On 16 June the new building of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice (BCH) opened its doors in Baraulyany, just 15 minutes outside of Minsk. First of a kind in the country, it has been helping terminally ill children and their families since 1994.
How it all began
The Belarusian Children’s Hospice was founded in Minsk by a clinical psychologist, Ms. Anna Garchakova. It initially occupied an empty kindergarten in the suburbs and was staffed by a small but enthusiastic group of volunteers. At this time BCH was tolerated rather than welcomed as many people were suspicious of it as a western idea that had no place in Belarusian healthcare, while others did not understand its aims. Some regarded it as a “house of death” instead of a house of light, joy and good quality of life.
A turning point occurred in 1998 when Ms. Daryl Ann Hardman, a UK citizen, began her humanitarian activities in Belarus by delivering goods and hosting Belarusian children in her home in the UK. What started as a private initiative soon grew into a full-fledged operation. Ms. Hardman established a humanitarian organisation in Britain called “Friends of Belarusian Children’s Hospice”.
In 1999 sponsors helped to buy a home on a smallholding in the village outside of Minsk. It was used for hospice family holidays for many years and for the implementation of the programme for siblings.
In 2003 the group of sponsors, including the organisation “Friends of Belarusian Children’s Hospice”, helped to buy the main building for a hospice near Minsk. It became possible to increase the number of staff and nurses and to increase the number of children served. For the first time in Belarus, the Belarusian Children’s Hospice introduced a “Home care” programme, and a “Social respite” programme. The main philosophy was to provide care for children with different life-limiting conditions in their homes whenever possible, and not at a hospital. Every year, BCH provides palliative care to about 250 families with children with life-limiting and life-threatening diseases. Currently according to BCH data, anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 children in Belarus require palliative care.
Palliative care is provided to the children of Belarus by a medical team consisting of a doctor, nurse, social worker, carer, and BCH volunteers. With the family’s help they assess the child’s and the family’s needs and do their best to meet these needs which may include medical care, advice, social welfare, psychological support, counselling, social programme, and summer holidays. Families may also join a bereavement programme. All help is free.
Over the years both the Belarusian public, media, medical services, ministries and other governmental departments have come to gain a better understanding of the huge benefits a children’s hospice. Namely what added value it brings to the country’s healthcare, both in terms of vastly improved quality of care and quality of life of the chronically and terminally ill child and their family.
A new building
In 2011 Anna Garchakova announced the need for a new bigger, more modern building for the BCH. It would cost $4 million. Undaunted by this large amount, Anna firmly believed: “While $4 million may seem a lot, we only need 400,000 caring Belarusian people who would each give us $10 for a brick.”
When construction began, it was clear that $2,4 million will be enough. So far the BCH has just raised $1.75 million to build a modern, state of the art hospice, also in Borovlyany. The Friends of BCH raised another £250,000 in the UK. President Lukashenka donated land for hospice free of charge with a decree. In the earliest stages, the architect of the building visited the UK at the invitation of the Friends of BCH charity to see successful children’s hospice buildings. He also met one of the best children’s hospice architects in the UK and was able to incorporate many of the ideas from this visit into the new hospice venue.
The new building was opened on 16 June 2016 amid a fanfare of publicity.
In a new arrangement it has been agreed that the state will run the medical side of the new hospice, and BCH and partners the other parts, in a building owned by an NGO.
From the financial standpoint it also means huge savings for the state medical service when a child on 24-hour care is at home instead of in a hospital intensive care department. For the past decade BCH has trained medics from all over Belarus in children’s palliative care and hopefully will be able to expand these programmes in its new education centre.