Открытый Мир Сирот

OPEN WORLD ORPHANS

Russian Federation - 2013


© Sam Asaert - Saint Petersburg.jpg
 
 

INTRODUCTION

 

In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, there were some 678,000 orphaned children in Russia.

In the year 2001, there were 700,000 orphans in Russia.

For the first time since World War II, the death rate exceeds the birthrate, every third marriage ends up in divorce and the number of orphans keeps growing in spite of a sharp decline in birthrates.

Official records state a total of 2,5 million orphans. Independent sources speak of 4 million orphans in Russia today.

Russia’s total population is 143,5 million.

There are 126 official orphanages in the city of Saint Petersburg alone.

Over 100,000 children annually end up in orphanages, of which around 40,000 are taken away from their families due to the parents losing their parental rights or being incarcerated. The leading cause in recent years is alcoholism and drug addiction, which leads to cruelty towards children, as well as neglect of their needs and interests.

Nearly 50% of Russia’s children (approx. 18 million) belong to the social risk zone.

 
Spasna Krovi Church in Saint Petersburg.

Spasna Krovi Church in Saint Petersburg.

New born baby taking into the Russian winter.

New born baby taking into the Russian winter.

 

RUSSIA’S SOCIAL CRISIS

 

The deep economic and social crisis in Russia has affected both the financial and the moral state of many families and their role for the social protection of a child.

Financial hardship and difficulties in living conditions lead to the social disorganization of families and a degeneration in family morals. There is an increase in parental incompetence due mostly to psychological illness as a result of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as post-traumatic stress resulting from military service.

The number of incarcerated parents doesn’t decrease and the number of children born out of wedlock or to underage mothers is on the increase.

Domestic violence is the reason that approximately 2,000 children and adolescents commit suicide annually and around 50,000 leave their homes.

 
A drunken man ascending the Saint Petersburg metro.

A drunken man ascending the Saint Petersburg metro.

Trepidatious orphans in one of the official orphanages in Saint Petersburg.

Trepidatious orphans in one of the official orphanages in Saint Petersburg.

 

TYPES OF ORPHANS

 

1. Abandoned children

These are mostly immature, almost primitive children that entered the orphanages at the age of 3 or 4, coming from residential centers for abandoned babies.

They show little psychological activity, are fearful of everything new and are passive in their behavior. These abandoned children often have inherent physical and psychological abnormalities as a result of their parents being intoxicated during the ovulation process or pregnancy, or due to the (often underage) future mother using various chemicals that allegedly stop pregnancy.

© Sam Asaert - Orphan Portrait

2. Social orphans

These are orphans whose parents are still alive, but are either so morally degraded as to leave their children to the will of fate, or had their parental rights taken away or are incarcerated.

Many children also simply run away from home. They make up 70 to 75% of all Russian orphans. These children are often poorly developed socially when they come from extremely disadvantaged family conditions. They are fast and speak well, yet they are loaded with negative life experiences.

They frequently use swearwords and while playing they often reproduce the actions and attitudes observed by them seeing their parents intoxicated (or in a possible criminal environment).

When the children were taken away after the parents lose their parental rights, they might develop a lack of emotional expression, inclinations to fear and worrying, as well as difficulties in and refusals to communicate.

© Sam Asaert - Orphan Portrait

3. Full Orphans

These are orphans whose parents have died (usually not of natural causes). They usually show little problems in their development and rarely require special correctional efforts.

4. Mentally disabled children and children with delays in psychological development.

They usually come from residential centers for abandoned babies and disadvantaged families and require specific medical, psychological and educational assistance.

© Sam Asaert - Orphan Portrait
 

ORPHANS AND THEIR PLIGHT

 

The first feeling in the life of any living creature is love for its parents. When a child grows up in a parentless situation he or she has to cope with the thought that he or she is not needed or loved, and that he or she is completely alone in the world.

Most orphans do not feel safe in the world that surrounds them.

They believe that his or her abandonment, or having been taken away, is a punishment for being bad. So they lose self-respect as a result and start feeling guilty, which can become their main personality features.

The conditions of institutionalized living often result in delays in psychological development. Apathy is noted in the early age children, which is expressed through the absence of emotions. They start to speak later in life, which creates a disadvantage in the development of early forms of thinking and hinders social interaction with the people who surround them.

Institutionalized children have little general knowledge. They are not acquainted with the outside world and with various subjects typical of regular life.

