Mary Gelman

2016 - 2018

In Russia, people have a lot of prejudice towards people with mental disorders.

They are not considered full-fledged people with abilities to learn and socialize,

they stay unemployed. But there is a place where everything is different.

«Svetlana» is a unique social village in Russia, Leningrad Oblast. It was started with financial help from the Norwegian Camphill Movement, which was inspired by a Russian mother named Svetlana who had a child with special needs. The mother died in 1991, the year before the village was started, and the community was named in her honor. This village gives an opportunity for people with different mental disorders to live free and be supported by tutors and volunteers. However, for the residents these roles mean nothing. This place is not a boarding school or a clinic. No one is controlled and the doors are always opened. Residents don’t draw a line between «healthy» — «unhealthy», «normal» – «abnormal». Everyone is valued as an individual. Capabilities and abilities are the only things that matter. Residents believe in the person you can become in spite of your past time.

«Svetlana» is the community of nearly 40 residents. They live in four large houses,

have a garden, a farm, a bakery, a carpentry etc. The residents are living off the

subsistence farming and work despite their differences. Villagers are served five

meals a day, visit sauna on weekends and do the plays on holidays. People with

special needs are free to go out, work, have friends and fall in love. They can

realize themselves in any employment or creative activities. For example, at first

some residents could not even hold a spoon, but now bake bread for all the

habitants of the village or get engaged in the performances.

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  • Lisa, a volunteer, with a donkey on a walk. She has been at Svetlana Village for nearly two years. She worked in the bakery, took care of the donkey and now is working on the farm.

  • Vegetables grown by the habitants are kept there. The villagers live off the subsistence farming. They work a lot during summertime for there should be enough food before the winter. The residents also produce cheese, cottage cheese, milk for themselves and for selling to their neighbours.

  • Vasya is working on farm. What’s special about him is that he often asks question to which he knows the answers. In his spare time, he likes to listen to Pink Floyd
    and Queen and cut out pictures from magazines making collages to decorate his desk.

  • Vika is an adopted daughter of one of Svetlana's workers, Sarah Hagnauer, an English woman, and her husband Boris. Vika has Down syndrome, she does not speak much but expresses herself with sounds and so-called ways of alternative communication, for example, with the help of gestures. Curious and open, she can unexpectedly appear anywhere in the village, she is very attentive and takes part in everything that interests her. Problems with speech do not interfere with communication.

  • As a child, Julia had meningitis. She is not able to read and write because of organic lesions
    of the brain it is impossible to teach her.
    Julia works on a cheese factory and she is proud of it. She collects applications for products,
    though she can not write down anything — she hands a piece of paper and a pen with such a look,
    as if it was a trifle, and she has no time to write it down: Write down it yourself, please! Julia can
    keep dignity. Even on the field in waders, Julia walks as if it's a podium, she is aware of her
    attractiveness. She is a caring one: anyone who is familiar to her even in some way, she asks: "How
    are you?", and listens carefully to the answer.

  • Minya’s birthday. He is 50 and He regularly writes letters, where he imagines himself deputy director of the village. Villagers of «Svetlana» ressembles one big family. They all came to celebrate his anniversary.

  • Julia is walking around the village at evening. There are four large houses in the village built by the residents themselves. Each resident has his own room and all
    four houses have different names. There is a house «Fyodor Dostoevsky», «Larsh Henrik», «Serafim of Sarov», «Fritjof Nanson». Each has its own atmosphere and your household way.

  • Amir came to the village with his parents. They loved him very much, but did not understand how life would be built after Amir's coming of age. They wanted his life to be filled with a sense of his own worth, and they were afraid that it would be impossible. Amir himself felt that it was frightening to become independent. But he stayed in Svetlana where he got that independence. There he learned a lot and got skills for handmade. The villagers adore Amir for his inner strength, independence and his kind heart.

  • Minya and Tanya called each other husband and wife. One day they quarreled, sitting opposite
    each other at the table. Tanya flew into a rage, started screaming at Minya. He took her by the
    hand said, “Tanya, calm down. Nothing happened. I love you”. One of the residents of the house,
    who helps in the kitchen, saw it and got amazed: not every man in the ordinary world is able to find words that can so quickly soothe your beloved woman.

  • Villagers of the camphill are of different religious affiliation. Some residents often visit this chapel.

  • Raia is living in Svetlana for three years, she came from Sevastopol. There she visited the center of social support for people with disabilities, but could hardly feel necessary to the society. Employees say, when Raia arrived — she did not seem to have her own face. Now she is a beautiful young woman who can keep thoughts and share them with others. She likes to joke and at the same time she is embarrassed by any gesture from unfamiliar people.

  • The village is quite green. It's surrounded by woods and fields. One can hardly find the village on the map, the only way to get to it is to ask villagers for help. Residents adore the nature and plants of the village.

  • Raya and Julia are walking in the woods. They are best friends. When it’s free time, they listen to music, go out, talk problems and have fun.

  • The village is located in Volkhovsky district in Leningrad Oblast to the river Syas.

  • Sergey has also been living in the village for a very long time. He was born in the family of an artist, in a small town in the south of Russia. When his parents died, he stayed with his sister, who decided to emigrate abroad. She sold the apartment, so Sergei had to move to Svetlana. Calm and silent, Sergey never refuses anyone to help, he is hardworking. His biggest dream
    is to return to home and live with his family again. Sergey understands that it is impossible, and
    he also understands that Svetlana is also his home. Like other villagers, he is living in a separate room. Sergey is very fond of drawing, listening to the radio. Pencils, markers, scraps of paper covers all working surfaces in his room. Nobody forces him to clean up - the main thing is that he himself should feel comfortable.

  • Spices in the house «Larsha Henrik»

  • Minya is an old-timer in Svetlana, has been living here for nearly 20 years. He can work and loves it but recently he has got health problems. Though nobody ever thought that he should be transferred to the care of his elderly mother who lives in Saint- Petersburg.
    Rather he was transferred to Svetlana after he broke his leg — it’s his home where he is loved and cared for.
    Bright paintings and photos of the beloved Tanya are hanging on the walls of Minya’s room. The
    cat called Sea is often sitting in the Minya’s room, she was picked up on the Ladoga lake when she was a little kitten.

  • Vika after the Christmas play

  • Julia and Rahel.
    Rahel (right) is a volunteer from Germany stayed for about six months in the village. In
    Svetlana, volunteers from different cities of Russia and from other countries often come. No
    special skills are required from them - it is important to live and work with everyone together.