THE KHARYSKHAL REHABILITATION CENTER:
REBUILDING SHATTERED LIVES IN MIRNY
This article is the third in an ongoing series, which shines a light on grass-roots capacity-building and sustainability programs initiated by WDC members to support communities where diamonds are mined, processed and traded.
“Our children” is what members of staff call their charges at the Kharyskhal Rehabilitation Center in Mirny. Its mission is to restore a semblance of normalcy for young people whose lives have been shattered by domestic abuse, alcoholic parents and deprivation, a problem common to any urban area in the world.
The center was established in the diamond-mining town in 1997. Those were hard time for the Russian Federation, when the dramatic change that swept across the country left many in economic distress. Not all were able to cope, and it was their children who often paid the steepest price.
“In the Yakut language ‘Kharyskhal’ is the word for a protective amulet, and that is what we do,” explains Muza Romanova, the center’s director. “We avert problems. We teach families how to meet challenges that at first seem insurmountable, and we instill self-confidence in the children. We use the latest solutions, combining preventative, correctional and rehabilitative care.”
The newly constructed Kharyskhal Rehabilitation Center in the diamond-mining city of Mirny, a purpose-built building that was constructed with the support of ALROSA and the government of Yakutia. It opened its doors in September 2018.
With nothing available and an urgent need for the type services that it could provide, the new center was initially set up in a makeshift building and operated there for the next 21 years. “We got used but it was in a constant state of disrepair,” remembers Romanova.
But then circumstance intervened. Mirny was visited by Yegor Borisov, Yakutia’s then governor. Driving around the town and talking to people in the street, he pulled up in front of the old Kharyskhal structure.
“I decided that he needed to see our living and working conditions and went outside to meet him,” Romanova recalls. “The temperature was 40-degree below zero, and I was wearing nothing over my dress. He was uncomfortable talking to me in the cold, so he came in and saw everything. After that, we were told that Kharyskhal would get a new home.”
Enter ALROSA, Mirny’s most important business enterprise. In coordination with the Yakutian government, the diamond company helped build and outfit a $3 million building dedicated to Kharyskhal’s mission. Constructed over an 18-month period, the new center opened its doors in September 2018.
Now able to accommodate more children than before, the two-story building is warm, airy and naturally lit by enormous windows. With flowers everywhere, its walls are decorated with enormous floor-to-ceiling hand-drawn pictures of Yakutian scenes, and posters designed to stimulate child development. A large kitchen and canteen provide daily meals.
Kharyskhal offers a sanctuary to children from the across the Mirnу district. Their individual stories are often heartbreaking. Frequently with unemployed and alcoholic parents who pay them little attention and, worse, sometimes subject them to emotional and physical abuse, many have no basic education.
A child at play at the Kharyskhal Rehabilitation Center. Psychological, speech, family and physical therapy are all used to help rebuilt lives that had been devastated by parental abuse and deprivation.
Educators, counsellors and psychologists often have to assume the parental role. They teach basic skills: how to brush teeth, make beds, lace up boots and put on outer garments.
Kharyskhal also assists children whose families find themselves in financial straits, and those children whose parents’ rights have been stripped are placed in foster homes or orphanages.
When a child arrives for the first time in Kharyskhal, he or she is right away examined by a medical professional, and they then undergo a psychological evaluation.
“Over the first fortnight we observe them, and once we have collected all the data we need, we develop a customized rehabilitation program that factors in every little detail,” Romanova explains. This may include psychological and speech therapy, mental stimulation and preparation for school. With preschoolers they focus on development of speech, fine motor skills and emotional education.
Help is given to children with speech impediments. There are toys and mirrors for engaging with them in a play setting, plus a software application that helps stutterers to cope by teaching them to breathe correctly.
“Gradually the kids become accustomed to us. And it doesn’t matter how old they are—four or fifteen,” Romanova says.
Besides taking care of children on a 24/7 basis, with the staff being on call at any time of the day or night, the center supports families, provides counselling and arranges treatment and employment for the parents.
According to Kharyskhal’s psychologist Dzhema Ignatyeva, adults and children must be able to cope with stress. “Everybody can and must learn how to cope with tension. We often hold workshops and master classes for our colleagues from social services. Not so long ago our center hosted a tutorial on managing professional and emotional overload. I also developed a number of techniques that help me wind down.”
Kharsykhal’s professionals are active in a variety of fields, including the counselling of young mothers and the rehabilitation of drug addicts. In the new building, there are many ways to help people.
ALROSA remains involved. The diamond company’s Young Professionals Association recently held a charity drive to provide curtains and furniture for the new center, and every year, the company organizes trips to summer camps for the Kharyskhal children. It provides presents for the New Year, equipment for school, and participates in entertainment activities at the center.
‘Our task is to make it so that the child never loses faith in himself or in the world,’ says Muza Romanova, Director of the Kharyskhal Rehabilitation Center in Mirny.
Overall ALROSA annually allocates 3 percent of its revenue to social investment and remains the absolute industry leader by this indicator. In 2018, the company budgeted more than $150 million for social investment, including regional development programs, corporate social programs for employees and their families, as well as about 500 social and charitable projects, like Kharyskhal.
Over the past 22 years, the rehabilitation center has given help to more than a thousand individuals. Some 90 children have been successfully placed with foster families. More than 200 disadvantaged families are currently registered, receiving assistance.
“Despite the fact that children end up here through no choice of their own, we never lose touch with them,” Romanova says. “As adults, they come visit us with their own kids and tell us how life has changed for the good for them. I often see the reverential attitude with which they now treat their own children.”
The center is unlikely to ever stand idle, but in the opinion of Romanova social destitution does not have to be a lifelong sentence. “Our task is to make it so that the child never loses faith in himself or in the world,” she says.