As a former Soviet republic, Belarus is one of Europe's poorest countries, with more than 27 percent of the nation living below the poverty line. Millions of families across the country are affected by high unemployment, and domestic abuse is prevalent. Belarusian children face great hardships, as many live in orphanages because they've been abandoned or removed from their homes for safety reasons. ChildFund first came to Belarus in 1993 and continues to help communities overcome these obstacles and provide a safe, nurturing environment for the country's most vulnerable children.
So-called "social orphans" in Belarus live away from home because their parents are burdened by physical disabilities and societal pressures, some of which have their roots in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. Neglect and domestic violence make their homes unsafe.
Gaps in the education system and external pressures, such as high unemployment rates, often become catalysts for domestic violence, placing children's well-being and lives at risk. As such, thousands of children are forced to live in orphanages, although ChildFund's USAID-funded "Supporting Orphans and Vulnerable Children" program brings children to foster families that give them more stability.
We also have worked to improve access to family education programs that focus on nonviolent conflict resolution, building respect and preventing child abuse. By raising awareness of children's basic needs, parents are better equipped to make decisions that will benefit their children's lives and break the cycle of abuse and violence.
It is equally important to provide children with access to the services they need to grow up into healthy, happy adults. ChildFund's initiatives in Belarus emphasize the development of vital social skills through youth volunteer programs, social interaction and rehabilitation projects. These initiatives take place in orphanages, schools, hospitals and other settings, offering children a chance to develop the social and emotional skills they will need to function effectively in society.