Dasha phoned a friend for support. The friend gave her the contact details for Katya, the social worker at the Happy Baby social centre, run by SOS Children’s Villages Belarus.
“Katya was away for the weekend, but said she'd head right back to meet us,” says Dasha. “I couldn't believe anyone would do that for us.”
A place to feel safe
By that evening Dasha and Anna had moved in the shelter of Happy Baby in Minsk. They got food, clothes, hygiene items, and safety. Katya says that feeling safe is most important at the beginning.
“When a woman leaves an abusive relationship, she must be in a surrounding where she feels safe and secure. The stress easily transfers to the children,” says Katya. “Here, we give mothers time to relax and feel comfortable.”
The Happy Baby social centre offers support to single mothers, children who have been temporarily removed from their birth families. In 2018, the Happy Baby social centre helped over 300 children and 250 parents.
Dasha explains that both she and her daughter were shaking when they arrived at the shelter. “Katya said to me, 'Relax. You are safe now.' We were both very stressed.” The little girl did not eat or smile for two days, not even on her first birthday. Katya brought a cake and a present, assuring Dasha that she really can relax.
From a “perfect” man to daily violence
Now in her late thirties, Dasha says she sees how her relationship turned toxic. “We dated for a long time,” she says. “With me, he was always perfect.”
After a few years, Dasha moved in with her partner and his parents. Soon afterwards, she became pregnant and they both looked forward to the arrival of their child. However, things quickly changed.
“He stopped working after I moved in,” says Dasha. “He alienated me from my parents and friends. Then came the drinking. I dismissed the first slap on the face as accident. Then the violence became a daily routine.”
Anna is a quiet child who loves to cuddle with her mother. Dasha says that her daughter is a very different, much calmer child now. “I’ve realised that it's because I changed. Being here is relaxing for me,” she says.
"I am happy that we're no longer with him. It was a situation which destroyed me and my daughter. I thought of leaving many times, but I had no money or place to go,” says Dasha. “He beat me, often in front of Anna. He crushed me mentally. I worked but had no money because he took everything. He made me feel small and unworthy. That is not who I am and that is not an environment in which I want my daughter to grow up. I understand all of that now because here I have space to relax and think.”
A foundation for a better future
Had it not been for SOS Children’s Villages Dasha says she would probably have gone back to her partner. “I have no one in my life who would have given me the time and space to get to where I am now,” she says.
A kindergarten teacher by profession, Dasha is thinking of getting additional qualifications to have more job opportunities. One day, she hopes to live with Anna is their own place. “I can make plans like this only thanks to SOS [Children’s Villages],” she says. “Here was the first and only place where no one judged me and no one pressured me. We truly got the help that we needed.”
Photo: Katerina Ilievska.
*Names of mother and child changed