A boy holding a bird, Children's Village Baku, Azerbaijan…
In the small dusty yard of a shabby looking dwelling, Firuza is quickly spreading freshly washed laundry. It's almost five in the afternoon and Firuza will soon have to rush to pick up blankets from a nearby neighbour. Her working day will last until midnight.
A boy holding a bird, Children's Village Baku, Azerbaijan
I chose a story of a brave mother to accompany this picture of a young boy who seems to be very tender and caring to the little bird he is holding. The story starts in the small dusty yard of a shabby looking place. A lady called Firuza is quickly spreading freshly washed laundry. It's almost five in the afternoon and Firuza will soon have to rush to pick up blankets from a nearby neighbour. Her working day will last until midnight.
Firuza is one of the mothers who is given some help taking care of her family by SOS Children's Villages Azerbaijan. She and her four children live in a poor suburb of the capital, Baku. Firuza explains
"I had a happy life... once," she begins. "My husband worked and I was a taking care of the children and the household. We didn't have much, but we were happy. Then the war came and we had to flee. In Baku, we got a small apartment in the suburbs. It wasn't easy, but I was happy that we got out alive and we were together."
The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan of the mid-nineties took its toll on many lives. According to the State Committee on Refugees and Internally Displaced Person there are 45,950 refugee families or about 186,000 refugees in Baku alone. The poor living conditions, lack of jobs and income, push people to desperation and note a growing trend of breaking up families. Firuza's family is one of them.
"One day, two years ago, my husband came home to tell me that he fell in love with another woman. He told me he had no room in his life for me anymore, and no place in the apartment. He told me that he wants me out. Then he said that I should take the children with me," Firuza's voice is solemn.
She couldn't move out of the apartment, because there was nothing to move. She simply took her and her children's documents and went out of the door. Without money they couldn't go far, so they found shelter in the shack only fifty metres from her old apartment block.
As she speaks, a little girl happily enters the room. Twirling the ends of her pink dress she rushes to Firuza's open arms. Before I have the chance to ask, she says: "This is the daughter of my husband and his new wife." The girl shyly smiles and turns to Firuza to give her a kiss. "Go outside and play. Zarifa is in the yard," says Firuza. "We are still married. He never filed for divorce. His two children with this woman come here every day. They practically grow up here. I accept them as my own, they are my children's sisters, but I will never accept him or his new wife," her eyes glitter.
Last year Firuza's two younger children had to stop their schooling because she had no money to buy school stationary or clothes. Twelve-year old Zarifa was in the fourth grade then, while her brother, 15-year-old Reshad was in the eighth. Their father wouldn't hear of helping them.
Zarifa comes in with the tea. Her 18-year-old brother Hamid follows her. He has to start the obligatory military service in fall. "It's my obligation as Azeri man and I will do it, but I still don't like the army," he admits. Firuza's oldest son is in the army at present, serving the last month of his term. He is stationed at the border with Armenia in Nakhchivan, one of the most dangerous regions where there is still occasional fighting. Hamid will be stationed there as well. The twinkling in the eyes of this young man tells of his refusal to accept the insanity of war.
"But, I managed to find new strength in my misfortune," smiles Firuza. "I regained my faith in people. I never could even dream that people can be so generous and helpful." When she first moved to the shack, she found two worn-out beds on the dump yard which they dragged inside. A short time later, some distant relatives gave her a couch and an old dining table. An artist from the neighbourhood gave her a stove and a wall carpet, and neighbours started bringing clothes and toys for the children.
Firuza didn't sit and whine over her destiny, but looked for work. She offered her services as cleaner and washer to the neighbours. For a small fee, she washes people's blankets and carpets and she cleans homes. This is enough only to cover the electricity and gas bills which, as shabby as her dwelling is, come in regularly.
Then, in February 2007, SOS Children's Villages came into her life. Turan, the social worker of the programme, meets with Firuza at least once per week. The family is given regular monthly food supplies and counselling and trainings.
The little girl in the pink dress comes storming back in straight to Firuza's lap. "My children keep me going," says Firuza while she gently strokes the girl's hair. "My children and the kindness of strangers," she smiles.
The smile on Zarifa's face and the hope in her eyes say the same thing. She can't wait to go back to school.
As Firuza sees us off in the yard, she tells the little girl, "go home, now, your mother will be worried." Part of the way the girl walks with us to the neighbouring building. Upon reaching the steps, she turns back to wave at Firuza. She does it mechanically knowing that Firuza won't look away until she's in.
From the bottom of the pathway, we see Firuza already rushing back from the neighbouring building. The blankets she carries need to be clean and dry till tomorrow.
A view of the SOS village in Borovljany Minsk, Belarus.
The four-storeyed cancer clinic near SOS Social Centre Borovljany, near Minsk in Belarus, works hard and every helping hand is welcomed. The head of the daily department stresses the importance of the co-operation with the SOS Social Centre.
The clinic is built for 120 patients, but 180 children are getting help there daily. "What do you mean free spaces?? We don't have such luxury," says Alesya Markovets, head of the outpatients in the clinic. "In a year we have 500 patients aged three - 16 in the outpatients."
Daily department means that most of the time the patients don't have to be in the hospital, they can go home or stay at the SOS Social Centre. As the average time of therapy is six - eight months the significance of the help given by the SOS Social Centre becomes obvious.
In the beginning the patients stay in the "closed" department and when their conditions have stabilized they move further to the daily department.
"People come to us from all over the country and also from abroad and then they face the problem - where to spend the time when they are not obliged to be at the hospital?" That's where the SOS Social Centre comes in.
"We choose families which are in somewhat more difficult conditions - who are not able to travel and whose situation could worsen. We co-operate with other organizations but the SOS Social Center's advantage is that it's so close to us. If the patient's health should be in some risk he/she can get help within a very short time. Patients in this kind of situation can only stay in the SOS Social Centre, but not with other organizations," tells Markovets.
The co-operations began a year after the hospital started its work and the main benefit is the psychological aspect. "Children don't watch the walls of the hospital all the time and in the centre there are psychologists and pedagogues. This is very important!" tells Markovets and when she approaches a two-year-old kid the situation becomes visible. As soon as the little girl sees the doctor she starts crying. "This is the reaction on doctor's white overall."
What is the doctors' biggest problem at the hospital? "We want to help everybody, but in the real world it is not possible. The biggest problem in the real world is that the mothers don't have the place where to stay when they stay in the daily department - they don't have the financial strength to rent a flat in Minsk or near Minsk."
"The problem is also a psychological one; if you already have a diagnosis it's difficult to forget it. Of course the fear of getting ill again is always there, but it's important to help them to cope with the situation and maintain the family's psychological stability - that's where the welfare organizations can help a lot and we are happy that we have such neighbors like SOS Social Centre."