Russia is Dancing for Life

Author: Anastasia Petrova, Russia

“Congratulations to “FOCUS-MEDIA” and dance4life for the victory in presidential grants competition!” This was the message Ekaterina Artemenko, the coordinator of projects in Moscow “FOCUS Media” foundation, got from her colleague around midnight on July 31. The happy news spread quickly and all danc4life project members knew about it the next day. The initiative was supported this year by the Presidential Grant Foundation.

Starting from 2006, non-commercial organizations in Russia are supported by the president. This was the first year of the presidential grant competition. For 10-year existence, the system of finance distribution was quite complicated: at first the head of the state approved the list of non-commercial organizations (NCO) – the receivers of grants with his decree, and then the NCOs were included into the finance distribution system. In 2017, the procedure was simplified: grant participants may apply online. There has appeared the unified operator – presidential grant foundation.

Coordination committee summed up the results of the first competition on 31 July, 2017. There were 970 NCOs-winners from 79 regions in the winner list, which is around 15% of all applications. There were 6,623 projects that participated in the competition. Three Russian NCOs, included in the register as “foreign agents,” are among presidential grants recipients. Operator has distributed grants with the total sum of 2.25 billion Russian Rubles within the first competition. The most financed project among the 12 grant departments was “Citizen Health Protection, Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle.”

Recognition of merit

Public Health and Social Development Foundation “FOCUS -MEDIA” celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “We are happy to have received this grant, but frankly, we are also a bit surprised,” the employees of the foundation are saying.

There is a lot of work ahead even after receiving the grant. Financing will allow to run the project dance4life in 14 Russian cities. It will also include a module on tobacco addiction prophylaxis and anti-tobacco campaigns. Besides, the project will include additional component in the form of helping teenagers and young people with HIV. They will be able to volunteer in the project and take part in all of the activities.

Dancing is a universal language

Dance4life project, which won the grant, is a unique international initiative. The initiative aims at promotion of healthy lifestyle among young people, preservation and promotion of reproductive health, HIV infection prevention and many more socially important diseases. More than two million people from 20 different countries have been a part of the programme over the years of its existence.

The project started in 2005 in Russia. It began after “FOCUS Media” Foundation director Evgenia Alekseeva met the Dutch creator of the project Ilco van der Linde. After this meeting, she decided to take this international initiative to Russia. “FOCUS Media” Foundation existed for seven years by that time, dealt with health protection and, in particular, with AIDS prophylaxis among youth. That is why the aim of the project (which includes the prophylaxis of socially important diseases, addiction formation and strengthening young people) coincided with the foundation’s activity.

Now dance4life is a project with 12-year-old history in Russia, and it runs in more than 14 regions. During the years of its activity, it managed to involve around 220,000 young people, who say that dance4life has changed their lives. The keys to the uniqueness of the project are youth culture, energy and creativity that help spread the information on preserving health and taking responsibility for one’s life. Dancing as a part of the project is a universal language, connecting dance4life participants from all over the world.

The results will be presented on AIDS 2018

There were some guests in the ““FOCUS -MEDIA” Foundation office a week before receiving the news about winning the grant. Yulia Koval-Molodtsova, a former project coordinator in Russia and now an associate in the main dance4life office in the Netherlands, came to Russia to talk about the new working models.

After running the same programme since 2005, the international dance4life team has been working on the analysis and improvement of the project methodology. While the old working model made an accent on youth education, the new programme aims at self-realization of society. Now the programme invites young people on a journey: from relationship with oneself, to the relationships with partners and society in general. The components of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections (STI) prophylaxis, issues of contraception and gender equality are now skillfully connected with such important for young people topics: self-knowledge, establishment of personal boundaries, and control of social stereotypes. The principles of work have not changed: to inspire, teach, involve and celebrate. Due to the “peer to peer” approach, young people become the driving force of the project.

New model of work will be approved during this year. The pilot project is running in two regions. In Nizhny Novgorod, where the project is successfully running from the start, they work in cooperation with local schools. The new contacts will be established from scratch in Kolomna, a city in Moscow region, where dance4life is just starting. The model of the project is universal and can be used for both learning and leisure purposes of young people.

Even though the project will be financed by the Presidential Foundation till the end of 2018, the managers of the project would like to sum up the first results of work by next summer. The results of work and experience in the area of HIV/AIDS among youth will be introduced on the International AIDS Conference in 2018. The focus of this conference will be on Eastern European and Central Asian countries.

