Chernobyl’s nuclear disaster in 1986 still casts its shadow over Belarus’s population; two-thirds of the fall-out from the plant landed on Belarussian territory, contaminating nearly a quarter of the country.
Brovoljany is a small town with a population of around 5,000 situated about 20km north-east of Belarus’s capital, Minsk. The surrounding countryside is predominantly rural, and provides accommodation for staff working in the many clinics offering services to the adults and children who flock to the area for medical treatment.
Life in a transitional economy
After a period of growth following its declaration of independence in 1991, Belarus’s economy suffered a drastic deterioration in 2011, the consequences of which have radiated out from its capital. With many key industries still owned by the state, the economy is now unstable. In Borovljany and its surrounding districts, families face both unemployment and under-employment. The under-funded social welfare system does not protect the most vulnerable, and the cost of living continues to rise. Single parents and households where only one parent is in work, are struggling to live at a level above the poverty line.
The shadow of Chernobyl
Children born after 1986 are still suffering from the effects of the Chernobyl disaster; iodine deficiency has made them more susceptible to thyroid cancer and iodine deficiency disorders. Anaemia is common amongst children and pregnant women. With one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the region, the underfunded health service is severely stretched. Added to this, poverty means that tuberculosis epidemics are not unusual.
What we do in Brovoljany
Our Children’s Village was opened in 1998 and was our first in Belarus. It was established as a direct consequence of the Chernobyl disaster. Our Village has the capacity to provide a home for up to 120 children. All of the children in our direct care are living with us either because they have been orphaned or their immediate families are no longer able to look after them. Those living in our Village attend the nursery and schools in the nearby town of Lesnoj.
Once those in our care reach their mid-teens they can move to our SOS Youth Home in Minsk, where they stay whilst undertaking vocational training or higher education. It is here that we support them while they learn the skills they will need to make the transition to independent adult life.
Helping families recover from nuclear disaster
Alongside the 12 homes, our Village provides accommodation for up to 360 in our SOS Social Centre. This Centre has three branches: our health centre, an information technology suite and a centre for our community work.
Our health centre makes it possible for family members and children to stay together for the duration of medical treatment or therapy. Children suffering diseases and conditions caused by nuclear contamination are treated at the neighbouring oncology hospital. During their stay, we offer our families professional care, medical supervision and psychotherapeutic. We also provided supplementary remedial education and a range of leisure activities.
Our information technology suite offers a range of courses and aims to provide income-generating skills.
Through our community work, we offer access to services essential to child development, such as education, nutrition and health. We support struggling families to gain income-generating skills and provide a healthy and stable home environment for their children.
In Brovoljany, we continue to support those still affected nearly three decades after nuclear disaster.