When CCP first started to work in Belarus in 1995, life was extremely difficult for children born with disabilities and they were almost completely hidden from public view. In many cases, a disabled baby was abandoned at birth to State care, and doctors advised mothers to forget about their child, who “would probably die anyway”.
In the Gomel Region of Belarus, many of these children ended up at Zhuravichi Children’s Home, which was so well hidden in the countryside that hardly anybody knew it existed. After the Chernobyl accident there was an 80% rise in the number of children in this region born with disabilities, resulting in even more children entering the home.
However, today it is becoming much less common for families to give up their children, and attitudes to disability are changing quite rapidly. We have been instrumental in bringing about this change, by bringing many teachers, directors of schools and orphanages and senior representatives of local and national government to the UK for educational visits. These visits show people a different way of life and the vast possibilities for children and adults with disabilities.
We continue to support Zhuravichi by providing training for staff, sending humanitarian aid, taking the children for a Sanatorium holiday every summer and by sponsoring some extra carers to work with the most disabled children.
Eleven years ago we set up Family Home 2000 for four young adults, three of whom had grown up at Zhuravichi and had never had the chance of an education or to lead independent lives.
Two years later we set up a home for five young children in Rogachev, who came either from Zhuravichi or directly from the Home for Abandoned Babies in Gomel. The children at Rodni Kut have a foster papa and a team of ‘aunties’ who share their care and provide a wonderful home environment for the children to develop in.
In 2004 we helped to move several children from Zhuravichi to Rechitsa Boarding School, where they have a better education and more opportunities to develop.
We created access into Special School No 5 so that children in wheelchairs would have the chance to attend school instead of being taught at home. In 2004 we opened the Mayflower Centre, the first overnight respite care centre in Belarus, which supports some 60 families with disabled children.
We are currently helping a new school in Gomel to begin the process of integrating physically disabled children. A very experienced teacher in this field from a school in Manchester visited Gomel in October 2009 to give training and advice.
Our care for these children does not stop when they turn 18; we support adults with disabilities as they move on from children’s institutions to adult institutions.