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SOS Children opens crisis centre for women in Belarus

The recently opened SOS Children's Village Mogilev in Belarus features the country's first shelter for women offering long-term protection from domestic violence. Tatiana Burova of SOS Children's Villages Belarus explains the centre's work:

Mother and children using the SOS Social Centre Borovljany Belarus"Aside from the eleven family houses at the new SOS Children's Village Mogilev, there are also two houses for the Family Strengthening Programme. One house is for women in crisis, normally teenage mothers, single mothers who have nobody to turn to for help; and young mothers who are orphans. These are people who have many problems to deal with - financial or social problems, and the main challenge: they are not ready for parenthood.

"The second house is a shelter for children and women who have been victims of domestic violence. This is a shelter, and while we do not advertise this, we have a hotline for those women and decide on a case-by-case basis if the women need the shelter or some other kind of help. There is enough room for six women with children in the first house and for five mothers in the second.

"The project helps more than 80 families every month, and even now when the centre is not yet running at full swing as there is still more furnishing to do. Women who are victims of domestic violence can stay at the shelter for three months; this is the time we have to find a solution for them. If necessary, they can stay there for a longer period

"This crisis centre offering long-term shelter is the first of its kind in Belarus. There are some centres women can turn to during the day, but they can not spend the night there. Here, they can stay for three months. We hope that there will be more centres like this one throughout Belarus in future.

A variety of services

"We offer a variety of services depending on the needs of the families, we analyse their situation and make a Children from Borovljany, Belarusdevelopment plan for them. The most important aspects are counselling and social services - training, talks, and group work. One of the services that are most in demand is the chance to learn about parenting skills. Financial help is also important; mostly it's about providing food for children; in very rare cases also clothing - when women take their children and flee from the violence in their homes, there is often no time to pack anything. Legal advice is also in strong demand, and we have a partner who offers this, but there is also a specialist who comes over once a month and provides advice. Of course we hire a specialist when a woman needs to take a case of violence to court. Furthermore, we offer child education; this is a must as many children are lagging behind in development; there's also basic medical help.

Great need

"The need for this kind of facilities is huge; there were families looking for help even before this shelter was opened. We sent two families to Minsk to the social centre and helped three families to rent apartments on a temporary basis. Each month, 50-60 women call our hotline for help, and at least they receive counselling. Unfortunately, the crisis centre is too small to accommodate all of them. Still, we help 80 families and 150 children every month.

"With the crisis centre in full swing, we expect that number to rise to 250 children. There are 365,000 inhabitants in Mogilev; 100,000 of them are children, and official statistics say that 12.5% live below the poverty line. So, one centre is not enough; we are considering ways of helping more families. The need is great, not only in Mogilev. Lately we have been receiving a lot of calls from the countryside because there are problems with unemployment and children's education as there are not enough kindergartens. The main problem is that a whole generation has grown up in impoverished families and has learned no parenting skills, but are having children themselves. So, it's a vicious circle - they grow up in a family that is doing bad financially and create families that are in the same state, because they are not prepared for parenthood. It's very difficult to break this cycle.

"In Belarus, SOS Children's Villages operates four Family Strengthening projects - the crisis centre in Mogilev, the 'early prevention of social orphanhood programme' in Marina Gorka and the 'social centre for mothers and children' in Borovljany. We provide long-term help for families, and in the first six months of 2010, we have helped 1,000 children. The fourth project is the Playbus; they have 600-700 children and adolescents participating once a month."