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About Blagoe delo and the Center for Social Art, Sofia

The educational institute “Sofia” is part of the non-governmental, non-profit organization “Blagoe delo”, a social-pedagogical community working on the basis of anthroposophy in Sverdlovsk region, Russia. The region is situated 2000 km east of Moscow, has an area comparable with West Germany and 4 million inhabitants. The main city and site of the regional government is Ekaterinburg (1.5 mill.), an economical and political center of growing importance because of its location on the border between the European part of Russia and Asia.

The organization, established in 2005, runs a day center for young people and adults with disabilities and the basic idea is to create an integrative and holistic model for social inclusion in Russia, offering work in art and craft workshops, therapies, education and participation in a theatre studio. All together 67 persons are employed in Blagoe delo: 17 coworkers and 50 clients (persons with disabilities). Additionally, about 30 clients come for participation in the theatre studio and for different art and work therapy.

New methods and concepts for the work with persons in need of special care were initiated by the founding of a Seminar for curative education and social therapy in Ekaterinburg 2001. The initiative was taken by the later board members of Blagoe delo in cooperation with and mainly financed by the Nordic Association for Curative Education and Social Therapy. 27 students from the region of Sverdlovsk finished their three-year part time further training in 2004, most of them with a background as teachers, psychologists, therapists and nurses. A second course of 17 students finished in 2007 and 30 students are for the time being in the third course.

We are the owner of a building – 650 m2 – in the village Verch-Nievinsk (4000 inhabitants), close to the city Novouralsk (100 000 inhabitants), situated 70 km from Ekaterinburg. Blagoe delo has developed a network of local and regional supporters, and is a profiled organisation in the region of Sverdlovsk, well known also by the politicians and authorities, respected for their work for handicapped persons during the last 7 years. The Nordic Association has continued to support the education and training activities of Blagoe delo, with financial support, and with fund-raising, management and advice on project development.

The current activities

  • Social therapy workshops (wood, sowing, agriculture, felting, ceramics, candlemaking and paper).
  • Theater-studio for social-cultural inclusion, visited by young people with disabilities (27 persons) and some of their parents twice a week. The last performance, “Eugene Onegin”, was shown in Ekaterinburg in cooperation with Rotary International.
  • 3-year part time, further education and training seminar in curative education and social therapy for professionals in the region. 4 block weeks in each year, the course program is developed in cooperation with the Seminar for curative education and social therapy in Norway and puts equal weight on theory, practice and arts (the trinal method). 972 hours of teaching lessons (inclusive 480 hours of individual work). Docents/lecturers are mostly coming from abroad: Sweden, Germany, Holland and Norway, some also from Blagoe delo and other seminars in Russia.

Intensive courses are also given in the neighbor towns of Surgut and Nishny-Vartovsk, Hanti-Mansisk region as well as organising round tables, conferences and festivals for the promotion of the disabled people’s rights. Courses are now also planned for the persons with disabilities (training for basic skills and acknowledgments in different crafts). This will be developed in the coming year.

Dissemination and impact

Russia was an active participant in the process of preparing for the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, agreed upon in 2006. The federal and regional authorities ratified the Convention 25th of April 2012, which means they must integrate the principles and rights in their national laws.

The work of Blagoe delo has during its 7 years of existence had a considerable impact on the preparation for the Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities in Sverdlovsk region. Our social pedagogical ideas and working methods have been demonstrated for and discussed in numerous meetings with representatives of the regional government, on the highest level of the ministries. As a result, the director Vera Simakova is presently representing Blagoe delo in the Governor’s Council for social rehabilitation questions, a group of 20 people, which includes several ministers and representatives for human rights and disability organizations. The Council worked on a new social rehabilitation program, as a preparation for Russia’s ratification of the Convention. Vera Simakova is appointed chairman of the working group for social-professional inclusion of adults with disabilities.

Blagoe delo is the only organization in Sverdlovsk working with practical models for employment and social-cultural integration of young people and adults with disabilities One of our aims is to disseminate the working method of Blagoe delo and to discuss in what way these methods can be a part of the future development of the local and regional social work in the region. At the same time it will give us an excellent opportunity for marketing our 3-year study program in social therapy.

Networking

In these years we have worked consciously with building network around our educational activities. Our seminar Sofia is member of the International Training Group for Curative Education and Social Therapy (Kassel conferences) and has recognition as a training center on the basis of anthroposophy from the Medical section at the Goetheanum. We have a cooperation agreement with the Seminar for Social Therapy in Bergen, Norway and an agreement with the Rudolf Steiner University College in Oslo (RSUC), as a practice place for their students.

In a meeting with RSUC in 2008, we developed a strategy plan with the aim of getting accreditation for our three year program in social therapy. We started with further education of the staff in Blagoe delo, 10 coworkers are now participants in the course. The director, Vera Simakova will finish her MA studies at the RSUC in 2012 and another coworker, a psychologist, is preparing for her dissertation in special psychology.

As a recent result of our networking activities we have signed an affiliation agreement with the Crossfields Institute in England. We have started the accreditation process for our courses and are aiming for accreditation as a Russian department of the Crossfields Institute’s Hiram Education and Research Department which provides education and development for 650 staff learners. We see the cooperation with Crossfields as a unique opportunity for us to develop and evaluate our courses according to European levels and standards.

Besides, it is very important for us not to be isolated, but be a part of an international educational network, in order to get new adult education impulses from the western countries and to take part in the experiences from research and practice inspired from holistic and humanistic educational philosophy.