Orphanages closing their doors

February 27, 2013 in SunErgos NEWS

Sad to hear several of our orphanages in Saint Petersburg close its doors to Americans. The staff is “cautious”, since the adoption ban in January.

Two of our interns have experienced this first hand. Natalie Flath and Gia Margo are serving in Russia for a year with SunErgos and a local NGO. Their task was to serve in the local HIV orphanage, but that door has been closes “until things calm down”.  An unknown time in the future.

Here is a quote from their personal blog that shares their frustration and sadness with the changing laws concerning orphans in Russia.

Russian_protestOne of our main projects here in Saint Petersburg is working in the city’s local HIV baby orphanage. […]
Last week, we were told that we would not be allowed to enter because of our status as Americans. Much of this stems from Russia’s recent adoption law, which bans Americans from adopting Russian children. This is a complex issue in itself, but is effects are magnified beyond the adoption issue. This news was extremely disappointing, but we reached out to several other HIV orphanages in the city with hopes that they would not have the same fear and stigma.
At this point, we have been turned away from three orphanages on the grounds that “it is too risky to allow Americans in the orphanage.” These barriers within the orphanage system are born out of fear towards the government. Many of these orphanages have had volunteers before, but it just isn’t worth it to them to open their doors to Americans when they might receive attention and investigation from the government. At the same time, it is infuriating that these orphanage workers aren’t willing to take a small risk for the betterment of the children who live under their protection. They would rather stay under the radar to make their own jobs and lives easier.
It cannot be classified as a black and white issue, but it is the antithesis of the fearful and self-preservational nature of this culture – and justifiably so. Under a government that classifies its own Russian humanitarian advocates as “foreign agents,” a government that bans HIV+ people from adopting children, a government that tracks your every move with constant passport checks and required registrations you simply cannot expect to live your life openly and freely. You must live in fear. You must close your doors. You must not take risks.
The barriers we are encountering from our desire to volunteer and,  in some small way, improve the lives of HIV+ children who are entering into a future of discrimination and rejection, are part of both a deeply rooted cultural issue and governance issue. So then what hope is there for these children, for those living with HIV, for this nation? It is an interesting time to be in Russia. The hope that this state would progress into a post-communist democracy and end the era of dictators is quickly dying. With each year, established figures within the political system gain power while people lose their rights to have a voice. Rather than developing as an open society that is open to questions and criticism, Russia kicks out organizations like USAID and UNICEF because they don’t want to hear outside opinions and they don’t want to address the issues that are plaguing their nation through evidence-based methods.
As Russia closes herself off from the world, her people close themselves off from the “other” as well. If you are different, you are feared and you will be rejected. It is every person’s job to take care of themselves and their own. Compassion and effort end there. In this definitive stage of Russia’s development, NGOs must make a decision. Many choose to cut themselves off from international donors and support because they fear that they will be investigated and deemed “foreign agents” if they collaborate. Others take the risk because they know that this is possibly the only real way to effectively make change in a sustainable way. But how long can they receive funds and support (and interns!) from abroad?
To read their full blog, please go here.