We all know that the outlook for orphans is often bleak. Life is also tough for children whose parents cannot look after them – for whatever reason. It is not easy for an orphanage or a school to replace family life, but people working in projects all over the world are doing their best to help.
Research shows that children do best when they live with their parents, even if the home situation is difficult. But what happens when it is not possible to keep children with their families?Loving hearts and creative activities are just some of the possibilities being explored.
Children need education to face the future with confidence, but they also need love and care to grow into healthy adults. So what happens to youngsters whose parents cannot give them the family life they need? Russia is one of many countries aiming to develop a network of foster families who can provide an educational and family environment for children in need.
Danila and his elder sister got a new family 2 years ago when their parents were stripped of their parent’s rights due to heavy drinking.
New guardians Roman and Aleksandra teach at the Kitezh therapeutic community. The new family’s top priority was to help the children deal with issues of violence and communication with others.
“We learn to resolve conflicts properly and talk to people well,” says Danila.
“We mustn’t be too rude to anyone and have good relations with elder kids,” says Maria.
Four years ago Roman and Aleksandra moved to the Kitezh community in the Kaluga woods, leaving careers behind. They realized Kitezh gave them the chance to better help abandoned, traumatised children.
That is because of the unique approaches they can take here. First of all is a lifestyle that allows foster families and school to be as one. The teachers are also Mum and Dad!
The community solves its problems together. Together with their parents the children have to work on a farm, grow their own food, and build their own homes.
All the work is done together and that is a crucial part of the therapeutic method developed by the founder of this community – Dmitry Morozov.
“He’s hurting so much he can’t help but take it out on others. We need to understand how he is different,” he says of one of the children in his care.
He set up here 20 years ago with very little practical knowledge, but driven by one idea.
“It’s a way of life, its not just an education, we live here, these are our adopted kids, this is our school, our fields, our garden, all done with our own hands. We built our homes, we planted trees. All this together changes children,” he says.
Andrew Aikman left Scotland 6 years ago to live here and teach English. He also coordinates the foreign volunteers and is writing a book about the methods used here to rehabilitate mentally disturbed children. Andrew regrets that in many European countries these methods would fall foul of restrictive laws.
“We can help orphans deal with their past lives through interacting on a very close personal level. In Britain and in most of Europe and US it would be impossible to replicate Kitezh because the law is extremely restrictive on what you can do with children,” sighs Andrew.
More than 90 kids have been through Kitezh community in the past 20 years. They are never left alone even after they move on to their adult lives – the community takes care of their housing in the big city and helps in the preparation for university exams. But there are an estimated 660,000 abandoned children in Russia.
Can art replace a lost family? What about a polar bear? Or music classes? Surprising as it might seem, all these things can help. Exploring the world, discovering music, movies and sport, one children’s home in Greenland has pulled out all the stops to help the young people who come through their door.
Uummannaq children’s home is the world’s most northern orphanage. The name means heart-shaped, the name of this little island in the heart of the Arctic.
Round here teacher is just as likely to be a polar bear or seal hunter, or sometimes a visiting volunteer artist from anywhere in the world.
Beyond the losses these orphans have already suffered is the prospect of their home literally melting under their feet, and with it their Inuit culture.
Still, it is hard to find more enthusiastic and creative kids… so what is the Uummannaq secret?
“I see them more as very artistic people who are extremely curious, despite their difficult life stories, in everything that is happening around them,” says the Uummannaq Music and Ice Circus’s Galya Morrell.
“We are using sport, art, music, films dance so the kids can learn to express themselves other ways. The pain, we cannot take it away from them. But we can teach them to live with it, to learn to express themselves through other things,” says the home’s director, Ann Andreason.
Art is saving their lives, and taking them around the world. A movie has been shot about their life, “Inuk”. It is Greenland’s Best Foreign Picture Oscar nominee this year. Links have been forged with musicians in faraway Venezuela and Kyrgyzstan.
Recently the children were invited to perform by the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and got the chance to visit New York.
But Inuit culture is mostly life on ice, hunting, and dog sledges.
“The kids have to adapt to situations where you have to sleep in a small tent. Sometimes that’s quite tough in the beginning but surprisingly enough they adapt very fast”, says polar explorer, educator and actor Ole Jorgen Hammeken.
Some of the Uumannaq children have roles in “Inuk” alongside Ole, who is one of Greenland’s most famous bear hunters. He is also tutor to one of the children, taking him with him on his expeditions.
“I think what they learn is to find themselves.
What they find out very fast is : Ok, we can’t run away when we get mad. We can’t do stupid things, because that’s not helping either. So they start to understand that fast. And then they cope with the situation fast and they, actually, start to behave quite responsibly,” he smiles.
34 wards live in the Uummannaq children’s home, from new-born babies to young adults. They eat, sleep, and study together.
In 1997, the home begun to teach music and use it as a therapy. A music teacher came from the Faroe Islands, and an old piano was found.
“Nobody expected so much music in a children’s home”, says Jonna Faero. “There was an old piano and we started it up. And today everybody is playing. Music is in the house!”
It is music that travels. Conductor with “El Sistema” Ron Alvarez heard it from Venezuela, and came to play.
“You have to use different things to get them involved, like polar bears, snow, or sleighs. So you can explain to the kids that they have to handlle the bow like a bear’s claw, or imagine that they are on a sled, and play that way.”
As much as their tutors and art have revealed the world, and taken them to places like Kyrgyzstan or New York, their education is dedicated to preserving their identity.
“I want to stay in Greenland. I love Greenland. It’s my home. I will never move to America or Alaska. I want to stay in Greenland,” insists Sara.
UNICEF and its global partners define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents. By this definition there were over 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005.
So what is the situation for orphaned children in your country? Do not hesitate to share your experiences and opinions with us on euronews’ “Learning World” social media pages.