Summer Exam for Romani Human Right Activists in Karelia

In the North-Western Center for Social and Legal Protection of Roma two Romani human rights activists are pretty well-known: Vera Belyavskaya and Antonina Sukhovskaya. From every new task Vera and Antonina gain even more experience about the work with the Romani population, with social workers, with officials, sociologists and pedagogues. And the more challenging the next job seems to be, the more enthusiastic they are.

And now summer came. Time to accumulate energy for the next working year. And because I, a professional psychiatrist and psychologist, of course concur with our legendary doctor Ivan Petrovitsch Pavlov, who recommended active holiday, I invited Vera and Antonina with me to Karelia. So it was.

There are some unique people in our world and my friend Evgenij Aleksandrovitsch Kliot, a professional pedagogue and artist is one of them. When he quit his pretty prestige and perspective work as a pedagogue, he – together with ten educators of an orphanage – found an agrarian commune in a pictorial corner in Priladosha in the region of Karelia and called it “hope” (“Nadeshda”)

Since this a lot of time past. Let’s face it: The commune already has had it days, but Evgenij Aleksandrovitsch still believes that hope dies last. “Nadeshda” today is a serious farm, home for some handful teenagers (orphans) and every now and then work place for volunteers.

As a rule, primarily the summer period is a hard time. Because precisely then the commune needs real help, I form – meanwhile already since seven years – every summer a peculiar group of volunteers from our young patients with emotional or neurotic diseases – of course only when the parents assent and support the project. Usually we take 12 children at the age of 10 to 15 years. It is proposed that the agrarian work (two hours per day), the life in the collective, the necessity to act in accordance with the working day and the essential discipline, to which many of the children aren’t accustomed, helps to strengthen spirit and psyche of my handful teens. In addition to this, we have archaeological and local history lessons and our own theater. An in the free-time – walking, swimming, islands, forests, berries, fishes and crabs.

I do this unsolicited, my patients, of course, too. In the beginning one or two volunteers in the capacity as temporary educators helped me, in the end my wife and the pedagogue Galina Vadimovna. Needless to say, that the most responsible part of our project is the kitchen. Without help-cooks our program to support the commune couldn’t exist.

This year all seems to succeed. Everything was disposed. The volunteers from “Memorial” – the American Rachel and the German Julia – with pleasure got ready for their work in Karelia, just as the brigade of voluntary students from one of the best schools for domestic economy. And slap-bang – only a few days before our departure – the cooks called off. Behind our summer in Karelia -suddenly- stood a big question mark. We pressing had to find surrogate cooks; but whereabouts finding them, when summer is already in full swing? So I invited our Roman activists – Toni and Vera – to Karelia and they agreed. But the work wasn’t that easy at it seemed to be in Petersburg. It wasn’t only a matter of cooking and washing-up, it was real “all-in-work”. Everything was ideal, tasty, accurate and tidy. Even the “veterans” from our children couldn’t remember such a “tasty” summer.

Vera and Toni quickly got used to all and never lost their temper with the children and the commune’s inhabitants. The contemporary inhabitants of the commune are persons -disadvantaged by fate – with a mentally disordered view of life. That’s why one of our biggest problems is the formal relationship (without tenderness and heart) to animals – and tidiness. Vera and Toni surely lost countless nerve cells in the fight for tidiness and a normal relationship to animals!

Above all Toni proved to be very fierce. Because she has lived herself in a village in the Pskovskoj oblast, she knows the right acquaintance with animals pretty well. Every now and then she tried to make the right care plain to the commune’s inhabitants. But because her words often trailed away, she began to work herself outside the kitchen: fed the piglets, droved the calfs in and out and by all this never forgot the dogs. It’s to say, that five lovely and not at all angry dogs are protecting the farm and they like to eat, too.

A further serious strike on the defensibility of our volunteers was my children. Although Vera and Toni had had some images about possible specialties of our patients, they were far away from reality. The strange paradox family culture of some, their bad behavior and especially their uncensored vocabulary, was sometimes too much for our motivated volunteers. Above all Vera and Toni were really surprised that nearly all of the children have educated parents and their selves go to high-prestige-schools in Petersburg.

A further difficult pedagogic situation. Round about one time per week one of the teens had to be on duty in the kitchen: mopping the floor, bearing the rubbish away, bringing water. A part of the children performed these tasks well and good willing, however some avowedly sabotaged their duty. For what it’s worth?

In short, much more surprised our two women – first of all the relationships between the kids. However they not only turn themselves to the little children, but also were able to understand many things in a human or better motherly way. But if you think the work in the kitchen and with the children were the only thing Vera and Toni did in these 40 days in Karelia, you’re not right. It’s necessary to report that the two are easily to elate. They joined all interesting actions, which we had organized these weeks. The most memorable are the preparation for the participation of the Second republic ethnic festival in the settlement Kurkieki and the trip to Valaam.

In order not to separate children from their mothers, Vera took three of her children and her nephew Saxar with her and Toni brought along her daughter Olesa. The Roman children also joined all our interesting projects and especially Olesa and Graf, the oldest son of Vera, were really helpful in our amateur theater about an old Laplander “Reindeer-Dad”. By the way, on the 4th of August our performance was shown on the fifth television channel (program “Abris”). At this day a movie about life in a commune was shown.

Furthermore it was really interesting to see, how the Roman children and my kids dealed with one another, how they jointly engaged in exciting things and how comradeships and friendships developed. Of course, in children relationships there’s always clash and quarelling, but we had not one national conflict.

My children really appreciated the Roman children and the two unusual looking “eastern” women, which seemed to be “real Romans”. To this theme I remember a funny episode: One of our boys, who liked Olesa very much (by the way: Many boys like Olesa), begged her a few days to teach him the basics of Roman language.

To put it short, this summer was hold a unique integration test at our farm. Of course, we have to analyze the other aspects and draw consequences out of this special experience. The main consequence is already drawn – our Roman helpers in the “Nadeshda” commune really enjoyed the summer in Karelia and like to join next year again.

So, Vera and Toni passed their summer exam, their mark – “excellent”.

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