A Pioneering Community for People with Special needs in Russia
‘Svetlana Village’ is currently a community of almost 40 people, who have come together from across the former Soviet Union, from Europe, and beyond. About half of the Village comprises people with Special Needs, or “Villagers”. Of the rest, there are volunteers and their families who have chosen to lead their lives together with the “Villagers” in extended family households. Young people from Russia and abroad volunteer for shorter periods.
The Village is situated in a bend of the River Syass, 7 kms before it flows into the Lake of Ladoga. It is 140kms east of St Petersburg. Established in 1992 as a joint venture between a group in Russia, and the Camphill Village Trust of Norway, it currently consists of 3 houses, with a fourth under construction. A farm building houses a herd of ten cows and other livestock, and an adjoining dairy process the milk. There is a large garden, a herb workshop and an earth cellar. Other workshops include a busy bakery and a doll workshop. However, with 57 hectares of land to be farmed, the emphasis of the village’s activities are predominently agricultural.
The Village idea
We live in an age in which traditional communities and family structures are breaking down. Loneliness, disorientation and anti-social behaviour are rife.
As a counter-trend, in the mid-1950s, the Camphill Movement began to develop village communities as the prefered setting for living and working together with people with Special Needs. The simplicity and authenticity of rural village life allows these people to lead fulfilling lives. Indeed, it is to be observed that many of them possess social abilities rare for our age.
Recreating Social Life
This is the great task of the Camphill Villages. Longer-term volunteers who have chosen to extend their family life to a wider circle attempt to create warm, stable and harmonious households, in which everyone can find a place. The colourful characters of the ‘Villagers’, and the flow of shorter-term youngsters from all over the world combine to make for a vibrant social life.
The principle of our work together is that all contribute, regardless of their abilities. Whether in the houses, workshops, garden or farm, people derivesatisfaction from the knowledge that they are doing real work, and serving real needs.
The yeast of community life consists of the active cultural life that is created between people. It adheres to both the natural cycle of the year and the corresponding Christian festivals.This is performed in the spirit of personal freedom and creativity, and in celebration of community.
The Wider Camphill Movement
The work began in 1939 in Scotland, when the Austrian paediatrician Karl Konig, and a group of fellow refugees created a small school and home setting for handicapped children on an estate called ‘Camphill’. This centre grew into a movement and began to spread internationally, broadening into village communities for adults, and training centres for young adults with Special Needs. Today there are almost one hundred centres worldwide situated in almost twenty countries. Each centre is independent, applying itself to local conditions, regulations and cultural traditions.
Svetlana today: An Appeal
Svetlana Village is unique in Russia. It is both a small seed in the emerging civil society, and a beacon of hope for thousands seeking an alternative to Soviet institutional provision for people with Special Needs. The work of the village has already attracted a significant amount of media and political interest across Russia.
Safeguarding the independence and integrity of this pioneering work precludes the possibility of seeking state financing. Meanwhile, a tradition of private philanthropy has still yet to develop in Russia. Instead, the project has developed since 1992 largely on the basis of private donations from hundreds of individuals abroad, and on the generosity of other Camphill centres, especially in Norway. However, such contributions tend to be on an ad hoc basis.
In order for Svetlana to look confidently to the huge challenges of the future, we are currently looking to provide a firmer financial basis for its work. In order to provide a security that has so far been lacking, donations especially of a regular nature, however modest, would be highly valued. As an international venture from its inception, we will be looking for support both domestically and abroad.
Svetlana Village is actively attempting to support itself. The agricultural work makes it largely self-sufficient in terms of meat, vegetables and dairy produce. Surpluses are sold for additional income. However, these enormous human efforts cover only 15% of running costs.
We are therefore looking to cover a shortfall of about 4 000 Euro per month (or 48 000 Euro per annum).
The ‘Norwegian Village’
From the foundation of the Village by Norwegian Dr Margit Engel and Michael Michaelov of St Petersburg in 1992, the Scandanavian input has been enormous. The building of the infrastructure of the Village, and the running costs until 1999 were almost exclusively financed by the unending generosity of the Norwegian Camphill Village Trust. The Bennett Trust of Norway later provided a significant donation towards agricultural equipment. In 1994, a 20-room house was brought complete across the border, and assembled in a few weeks by a team of Norwegian specialists. It was subsequently named Fridtjof Nansen House, in honour of the explorer whose later life was so dedicated to humanitarian causes in Russia during the devastating Civil War.
This assistance and cooperation has subsequently widened increasingly to the whole of the Northern Region of Camphill. Village Communities in Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Latvia combine with Norway and ‘Svetlana’ in Russia on a regional level, to provide mutual support on cultural, educational, social and purely practical levels.
Building the Future
In 1997, a further area of cooperation began to develop, with the first visit of a group of builders from Scandanavia, using environmentally sustainable building techniques. First, a clay earth-cellar was built for vegetable storage, and then a year later, a herb workshop was built out of straw bales. In 2002, a team from the Brobyggerskolen in Solborg, Jevnaker began the construction of a straw bale family house. Subsequent volunteer work camps were organised for the following two summers. In October 2003, a group of professional builders from an association for alternative building in Norway came to complement the work and provide professional controls for these new building techniques that may later be of interest to others in this region of Russia. This partnership opens up broader horizons for future cooperation with Scandanavia, beyond the boundries of the Camphill Movement.
It is perhaps not surprising that locals to this day refer to Svetlana as the ‘Norwegian Village’. The Village may now be largely independent, but a living and practical friendship continues. From St Petersburg, the Royal Consulate General of Norway and Det Norske Veritas both provide valuable on-going assistance.
The Next step together....
It has become increasingly clear that the unstable financial basis of the Village cannot continue to carry its burgening activities. The Camphill Village Trust of Norway has again stepped in temporarily to undepin the running costs of the Village until a more stable financial foundation can be created. It is the hope that Scandanavian sponsers might now be found to guarantee this unique project for the future.