Social Woes Spur Growth of Charity Movement in Russia

By Justin Burke, | The Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 1991 | Go to article overview

Social Woes Spur Growth of Charity Movement in Russia


Justin Burke,, The Christian Science Monitor


FOR Valentina Volkova, charity is a constant struggle that starts at the end of a food line.

In addition to doing the shopping for her family, Ms. Volkova cares for seven elderly shut-ins under a program run by the Russian Orthodox Church's Marfa-Marinsky charity. With state store food supplies unpredictable, the daily task of buying groceries for her charges has been transformed into a "hunt," she says.

"I'm supposed to devote about six hours per week to every shut-in, but I actually have to spend much more than that," says Volkova, a burly woman with a bright disposition.

"In order to get food you have to go around to many stores," she continues. "And the people are wicked."

The food shortage is just one of many problems confronting the charitable movement in the Soviet Union. The concept of charity is struggling to reestablish itself in the Russian psyche after seven decades of suppression under communist rule.

"Before, the people had mercy on their neighbors. We have to make this feeling grow again," says Archbishop Sergi, the chief administrator of the Russian Orthodox Church's charitable programs.

Criticizing them as "bourgeois," the Bolsheviks banned charities and shifted responsibility for social care to the state. But the vaunted cradle-to-grave social system has now collapsed. And the fledgling Soviet charities that reappeared during the last few years of perestroika have neither the funds nor the experience to pick up the all the slack.

"Every third person in Moscow could perhaps be qualified as needy," said Galina Bodrenkova, a member of the Moscow City Council's committee on charity.

Foreign charitable organizations are doing their best to lend advice and assistance. The United States-based United Way is one of several foreign organizations with offices in Moscow.

The United Way's top priority is to help Soviet officials draw up a law regulating charities, says Mary Yntema, director of programs for the United Way in the Soviet Union. Without such laws it is difficult for fledging groups to get off the ground.

"We need a good law on charity, providing controls that will inspire public trust," she says. "Most of the problems ... with charities derive from the lack of a law."

The Russian Federation parliament, which has worked closely with the United Way, may be ready to adopt a charity law, by the end of the year, Ms. …

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