Zhuravichi is home to over 200 children and young adults with disabilities , ranging from Downs Syndrome or fairly mild learning difficulties to profound physical and mental disabilies.
The home is hidden deep in the countryside and, even today, the majority of people in Belarus are not aware of the existence of such institutions. It took Chernobyl Children’s Project (UK) several months to discover where the most disabled children were sent when they left the Abandoned Babies Home.
When the charity first visited Zhuravichi it was very bleak with few toys, no wheelchairs or other aids for physically disabled children, many children spending their whole lives in a cot and the majority receiving no education.
CCP began to take humanitarian aid – educational toys, nappies, clothes and wheelchairs. Then volunteers started to work with the staff, encouraging them to get children out of bed and to give them more care and attention.
For the last twelve years the charity has organised a holiday at a holiday camp or ‘Sanatorium‘ in a clean part of Belarus. Volunteers from Britain fly out to organise arts and crafts and sports activities for the children and make sure they have a holiday to remember. Staff who accompany the children are amazed to see how much they are able to do when given the chance to develop.
In 2001, CCP sent many special chairs and walking frames to Zhuravichi, and a physiotherapist and occupational therapist fitted appropriate children to the aids and showed the staff how to use them. Then Luba, the physiotherapist from the home, was brought to Britain to develop her skills. Then four young children – Anya, Anton, Stas and Nazar – came to spend time with families in the UK where they made dramatic improvements, both physically and emotionally. The charity decided to create a small family home for these children called Rodni Kut.
Over 100 of the children living at Zhuravichi now receive some education. This started largely due to pressure from CCP (UK) on the Social Protection and Education Departments in Gomel. It has since become policy of the Belarusian Education Ministry that all children should be educated, which is a tremendous step forwards.
In 2004 we managed to get some of the children at Zhuravichi reassessed and moved to Ulookavye Orphanage or Rechitsa Boarding Home for Children with Cerebral Palsy where they now receive more education and have the chance of a happier childhood.
However, there are still many more physically disabled children who spend much of their time confined to a cot. For staff working with children with a profound learning disability or autism, it is extremely difficult as there are too few staff and they have received little or no training whatsoever.
Zhuravichi has noticably improved in the last few years, largely due to the help we have been able to provide and also thanks to a group of caring Polish Nuns who work there all year round. However, institutional care is never an ideal option for any child and the vast size and isolated location of Zhuravichi make it a highly unsuitable home.
It is impossible to say how many of the children at Zhuravichi have been disabled due to Chernobyl. There have certainly been many more children born with disabilities since the accident in 1986. And there are some conditions, such as the children who fail to grow and still look like toddlers in their teens, which ought to be investigated for a connection with radiation damage.
Since 2006 we have been sponsoring a teacher to work with some of the most learning disabled young people, who have never had any education. We have also funded extra carers to help with the children who spend most of their time in cots.
Last year we brought the Director of Zhuravichi on an educational visit to the UK, which involved time visiting special schools to learn about our education for children with disabilities here.
Click here for more pictures from Zhuravichi Children’s Home
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