FOR 50 children with disabilities living in and around the town of Gomel in Belarus, the Mayflower Respite Centre has become their second home.
It holds a special place in the hearts of their parents, many of whom had never had a day’s rest from caring for their profoundly disabled child.
Work began on the first Respite Care Centre in Belarus in Autumn 2003 and was completed by early Summer 2004. Since then the Centre has continually hosted groups of six children, with either cerebral palsy, autism or learning difficulties.
Chernobyl Children’s Project (UK) and the Solihull company Elegant Homes Ltd. created a spacious, attractive and well equipped Centre. And Natasha and her staff put in all the finishing touches which have made the Mayflower Centre such a friendly and welcoming environment. It is wonderful to see the gentle and confident attitude of the staff, and the affection they clearly feel for the children in their care
In September 2004 the Mayflower Centre was officially opened by the British Ambassador, Brian Bennett.
The Mayflower Centre is a joint project of CCP(UK) and the Social Protection Department of one of the districts of Gomel. The senior officials were so impressed with what they saw and heard at the Opening, that they are now urging all the other districts of Gomel to seek foreign partners who will help them create similar centres.
They were perhaps most moved by the speech given by Ludmilla, Head of the Autistic Association, who spoke on behalf of the parents, and summed up just what the Mayflower Centre is all about.
“When my son was born, I had two choices. I could put him into an institution and throw his life away. Or I could keep him with me and throw my life away. I kept him with me, and we lived like twins, always together.
And then when the questionnaire was sent out asking if I would use a Centre like this for Denis, I replied that I might bring him for an hour or two while I went shopping. ‘Would I ever leave him overnight?’ Like all the other mothers in my association, I answered ‘Never! That would be impossible!’
When the Mayflower opened I brought my son to visit and he liked it. We came on a longer visit and he still liked it here. So finally I left him overnight. I sat by the phone till midnight, waiting for the call, but it never came. The next time Denis stayed, I had my hair done and went for a massage.
Every morning when Denis wakes up he asks when he can go the Centre again. He has something to look forward to, and I have a life of my own.”
The centre has six bedrooms, large play rooms, a sensory room, soft play area, dining room and well equipped kitchen. Generally six children stay at one time, but it could be up to 8 and on occasions may be less where the children have profound difficulties. The children usually stay for five nights, but the Centre can also offer shorter breaks, or longer periods if a parent has to go into hospital.
When they first stay in the centre children can be accompanied by a parent or brother or sister, until they are happy to stay alone. They are looked after by a team of nine carers, plus a psychologist and a nurse. Natasha’s staff also includes a cook, a secretary/receptionist, a driver, a part time special needs teacher and a consultant doctor who comes twice a week to check on the children’s health.
Most of the children live in the city of Gomel, but some come from Rogachev, Mozyr and other parts of the region. We hope that eventually there will be respite centres in many other parts of the region, and throughout Belarus, so that families will be able to receive local care.
The support Mayflower gives to families means that fewer parents feel under such pressure that they eventually have to give their child to an institution. We are very grateful to everyone who has been involved in creating this centre which for parents in Gomel really is ‘a dream come true’.
In April 2006 Damian Grammaticas and a BBC crew came to film at the Mayflower for their coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.
Many individuals gave generous support ;LinPac bought us the minibus; Denis Moors, of High Ash Farm, Longnor, near Buxton has sponsored the salary of the nurse through his company, which provides accommodation for school children; Rotary Clubs of Pitlochrie and Aberfeldy and Driffield Friends of Chernobyl Children provided funds for a playground.
In 2008 two major changes occurred at Mayflower. Their remit was extended so that they could provide respite care for disabled young adults. And the Social Protection Department took on the repsonsiblity and the funding for running the Centre. CCP(UK) still provides the transport to take children between their homes and Mayflower and supports the centre in other ways such as training and delivering humanitarian aid.
We also fund a get together at Mayflower every Sunday for a group of young adults in wheelchairs, who live at home with their families. They have very little opportunity to get out so the weekly ‘Search Club’ meetings at Mayflower and outings to the park which we organise make a great difference to their lives.