Institutionalized life is repetitive, with their time being planned and organized by adults and constantly being surrounded by the same group of peers. It rarely becomes personal for a child, because the strict routine focuses mostly on the group as a whole.

Orphans have a great need for attention and acceptance from the adults around them. They require human warmth, care and positive emotional contacts. Yet they ever only experience a small amount of attention from adults and never enough to relate it to genuine acceptance or love. This low level of personal, intimate and genuine contact by adults feed their emotional poverty.

Their extreme desire for communication with adults and simultaneous excessive dependence on adults causes aggressiveness in many institutionalized children.

 
The orphanage dormitory.

The orphanage dormitory.

 

Outlook of orphans

 

An unsatisfied need for love and recognition, as well as the emotional instability of a child, paves the way for a child to think he or she has the right to be delinquent. These children might often intuitively understand that they can rely only upon themselves and thus assure themselves by all possible means in that believe. They violate the rules, become rude and try to dominate others even by violence. This is a demonstration of the need for independence.

Although orphans aren’t necessarily less intelligent, they can often not get the same level of schooling regular children receive.

They are mostly schooled inside the orphanage, with only one or two teachers to control the studies and homework of up to fifty children. Combined with dated textbooks and lack of proper explanations this often leads to learning difficulties slowly piling up.

The life experiences of institutionalized children are limited. The main source of information is limited to a few adults such as a teacher, trainer or caregiver at the orphanages. Movies they get to watch, which feature super heroes and extraordinary situations do not give these children an adequate understanding of real situations awaiting them in regular life.

 
Children of all ages attend evening class in one of the orphanages.

Children of all ages attend evening class in one of the orphanages.

 

Once they reach the age of 17 the orphans are dismissed from the orphanage or institute and are send off into the world for the first time, with no idea of how to take care of themselves.

Very few further educate themselves, with the majority trying to find ways of supporting their habits such as smoking, drinking and drug abuse. This is especially true for those children who find their way back to the family they were taken away from.

Some orphans are appointed an apartment by the government. There is however a real estate mafia that obtains the names of those orphans about to receive an apartment. They approach them and offer under market value prices for these apartments.

Having no understanding of these matters, orphans often get blinded by this money and sell their apartments. Which the mafia then proceeds to sells with enormous profit.

It is said that only 10 per cent of orphans, once out in regular society, find a place in life. About 90 per cent of them will end up living below the poverty line, or will be lost to drug addiction, crime, prostitution or suicide.

 
A lone orphan lingers around the main hall of the Moskovsky Railway Station.

A lone orphan lingers around the main hall of the Moskovsky Railway Station.

 

EKATERINA CHTCHELKANOVA

 
Ekaterina attending ballet class.

Ekaterina attending ballet class.

 

“ My name is Ekaterina Chchelkanova. My friends call me Katya. It’s easier.”

“I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. And here I am, forty plus years later… as the founder of the Open World Dance Foundation.

I don’t think I got into ballet, I think ballet got into me. I demanded pointe shoes when I was 2,5 years old and luckily I had a mother who was supportive, and granted my wish.

And at the age of 10 I auditioned for the Vaganova Ballet Academy in Saint Petersburg, and was accepted. Students of the Vaganova Academy are heavily involved in performances of the Kirov. So from 10 years old I was on stage with the Kirov, or Mariinsky as it’s called nowadays. That was a great joy.

Then, the nineties. Russia. Crazy. The theater also entered this strange period where everything started shaking and falling down. At this time we happened to be in America, on tour.

Even though I never thought of, well, I cannot say defecting because it wasn’t the Soviet Union at that point anymore, but it happened. I just turned 22 and I stayed in New York.

There I met Mikhail Baryshnikov, and he gave me the greatest tap on the shoulder saying “You must, you have to, you will.” And thus my career at American Ballet Theater started. Seven years I stayed there. ”

 

OPEN WORLD DANCE FOUNDATION

 
Ekaterina working with two orphans girls, to see how their balletic abilities are.

Ekaterina working with two orphans girls, to see how their balletic abilities are.

“ I was artistic director of a children dance festival in Berlin, and we had this boy…”

“He was seven or eight. From a small village in Russia. People had to pay money to participate in this festival, and it was quite expensive, I believe, for some children.

