high suicide rate (over 10%) in newly released orphans and that they are the prime targets of the human slave traders and sex traffickers. More than half are recruited to a life of crime or prostitution, and 30% become addicted to alcohol and other drugs during their first year of living independently.
Forced labor, sexual slavery or a life in the streets leading to crime, prostitution, alcohol and drug abuse is the destiny of most of these young people.
Through providing orphans with the support and guidance they need upon leaving the orphanage, Haven Bridge aims to change the destiny of these young lives. Over time, we expect our efforts to curtail the trafficking of orphans from Ukraine. We believe that providing viable alternatives and support systems is the only way to combat this great injustice.
To read more about the trafficking of orphans in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, please click here.
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