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'Child by child,' group aids homeless street kids

The Russian government estimates about two million Russian children are homeless
The Russian government estimates about two million Russian children are homeless  

July 2, 2001
Web posted at: 4:45 PM EDT (2045 GMT)

RESOURCE
 

PERM, Russia (CNN) Five years ago, Christina Greenberg and a small group of volunteers mailed a package of supplies to help homeless and orphaned in the city of Perm in western Russia.

At that time, they had no idea their efforts would grow to eventually help hundreds of children find warmth, food, clothing, counseling and schooling with a daycare center, an all-night shelter and a street outreach program.

 VIDEO
CNN's Steve Harrigan reports on the plight of homeless Russian children

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With little resources, and little idea how many children desperately needed help, the small offshoot of Love's Bridge, a charity founded by Americans in Moscow in 1995, launched in Perm in 1996. The volunteers slowly began making a difference, child by child, Greenberg said.

Greenberg rented an apartment in Perm with her own money, plus a few thousand dollars through corporate sponsors, and opened a shelter. The city offered some help by providing transportation.

Dozens of children were living on the streets, with little food or clothing, and suffering from abuse. Some had been stabbed several times or viciously attacked. Of 14 children who lived at the shelter at one time, 13 had tried to commit suicide.

"When we first came, they had not been inside in so long -- like, they had not eaten anything," Greenberg said. "And they came to our center like animals. There is no other word for it."

There may be two million homeless children in Russia, the government says. There may be four million. No one knows for sure. In Perm, as in many Russian cities, it's a problem often left untouched by the local authorities.

The start of something

Volunteers feed one of Perm's homeless children
Volunteers feed one of Perm's homeless children  

"We came to Perm, we asked the administration, 'Is there anyone here helping out?' And they said 'No, there is no one,'" Greenberg said. She was determined to help, to keep the children from dying or going to prison, but she encountered opposition from local authorities.

"One of the first times we were feeding them in the market, the police just stomp in and started yelling, yelling at us: 'How dare you feed these kids? Who do you think you are? They are just rats. They are just criminals. Why would anyone want to feed them?'"

Greenberg and the other volunteers continued feeding the children once a week, but they had yet to discover the magnitude of the problem.

"We would serve them food," Greenberg told CNN. "And we started seeing how many there really were. They would come with their wounds. You know, nobody would let them into the hospital. So they would be in pain.

Greenberg remains compelled to help the children, although the group eventually hopes to turn the program over to Russian staff.

"I have felt that God has led me to these kids," Greenberg said. "But I felt, once I started working with them, I couldn't just leave them on the streets, because I knew if we didn't do something, nobody would. So it was basically a question between life and death, you know. Every kid that moves on, we save a life."

Hope for the future

Society's attitudes toward the children have improved in the last five years, Greenberg said, with local people volunteering to help and the government opening a night shelter for children with nowhere to sleep.

"So there has been progress, you know, leaps and bounds of progress in that area," she told CNN. "That was one of our main goals, was to raise the awareness of the problem among the government and just among the average person. And we've definitely seen a very big difference."

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
 

sponsor

a person or group that pays for a project

 

magnitude

importance or great size

 

compel

insist or pressure someone to do something



RELATED STORY:
U.S. woman working to save Siberian street children
May 21, 2001

RELATED SITE:
Love's Bridge

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