On the surface the Russian system is very generous to young people who grew up in orphanages. They house them in institutions until they are out of their teens. They even give them a room or a studio flat when they leave. The trouble is they don’t give them any of the adult skills they need to survive alone, so at 23 when the help stops many of the young people might as well be ten years younger. I’d like to tell you about Seraphim, who is one of seven of our young people who has just taken the big step to move into their own flat. To start with he thought that he would have to fit a steel door and bars on the windows, he wouldn’t be able to tell friends where he was living, so that no-one could rip him off, steal from him, or take his flat from him. This is how our young people see the world because in the children’s home or at college they tell them what has happened to their peers. Poor Serpahim didn’t have a clue how to cope on his own, but he had been taught how to be terrified.
Fortunately, last season we did a lot of work on how to set up home and start to live independently. We visited interior design exhibitions, and Seraphim began to imagine what his flat could be like. We introduced our group to designers and artists, and meeting such friendly, interesting people made him want to get to get to know his neighbours in his new home. In practical sessions, he learnt how to order furniture, how to buy DIY material and how to pay the bills. All of this gave him confidence that he would be able to cope with problems.
This season, Seraphim brought along a video he had made of his flat. He proudly explained how he had solved a few problems that had cropped up along the way. Mostly he had had to deal with his friends, who had tried to scare him. They told him he shouldn’t get any furniture, because the shop would rip him off. He’d pay and then they wouldn’t deliver. Or the delivery man would know where he lived and come back and rob him. Seraphim stood firm, and now he is trying to encourage the rest of the group to take the step towards independent adult life.
Good parents gradually give their children more responsibility and show them how to handle it. All too often, Russian children homes totally institutionalise their residents, giving them no choices and no responsibility, until they have to leave and face life alone. Thanks to you, we are able to be there for at least some of the young people who will leave St Petersburg’s orphanages this year. We don’t solve young people’s problems for them. We give them the skills and the confidence they need to solve them. Then we enjoy seeing the pride they feel in becoming truly grown up. Thank you for helping Seraphim and the rest of our group.