This little boy came with his mother, who in order to allow her son to take part in this festival had to sell her house. I was of course completely shocked by this. But I also thought to myself how amazing it is that a mother would do this for her child’s wish to dance and to be part of this festival.

Then I started thinking about children who have no such mother. Would they be robbed of their dream and chance to go on stage and get a scholarship? This small boy won a scholarship and is now studying at the Igor Moiseyev School in Moscow. All thanks to his mother.”

 
An orphan girl listens to Ekaterina giving pointers.

An orphan girl listens to Ekaterina giving pointers.

 

“I started thinking of children without parents. What would they do? Would they even be able to put their wishes into words? Would they allow themselves even to say it out loud? Would someone listen? And if someone did listen, what would they do next?”

“The idea that someone who would want to dance, as much as I always wanted to dance, would not be able to achieve this, just appeared way to cruel to me.”

“Yet I didn’t know where to begin with all of this. I had never been to the orphanages, so for me it was kind of like an imaginary thing. I thought about this, but I didn’t actually know if children in the orphanages would really have such desires to dance.”

“So Anton (Ekaterina’s partner) said “Why don’t you stop thinking about it and actually start doing something about it?” So we went to an orphanage in Saint Petersburg. And when I introduced myself as a ballet dancer a little boy came up to me and he said “I want to dance at the Mariinsky.”

And that’s how it began. ”

 
Ekaterina works with a young orphan girl, and one of her teachers, in the old gymnasium of the orphanage.

Ekaterina works with a young orphan girl, and one of her teachers, in the old gymnasium of the orphanage.

 

WORKING WITH ORPHANS

Ekaterina holding a dance workshop at one of the orphanages.

Ekaterina holding a dance workshop at one of the orphanages.

 

“ We arranged for the orphans to go to a ballet school and take classes. Which wasn’t an easy thing to get done, because they would have to travel an hour and a half one-way, five days a week. But no one could stop them. It was amazing. These children just wanted to do this, even during the harsh winter. And the results were quite amazing. They improved on their schooling, became more disciplined and more creative, as well as friendlier to each other.

I am learning more and more that these kids, they do have food, they do have clothes, and in every orphanage you visit there are tons of toys and stuff like that. Which kids do need but not to such extremes, yet that’s what people usually bring. I guess we don’t really understand that what they need the most is trust. They want to be trusted.”

“They want responsibilities. They want to show you that they can be responsible, that they can be trusted, that they are real and normal and can be put to tasks. They are amazing.”

 
Ekaterina discovering Zina, an orphaned girl with natural talent for ballet. Through an administrative error Zina (center) and her friend (right) were send to an orphanage for severely mentally disabled children.

Ekaterina discovering Zina, an orphaned girl with natural talent for ballet. Through an administrative error Zina (center) and her friend (right) were send to an orphanage for severely mentally disabled children.

 

“I think what I would like to stress is that we don’t only focus on children who are talented for dance, we also allow children who love to dance but who may not have a future in this profession. We encourage them to dance as well. Because it is very therapeutic, it’s very healing and at the same time it disciplines you, it makes you more social. It cannot do any harm, especially if it is taught to you in the right way. It can only do you good. We do not skip those who do not have amazing physical abilities. We welcome everyone who wants to move with music.”

“Many orphans believe they were given up because they are defective. That’s why they always think, “I am here, and my life is only going to be this certain way. Life of success and beauty, life without borders, this open world is not for me, it is for others. And I can not enter it.”

“We have to teach them to believe in themselves, we have to make them understand that they are good, that they are talented, that they can and that they will.

I mean we have to give them an opportunity. If they don’t take it, they don’t. But you do have to show them that there are ways to become someone, rather than just a low level figure in society. ”

 
Watching Ekaterina talk about dance and ballet.

Watching Ekaterina talk about dance and ballet.

 

TATIANA

 
The beautiful and talented Tatiana.

The beautiful and talented Tatiana.

One of the first orphans to fully utilize the opportunities provided by Ekaterina and the Open World Dance Foundation was Tatiana.

Tatiana was 7 years of age when she was taken away from her home. The government deemed her parents unfit to retain their parental rights due to their severe addiction to crack cocaine.

Thus the local government took custody control over Tatiana and her sister Hanna. Tatiana and Hanna stayed in the Priyut (the collection point for all new orphans) for one year before the government found them a permanent place in orphanage n° 46, in the outskirts of Saint Petersburg. Because of this one year in the Priyut, Tatiana only started her schooling at the age of eight. Which is one year later than required in Russia.