Compass Centre in Kharkiv, Ukraine: when Policeman Becomes an Uncle

img_0039“I come here often,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department of National Police of Kharkiv region, Ukraine, Andrii Stadnik is sitting by the table in the centre Compass of Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago. He is smiling and pointing at the table. “Look, here I even have my own cup to drink from…”

Andrii Stadnik started to work in police in 1998. He says he is very happy with his job now. In Compass he meets many children who are grateful for not being send to prison, and he likes to be able to help them. The regulars of the centre even call him uncle Andrii, and this shows very good relations between people in the Ukrainian culture.

18 years old Oleksandr (Sasha) is sitting in front of Andrii, at the same table. Sasha is one of the main characters in the film that was made about the centre Compass a few years ago. Once he was detained by Andrii Stadnik and stayed under police control for some time. Now, after the client management program at Compass, Olexandr is doing much better. He even found a job as a security guard. “Now I somehow feel as Andrii’s colleague,” Sasha smiles.

“The criminal juvenile cases decreased tremendously last years, due to the approach when juvenile police is collaborating with a youth centre that offers client management. These alternative supporting ways are more constructive and more effective,” Senior Inspector of the Juvenile Prevention Department is telling us. “Previously there were 2000 cases per year, and now it is 362. The formulas of substances that circulate on the streets change so fast that young people can often not be prosecuted, but by giving youth an option and an alternative for other options, young people have less problems and also cause less problems for the society they live in.”

img_0036There are 492.000 children in the region in total. 897 families are under juvenile department control in Kharkiv region in Ukraine. The Juvenile Police checks these families, sees how they are doing, and if there are cases of child abuse, financial problems, and so on. Kharkiv Juvenile police is also inviting colleagues from other smaller cities or villages, and teaches them how to work with the Centre Compass. Through this cooperation they found out that young people from the region have difficulties with coming to the Centre since Kharkiv is too far for them. That is why now once a week a social worker of the Centre travels to the villages to counsel young people in need there.

Kharkiv City Charitable Foundation Blago has a long history of working with key populations, including people who use drugs, sex workers, men having sex with men and street children. The organisation started to work with adolescents using drugs since 2012 within the framework of “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights of Key Populations” project, through ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine.) Bridging the Gaps project supported the opening of the centre Compass that specifically serves vulnerable adolescents and young people, focusing on youth using drugs. The centre offers psychological counseling services, medical help, testing for HIV, hepatitis B and C. It is a daycare facility with social workers, psychologists and medical workers. The centre is providing case management services to youth using drugs, and also works with youth in prisons, and vocational schools.

Save the Date: Share-Net Youth Week in the Netherlands This September

Share-Net_Int_Small-Share-Net Youth Week is inviting the participants. The event is organized by Share-Net and its members and will take place from 26th till 30th of September in Humanity House, The Hague and De Balie, Amsterdam.

The organizers of the event envision an inspiring week full of lively debates, interactive workshops, captive presentations and networking opportunities. They will link comprehensive sexuality education and youth friendly health services to broader discussions on gender, gender based violence and sustainable development. The participants will share best practices, learn from one another’s experience and develop new strategies and collaborations.

You can see the program of Share-Net Youth Week here.

Why UNGASS matters for young people who use drugs in Ukraine

By Elena Voskrenskaya, Director AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) Ukraine

DSC00159Today’s youth, tomorrow’s key populations?

For many years, people who use drugs in Ukraine, especially those younger than 18 years, have been facing serious barriers that prevent them from accessing support services. The strict drug legislation, resulting from the global war on drugs, aims to punish people who use drugs rather than tackle the drug dealers. Moreover, the discriminating attitude of service providers and the lack of understanding within communities leave thousands of young people without proper treatment and care.

Care in a friendly environment

Although nowadays adults have better access to harm reduction, which is the most effective method to prevent HIV, children and adolescents who use drugs are left without this support in Ukraine. Also fear of being punished discourages young people to seek medical, legal and other services. The traditional available methods are limited to promoting immediate abstinence from drugs, in most cases with involvement of parents and schools and by informing the police. AFEW-Ukraine embraces innovative approaches. For four and a half years in four regions of Ukraine, we support services that give proper care in a friendly and encouraging environment. The aim is to support young people who use drugs in dealing with challenges and adjusting to life – no matter whether she or he stops using drugs or not. The method works because the services are based on consultations with community representatives and are aligned to the needs of young people.

‘I wanted a thrill’

The Compass Drop-In Centre in Kharkiv is one of the locations that offers services to young people. Oleksandr (17), a client of the centre, told me about his experiences: ‘I tried drugs for the first time when I was 14. Well, the very first time I was 11. I was bored, I wanted a thrill. I got in with the wrong crowd and it was normal. Then I started to suffer from paranoia and panic attacks. My dad is a policeman. But now my relatives really support me coming to the centre. I am more communicative with them now and I have more friends – I communicate more. This has a lot to do with the psychological support I have received here.’ Svitlana, another client of the Drop-In Centre, added: ‘I can’t remember being happy as a child, but I’m happy in the centre.‘


Maryna, psychologist in the centre in Kharkiv, explains that UNGASS is important for the people who use drugs and for the service providers: ‘If any declaration or action plan is adopted globally, it might help us in dealing with the local authorities. And when there is a certain strategy employed by a huge number of stakeholders, this will benefit initiatives for young people at the local level.’

