Moscow has more than 10,000 street children, and many of them - often living in abject poverty - have fled terrible living conditions, displacement or neglect. But they fare little better in the streets of the Russian capital where the risk of violence and substance abuse is high. Their health is often problematic, including injuries, side-effects from drug usage, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and unwanted pregnancies. While they are predominantly boys, the number of girls is increasing.
On April 15, MSF opened a new day centre providing occupational and pedagogical activities for street children in Moscow. Aimed principally at developing their potential, the centre will also offer basic health education as well as psychosocial assistance. The facility has a 20-person capacity and is located near three train stations in northern Moscow - an area where many of the streetchildren gather. In addition, there are facilities for children to shower and wash their clothes.
This new project for MSF follows a 10-year long project for the homeless that was handed over to Moscow City authorities in 2003.
"These teenagers need a place to turn to", explained MSF project coordinator Gabriella Muretto. "They come from all over the former Soviet Union and have ended up on Moscow streets, where they face harsh conditions and are vulnerable to abuse. If we can build a relationship with them and improve their physical and mental well-being, these children will have a much better chance of both coping with their current life and developing an alternative to living on the streets."
The program aims at establishing a confidential relationship with the children through a network of MSF social workers, to share every day life with them and offer improved social relationships as an alternative to those built in street gangs. The close relationship with the MSF street workers offers the children better protection as well because they have improved access to direct assistance when confronted with illness and violence for example.
Parallel to the work on the streets, the new day care centre offers the children a place to go, providing occupational and pedagogical activities complemented with basic health education and psychosocial assistance. If the child asks for it, MSF can additionally facilitate family, institutional, school or social integration.
The 12-strong team of MSF doctors, psychologists, pedagogues and social workers, will collaborates with Moscow city program "Deti Ulitsi" and regularly coordinates with other organizations working with street children.
MSF has worked for 11 years with homeless people in Moscow and St Petersburg, where it has gained thorough knowledge of the system in place in terms of health, social aid, laws and decision-making.
When MSF's homeless program was handed over to Moscow City in 2003, MSF decided to focus on another specific group with its specific problems, the street children.