You are not alone. Together, we are strong. The coast of hope for single parent families.
Under the EU funded project "Promoting civil society participation in decision making processes on social inclusion in Belarus", Danish Red Cross (DRC) shares its expertise in family networks, improves capacities of Belarus Red Cross (BRC) and promotes a more inclusive society in Belarus.
Despite the impressive decline in poverty rates in Belarus, a number of population groups remain vulnerable to poverty, including families with three or more children, single parent households, families facing challenges of low incomes level and/or increased consumption of alcohol and drugs, lonely elderly, disabled people and their family members. These groups are facing marginalisation and stigmatization. The inequality becomes particularly evident in areas outside main cities as they are disproportionally troubled with poor infrastructure, poor outreach of social services, lack of access to information and qualitative education, in a context of a fragile labour market in which citizens have limited stable income, high dependency, and a high degree of social exclusion.
There is a clear capacity gap and an opportunity for the Red Cross and local authorities to cooperate for improved service provision to disadvantaged families in a coordinated way, alongside developing best practices for dialogue and cooperation. Following a series of consultations, it was proposed that DRC family support model will be piloted in Grodno and Minsk regions of Belarus.
With DRC support since 2017 BRC is piloting creation of volunteer groups and family support groups on the base of the territorial social centres. Family support groups are an exchange of experience, contact with families with similar problems; moral support of each other, which allows parents to get rid of feelings of loneliness and insecurity, helplessness mobilizing the resources of the family.
The project builds on positive experiences of DRC in supporting vulnerable families in a creative, inclusive and empowering manner. Family Support Groups (FSGs) were first started by DRC in 1999 and since then have developed into a countrywide activity. Families who struggle with difficult life circumstances are in the focus of attention. The objectives of FSGs are to provide a break in a challenging everyday life, to strengthen resilience to cope with life crises and difficult living conditions (unemployment, illness, divorce, etc.), to strengthen social networks and improve children’s wellbeing.
The project has already provided assistance to over 550 vulnerable people by volunteer groups through 13 community initiatives addressing the most significant social problems such as stigma and discrimination, social exclusion and disadaptation, and psychosocial needs in the two target regions of Minsk and Grodno in Belarus. Through these initiatives volunteers have worked in communities to provide psychosocial support, to promote social integration and adaptation, to reduce stigmatising attitudes, to establish self and mutual assistance, to ensure referrals, counselling and education services to disadvantaged families with disabled children, orphans and children left without parental care, disabled elderly people, children with tuberculosis or at risk of developing tuberculosis. Through this project, target families and volunteers are acquiring and developing new skills and create new social networks. Furthermore they benefit from awareness raising activities and have opportunities to build their capacities and raise their voices through engagement in volunteering.
The initiatives are tailor-made based on needs and capacity assessments to address individual family needs, aiming to promote social inclusion, develop skills and abilities, mix and communicate with volunteers and communities. The needs and capacity assessments in local communities happen to surprise BRC teams with the actual needs, for example when young single mothers raised in an orphanage needed not a place to live but to learn how to cook.
It is not by accident that BRC district branch in Smolevichi, Minsk region, has chosen to support families with children having special psychophysical needs. After the needs and capacity assessment it became obvious that this disadvantaged group requires additional assistance.
“Our parents are very happy that this Belarusian-Danish project is implemented in our district. Even those families living 50 km away from the district centre are engaged in project activities. Public transport is running well and mothers are able to travel even such distances”, says the leader of the volunteer community initiative “The Coasts of Hope” Ekaterina Ryabchikova. “In our territorial centre parents can leave their child for some time, while doing their own things, receiving psychological counselling, taking part in master classes and other events. One of the purposes is to help parents get out of four walls. However if a mother can’t travel because of taking care of a child and can’t bring him/her to the centre, our volunteers are visiting her themselves. The mothers are then happy: «At least there is someone to have tea together», they say. In other words, it is not only the child who gets our support but rather the mother. Some need communication, some need a break, others – psychological counselling. All our clients know that they can ask for our help any time and they will get it. The project facilitated setting up a family support group in the district for parents raising disabled children.”
A smiling mother of three children Anzhela meets DRC and BRC team at her doorstep in the village of Usyazh, Minsk district. Anzhela is raising the 10-year old Maxim with Down syndrome. According to her, thanks to the project she has a chance to pay attention to her needs (take care of herself) at least once in a while. “My elder son and grandmother work a lot and I have no one to leave a child with, even for a short time. Most of my time I am alone with my son,” says Anzhela. “It is practically not possible to visit a doctor, to go shopping or just be by myself. I always have to ask for someone’s help. But thanks to the project I can take my son to the social centre, leave him there in the care of volunteers and do my own things. You can’t imagine how happy I am to walk around the town and to breath fresh air, knowing that my child is in good hands! The volunteers are drawing with him, learning poems and songs, and dance. Maxim is a very sociable child, he likes spending time with other people, both with children and adults. That is why I am at ease in my mind for my son. Can there be anything better for a mother?!”
Branch-to-branch exchange on family networks between DRC and BRC continues, with new community initiatives in the making. DRC materials on family networks have been shared with BRC, translated into Russian and distributed to BRC branches. A visit from DRC branch in Køge to Belarus will be held in September to continue the discussion and the experience exchange on family support groups with participation of local volunteer leaders in Minsk and Grodno regions.