Text 1. Charity-Funded Boarding School Breaks New Ground

By Anna Arutunyan

When local officials in Moscow region's village of Raisemenovkoye laid down the first brick for a unique new correctional boarding school for mentally disabled children last week, they didn't exactly know where to start in pointing to the various precedents this project had set. For one thing, this facility is no refurbished Soviet-era school. Instead, pedagogues and psychologists consulted architects on a unique design for the building, which will house 60 children. But even more unusual are the origins of the boarding school. The fact that it is the first to be built on private funds alone highlights the actual scarcity of business involvement in social betterment projects.

Certainly, this is the first such case of a boarding school being built by a charity foundation in the Moscow region, a source in the press service of the Moscow regional Education Ministry, which will run the school once it opens in fall of 2009, told The Moscow News. Traditions of sponsorship were buried, and they are developing very slowly now, because building is very expensive. When charities call us with offers to help, they usually have a few toys and gifts in mind, meet with the kids, and then it's all over. This kind of help is a lot more valuable.

Indeed, the facility, set in a pristine historical resort outside of the city of Serpukhov, in the Moscow region, is costing Absolut-Help, the charity foundation that is building the school, at least $15 million.

But executive director Georgy Kryukov says that since construction costs keep growing, that number is closer to $20 million. And the foundation insists on continuing to finance the school once it opens, keeping tabs on teachers' salaries, additional positions, and even food quality.

Everyone tried to help us [in getting the necessary paperwork], he told The Moscow News. Even so, an enormous amount of time was spent on getting the construction licensed. According to the regional Education Ministry, they interceded to speed up the bureaucratic process on behalf of Absolut-Help. And still, it took three years, says Kryukov. All this time we worked together with the Education Ministry, with the local university, where they would always give us recommendations.

Even if their efforts were welcomed by both regional and local administrations, the foundation still had to run the gauntlet of federal control agencies making sure the buildings are fireproof and conform to ecological and architectural norms.

The press service of the regional Education Ministry agrees that licensing can be daunting. As always, any time you're dealing with building, there is a horde of questions you have to agree [with authorities]. Every region, every town has its own specifics, and they all have to be worked out between various regional levels. But since the first brick has been laid, building has begun, there's hope.

The school complex, which was designed by the Laboratory of Virtual Architecture to meet the needs of the children, teachers and medical personnel that will live on the territory, will cover over 5,500 square meters and include living, sports, and medical facilities. Pre-school-age and school-age children with mild educational disabilities from low-income families will be able to get a head start on their education, while the foundation also pledges to offer support after they graduate. According to Kryukov, one advantage of the location was the proximity of the Serpukhov Pedagogue College, which will provide the bulk of teachers for the school.

The experience of Belgium, Germany and the Pskov region, where such facilities already operate, has been taken into account in organizing the work of the school, Regional Education Minister Lidia Antonova said at the bricklaying ceremony last Friday. More than just a boarding school, it will become a methodology center.

This project, as well as other charity projects of the Absolut-Help foundation, have enormous significance for every socially unprotected child in the Moscow region, first deputy chairman of the Moscow Regional Administration, Igor Parkhomenko, said at the ceremony. "This cooperation between the government and private business is unique and undoubtedly positive. We hope that the construction of the boarding school in Raisemenovskoye will be the first in a number of successful joint projects in this sphere.

Absolut-Help, founded 2002 by the Absolut Investment Group, a company controlled by the former owner of Absolut Bank, has helped over 2,100 children obtain medical treatment, and has equipped over a hundred medical and educational facilities across the country [9, p. 10].


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