AMID all the political upheaval and economic chaos in the former Soviet Union, one American aid project is overcoming bureaucratic barriers to make a difference to those who have no one to depend on.
Corporations to End World Hunger (CEWH), a Washington, D.C.-based foundation, is providing supplies this year that will feed up to 100,000 orphans in five former Soviet republics - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia.
While many Western charities are now active in the former Soviet Union, CEWH has gained notice for the speed with which it went from the planning stage to full-scale operations under difficult conditions in the Commonwealth of Independent States. As Russia and other former Soviet states try to shake Communist-era constraints, many foreign ventures encounter frustration and lengthy delays dealing with bloated and inefficient bureaucracies.
``We've been very fortunate, because we've had a relatively bump-free road,'' says foundation president Gilbert Robinson, who served as an ambassador-at-large under the Reagan administration. ``One of the keys is not to let yourself get beaten down by the system here,'' he said during a recent visit to Moscow. ``You have to have good partners, a good distribution network, and a lot of determination.'' Good partners
In CEWH's case, the Russian Ministry of Education proved to be the key partner in negotiating the bureaucratic labyrinth. ``Working with them, we were able to find a method that works,'' Mr. Robinson says.
The foundation started operation in 1991, working with top American businesses to help alleviate world hunger. During the winter of early 1992, reports about possible food shortages in the former Soviet Union prompted Robinson to consider projects here.
On Jan. 13, 1993, CEWH received a $3 million grant from the US Agriculture Department to purchase soybean products, which comprise the bulk of the foundation's food aid to former Soviet republics. It also received help from the US State Department to transport the aid.
Within weeks, food shipments were on their way to the former Soviet states on ocean-going freighters. By mid-September, 57 of the planned 1993 consignment of 72 cargo containers soy products had either been delivered, or were en route. Making a difference
``I don't think there's a threat of an orphan going hungry here in Russia, but in Armenia and Georgia our project is making a difference,'' Robinson says.
Both of the Transcaucasian nations are embroiled in war, increasing the dangers for parentless, or abandoned children. The fighting, especially the civil war in Georgia, hinders CEWH food deliveries, but so far the foundation has been able to cope.
In Moscow, the program is supplying soy products to 102 orphanages and other institutions that house about 23,000 youngsters. At Orphanage No. 62, a typical children's home, youngsters are fed the soy products about three times a week, says facility director Lyubov Arkhipova.
But Ms. Arkhipova adds that Orphange No. 62 enjoys good relations with the Moscow City Administrations of Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, meaning it can count on local government allocations.
At No. 62, the orphanage's cooks received training on creative cooking with soy products, which can be turned into everything from meat-substitute hamburgers to dumplings and cutlets.
``The kids eat it and they like it,'' Arkhipova says, ``but like anything, they couldn't eat it every day.'' She adds that while the orphanage is not dependent on the foundation's food aid, CEWH's assistance allows the institution to use dwindling financial resources on other priority items.
Robinson feels the program so successful that CEWH is considering expanding the food distribution network. The foundation is establishing new offices in the northern Russian city of Archangel and the Siberian city of Omsk. CEWH is also considering plans to help feed the elderly and large families.
``The important thing,'' Robinson says, ``is to never say no.''