Watch the video ‘Today’s youth, tomorrow’s key populations?’ about young people who use drugs in Ukraine

Educational Cartoon Explains Solving Children’s Problems by Family Group Conferences

cartoonInternational Charitable Foundation “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine) released a 9-minute educational cartoon (see below) on family group conferences – a mediated meeting between family members and other officials such as social workers and police in regards to the care and protection of a child or adolescent or prevention of criminal and risky behavior.

The core value of the family group conferences is that all issues are solved by negotiations and compromises. The notion of a family in this sense is very broad: besides the child’s parents, far relatives and other adults – those whom the child feels comfortable with and considers a friend – may also participate in solving family issues. A child is also given an opportunity to invite his friends to take part in the conference.

The cartoon is meant for social workers, psychologists and other professionals that work with young people, including those at risk of acquiring HIV. Though the meeting is mediated by ‘outsiders’, it is the family that decides on the plan of actions and bears responsibility for their implementation. Later, social workers follow up and inquire about the progress.

The cartoon was developed within the “Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations” project funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was presented at the International Scientific and Practical Conference “Effective approaches to working with adolescents with substance use experience” held in Kyiv in November 2015. The event gathered over 200 specialists from 10 countries who presented more than 20 effective methods and tools of working with adolescents and young people between 14 and 24 years of age. Detailed information about the conference as well as access to presentations is available here.

Flash Mob in Kyrgyzstan Calls for Solidarity with People Living with HIV

flashmob in Bishkek

Dance performance. Photo: © AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

On December 1, AFEW in Kyrgyzstan held a flash mob event in the capital Bishkek’s Victory Square. Tens of young people performed a dance show to draw the public’s attention to HIV in Kyrgyzstan and to call for solidarity with people living with HIV. Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV and other key populations like people who use drugs, sex workers and men who have sex with men, is still high among the general population.

“It is important that these people can fully enjoy their social life,” said Ainagul Chylabaeva, head of Sverdlovsk district administration of Bishkek.

flashmob in Bishkek2

© AFEW-Kyrgyzstan

An HIV quiz and a poster competition that followed the dance performance were organised in partnership with the City AIDS Сentre, Sverdlovsk district administration, College of Law and the Health Department of Bishkek. The quiz included questions about HIV prevention and transmission. Most informed respondents received small prizes and those who did not know the right answer were provided with information. The poster competition was held among students of the Law College.

“The whole event was much unexpected, I enjoyed the dance and took part in the quiz. Though I thought my knowledge of HIV was quite good, I still made a few mistakes. Of course now I have the right information about HIV,” said one of the participants.

The World AIDS Day in Kyrgyzstan was held in the framework of Bridging the Gaps: Health and Rights for Key Populations project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the project’s goals is to improve the quality of and access to HIV prevention, treatment, continuous care and services for people who use drugs.

New video: Today’s youth, tomorrow’s key populations?

Supporting adolescents at risk of HIV in Ukraine

Tetiana is 18 years old. She has a little baby. Her husband was actively using drugs and after three years she left him. Oleksandr is 17 years old. He is a talented boxer, and started experimenting with drugs for the first time when he was 11 years old. Svitlana is 22 years old. She has six brothers and sisters who all grew up in different orphanages. Now she has two children of her own. Her husband tried to kill her with a hatchet and so she escaped from her home.

The importance of age-specific services

Services for adolescents should be specifically adjusted for their age as the scope of services for this group differs from services for adults. In Ukraine, Bridging the Gaps works to improve the access of young people using drugs to comprehensive medical, social, psychological and legal services, and ensure the protection of their human rights.

COMPASS Center – a safe haven for most at risk adolescents

Bridging the Gaps partner ICF “AIDS Foundation East-West” (AFEW-Ukraine) opened Drop-in center “Compass” at the beginning of 2014 in cooperation with NGO “Blago”. The future of the centre is at risk due to proposed funding cuts. This should not happen. This video demonstrates how crucial age-specific services offered by COMPASS really are for the lives of Tetiana, Svitlana and Oleksandr. But also for public health in general.

“Right now our country is really in a difficult situation, but this should not be an excuse to forget its most vulnerable children.” Oleksandr Mohylka, COMPASS Director.