By ChildFund Belarus staff
For 9-year-old Anya, who lives in the small Belarus town of Logoisk, the word “family” has varied definitions. She first lived with her biological mother and then in a foster home, and now she has begun a relationship with her biological father.
Anya’s biological mother could hardly meet her daughter’s basic needs; often, she was left alone and hungry while her mother was out. The girl never knew her biological father, as her mother prohibited him from visiting Anya. She moved to a children’s home after her mother lost custody.
In the children’s home, Anya was very shy. She was lonely, missed her mom and dreamed that one day she would have a real family.
In 2012, ChildFund, which has been operating in Belarus since 1993, began a media campaign with the Logoisk Socio-pedagogic Center to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents. The “Warm the Heart of a Child” campaign was made possible by the USAID-funded Community Services to Vulnerable Groups program. Local media, state agencies and businesses provided support.
The campaign featured pictures and details about real children from Logoisk. Anya’s biological father saw the calendar with Anya’s photo at a local doctor’s office. Eventually, he located Anya and began visiting her in the children’s home. The visits were a big step forward, as it’s a commonly held opinion in Belarus that contact with birth parents can emotionally harm a child in foster care.
However, Anya’s foster mother is an alumna of Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) training held by ChildFund. Through PRIDE, she understood the crucial role of the biological family in the life of a child and encouraged Anya’s father’s visits. The PRIDE model is revolutionary for Belarus as it is helping break down long-held stereotypes.
“I supposed that it’s important for a child to have contacts with biological family, but I used to hear from other foster parents that it would be traumatizing for a foster child,” Anya’s foster mother said. “PRIDE trainings assured me that family connections are essential to the child, and I was provided with instruments on mediating contacts with the birth family.”
Anya’s father, with the support of her foster mother, applied for family reunification and succeeded. Anya recently rejoined her father at home.
Other foster children from Logoisk have seen positive action by their biological parents, who have undertaken treatment for alcohol abuse and comprehensive rehabilitation to regain their parental rights after learning that their children might be adopted by others.
Similar stories have occurred in Lida, a neighboring community where stories about the campaign have aired on local television stations.
Learn about a teen with disabilities who attends a university in Belarus with the assistance of ChildFund and Community Services to Vulnerable Groups.
by Linda Ehrhardt, U.S. Southern Plains Area Manager
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. So whether you’re helping ChildFund build playgrounds in Afghanistan, provide drought aid in Kenya and Ethiopia or sponsoring a child in the United States, we hope you’ll make new discoveries about our work around the globe.
Most people think of Christmas as a time to spend with family. Unfortunately, children who reside in foster homes do not have that luxury. To brighten the holidays for the foster-care children who reside in Adair County, Okla., ChildFund’s Southern Plains Area Office partnered with several local civic organizations to host a Christmas party in the children’s honor.
Many of the 36 children attending had never had a chance to meet Santa or sit on his lap. Most have never had a party given just for them or received presents wrapped with pretty paper and bows.
As families gathered in the Westville Pentecostal Church meeting hall, there were bright smiles as far as you could see. Foster parents and the children sat and visited before lining up to fill their plates. The delicious meal was donated and prepared by Matthew 25 House, Adair County Foster Care Association, Little Debbie’s Corp. and Harps Grocery. Adair County Child Welfare staff members served the families.
While the foster parents enjoyed a meal that they, for once, did not have to cook, the children squirmed and wiggled in their seats. They would take bites here and there, but it was hard to think about eating with all the excitement and buzz that a special guest was expected to soon arrive. Community members and a few of the older foster children attempted to keep the younger ones entertained by painting characters on faces and hands.
A noise was heard outside…. What was that? A fire engine? Surely not a fire on this special evening! The children raced to the door just in time to see – to their surprise – Santa and Mrs. Claus climbing down from the big Westville Fire Department fire engine.
The noise level went high, with shrill giggles and laughter. “It’s Santa Claus…it really is him!” With awe on his face, one little blond boy walked right up to Santa, reached out and touched his ample belly. He turned back to his friends, grinning from ear to ear. Apparently, a belly that shook like jelly was confirmation that Santa really was real.
We managed to get the children seated on the carpet and Santa in his chair. The Jolly Elf then called the children up one by one to receive gifts and a stocking filled with goodies. The local Vo-Tech center’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) nursing group donated the presents. The student group hosted fundraisers throughout the year so they could buy gifts for the children. ChildFund’s Southern Plains Area Office provided the stockings and goodies.
Everyone went home happy that December night. I left humbled by the magic of the evening. Our community had come together to honor the dedicated foster parents in our area and to celebrate children who are too often overlooked.
Although the thought saddened me that these children would not be able to spend Christmas with their own parents, I was overjoyed to see the love these children receive from their foster families. That evening, our community ensured that these children were not excluded from the magic of giving – not just presents, but unconditional love, affection and acceptance.