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Reaching the Poor in Belarus

Tuesday, May 22, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

May 22, 2001

By Michael Ireland
MINSK, BELARUS (ANS) -- Viktor is paralyzed down one side due to a stroke. His wife is dead, so he cares for their 6 and 9-year-old children on his own, doing whatever he can around the house with his one good hand. They live in a remote village in Belarus, and struggle to survive on Viktor's very small pension.

Viktor has relatives in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, but they have their own problems. Three generations of the family live all together in a small flat, as the son has been unemployed for some time and could no longer afford to rent a place for his wife and 2-year-old child. They don't have any money to help Viktor, or any space in their home that he and his daughters could stay in.

But help is at hand. In Minsk there is a humanitarian aid distribution center, where families in real need can receive second hand clothes, food parcels, seeds for planting and growing their own vegetables, and other aid. Sveta, one of Viktor's relatives in Minsk, goes to the center to find baby clothes for her niece, and when she can she collects items for Viktor's family too, and goes out to the village to deliver them.


Dima wore old shoes that were falling to pieces. His feet were wet from walking in the rain. But he had not come to the aid distribution center for a new pair of shoes. One of his legs was 1.5 inches shorter than the other, so he needed special shoes with a built-up sole, which he was hardly likely to find in a room full of second hand clothes! So he had just come to receive some new clothing.

Then one of the helpers at the center remembered that there was one pair of shoes that had been donated which did not fit anybody else. The right sole on one of the shoes was much thicker than the one on the left. Dima tried on the shoes and found to his surprise that they were a perfect fit -- the right size, and with just the right amount of elevation in the sole! God had provided exactly what Dima needed, when he had not even dared to hope for it.

The "From the Heart" center serves the Belarusian population of 10 million people and distributes more than 500 tons of aid a year to help people like Viktor and Dima. Yet they are only scratching the surface of the great needs in this country, where an estimated 82% of the population live below the poverty line. More centers like this are desperately needed in order to meet the needs of people all over the Belarusian capital.


Over the last decade, the average pension in Belarus has fallen in value from approximately GBP 70 to between GBP 4 and GBP 15. Inflation over a 6-month period can be as high as 50%, yet salaries and pensions are often paid 6 months late, with no compensation for the delay -- if they are paid at all. Still affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, the birthrate in Belarus has fallen by 25% and 20% of recorded births are abnormal.


Vica and Zhenya are two of the staff at the distribution center already functioning in Minsk. They tell this story of a man who visited the center. "He had worked at the railway station for all of his life. Now he is on a pension. Some relatives kicked him out of the flat he had inherited from his parents. Thus, he became homeless. You could see he was shy and not confident of himself. He did not have a place to stay and he had suffered terribly from fire. He could not move his right hand, could hardly turn his head to the right, and his skin was black and covered with scars," said Vica.

"He wore old clothes that smelled. You could tell he had not washed himself for a while. He needed to stay in the hospital to have some treatment for his burned hand and chest. But because he did not have clean clothes to change into they did not let him stay in the hospital," Zhenya said.

"(We found him) all the clothes he needed. Then he wanted to change. But he could hardly move. I put him on a chair in the men's room and took off all the clothes he had on. I saw his dirty feet that had not been washed for a long time. I thought I needed to wash his feet myself as he was not able to bend. I remembered that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and we need to do the same. I prayed for him. We threw away his old clothes and the man left," said Vica.

"I had never done anything like that in my life. Jesus humbled my heart to help this man to regain the dignity he had lost. Nobody had ever cared for him. All the time he was repeating 'Is this Paradise?'" Zhenya reported.


Since 1998, the "Ot Serdtsa" (From the Heart) distribution center in Minsk has helped to meet the needs of orphanages, kindergartens, hospitals, collective farms, and agencies working with street children, churches, missions and other organizations, as well as nearly 9,000 individuals.

"Yet there is still so much more to be done, and many people live too far away to reach the center," said Helen Comber of ARRC.

"A Full Gospel church situated on the other side of Minsk is keen to set up a satellite center to serve the community in that region. But at present the church has no base from which to run such a center, as they do not own a building," she said.

Comber said: "Aid to Russia and the Republics is committed to helping the church to establish a new center in Minsk. They have the use of some land on the site of a disused public lavatory, so the foundations are in place, but they need our help to build and equip the center."


From Mondays to Fridays a center for the distribution of clothing, food parcels, seeds for planting and other items of humanitarian aid will be open to those living in poverty.

"A shoe repair shop will operate from one room," said Comber, adding: "Those who can afford to pay for repairs will be charged, but those on pensions or other benefits can have shoe repairs done free. It is hoped that in the future apprenticeships may be given to unemployed people.

"In the course of time they plan to make other services available, such as a barber and hairdresser. People living in poverty often lack self-respect, and a service such as this would enable them to regain their dignity," she said. On Sundays and Wednesdays the Church will use the building as their place of worship.

ARRC is one of a number of organizations helping to raise the total cost of GBP 43,000 needed to establish the new center. The building, measuring 267.5 sq. m, will cost an estimated GBP 17,900 to construct. The remaining GBP 25,100 will pay for the decoration and equipping of the premises.

"With your help, we can bring hope to more of those suffering in poverty in Belarus," said Comber.

"Our target is to raise GBP 8,600 (one fifth of the total cost of the center). Please give whatever you can," Comber said. A visitor to the From the Heart Center said: "I had never known that there were such organizations, where people do so much good and where hope is given to those who have long lost it through constant sickness and poverty."

ARRC will opt to use finances received wherever most needed if for any reason beyond ARRC's control a project ceases to function as planned or funds raised are in excess of the target figure.

Helen Comber added: "Can you help us to support the establishment of another center, so that more of the Belarusian people living in poverty can receive the help they are crying out for?"

AID TO RUSSIA AND THE REPUBLICS, established in 1973, is a UK-based charity (no. 281099) which supports Christian initiatives serving the communities of the CIS and Eastern Europe through humanitarian aid, medical provisions and development work, incorporating the LADYBIRD ORPHANAGE PROJECT, helping street children, Chernobyl victims, disabled and needy children through work with orphanages and institutions in the former Soviet Union.

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