In the mean time her parents were imprisoned for drug trafficking and orphanage workers advised a minimal contact between Tatiana and her parents.

Upon visiting orphanage n°46 in 2011, Ekaterina was immediately struck by Tatiana’s interest and talent for dance.

It didn’t take long for Tatiana to show an interest in becoming a ballet dancer.

 
Ekaterina and Tatiana enjoying a ballet performance of the Mariinsky Ballet.

Ekaterina and Tatiana enjoying a ballet performance of the Mariinsky Ballet.

 

After submitting Tatiana to more rigorous physical exercises to determine if her body could handle the touch requirements of a ballet education, Ekaterina decided to help Tatiana to the next level.

In April 2012 she took Tatiana, a long with three other orphans, to perform in New York City. There Tatiana was awarded a summer scholarship to the School of American Ballet.

And on September 1st 2012, after successfully auditioning, Tatiana was accepted to the prestigious Vaganova Ballet Academy in Saint Petersburg.

 
 

VAGANOVA

 
Excited young Vaganova students put on their point shoes, to start a first class on pointe work.

Excited young Vaganova students put on their point shoes, to start a first class on pointe work.

 

The Vaganova Ballet Academy offers a nine-year ballet education program to children from ages 11 to 19. The program covers both practical classical ballet as well as theoretical courses of the highest level. Each school day, from Monday to Saturday, starts at 9am and ends at 5:30pm.

 
An older Vaganova student practices her attitude.

An older Vaganova student practices her attitude.

One of the daily ballet classes.

One of the daily ballet classes.

 

The discipline required of students is very hard for Tatiana, because it is required of her to carry many responsibilities. Which is a first. Physical fitness, permanent coaching, regular studying, keeping up to date with the ballet vocabulary which she is learning at a rapid pace, etc. Never the less, she fits in just fine, thanks to the personal teacher-student relations, which she has never experienced before.

 
Tatiana receiving corrections from her ballet teacher.

Tatiana receiving corrections from her ballet teacher.

Tatiana and her classmates watch their ballet teacher explain and correct a ballet position.

Tatiana and her classmates watch their ballet teacher explain and correct a ballet position.

Tatiana at the barre.

Tatiana at the barre.

 

Tatiana has changed a great deal since starting at the Vaganova Academy. Both mentally and physically.

The Vaganova Academy has a dormitory that houses students that can't commute. Its rhythm is similar to that of the orphanage, which makes it easier for Tatiana. Waking up is at 7am and there is a 9pm curfew. Children between 11 and 15 years of age are not allowed to leave the building without a teacher accompanying them.

Tatiana has replaced one closed off environment for another. The main difference, however, lies in the fact that in the closed off ballet school community, she is constantly surrounded by driven and talented children trying to make something of themselves, and who motivate Tatiana to do the same.

 
Tatiana and her roommate in their dorm room, after another long day of classes at the academy.

Tatiana and her roommate in their dorm room, after another long day of classes at the academy.

 

In the time she has spent at the Vaganova Academy, she has evolved from a quiet and timid girl, into a smiley and self-confident young athlete. She more than ever seems determined to make something of herself.

If she successfully completes the Vaganova Ballet education program, she has a good chance of making it to the highest echelon of the Russian cultural landscape. She will be able to travel the world, perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and even have the opportunity to work in other countries.

In other words; By introducing Tatiana to the discipline and self-expression of dance, her future will no longer be marked as one of the ninety percent.

 
Tatiana at the piano during one of her music classes.

Tatiana at the piano during one of her music classes.

Tatiana, slowly but surely becoming an incredibly talented ballet dancer.

Tatiana, slowly but surely becoming an incredibly talented ballet dancer.

 

(On September 1st 2013, Zina, from orphanage n°2, was also accepted into the Vaganova Ballet Academy under the guidance of the Open World Dance Foundation.)

 

The information for this article was compiled from source material provided by: Dr. Lyudmila Shipitsyna (author of “The Psychology of Orphans”), Human Rights Watch (essay “Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages”), Russian Children’s Fund, Unicef, Buckner International, OrphanOutreach, Bring Me Hope Foundation, as well as interviews with Ms. Chtchelkanova between April 2012 and September 2013.

 
 

Text & Photographs © Sam Asaert