Download our summer newsletter to find out more about the summer camps we will be funding this year. This includes the unique perspective of one of the volunteers helping on the Sunflower summer camp for parents who grew up in orphanages and their children. We also have a full report on the training visit our colleagues from St Petersburg and Moscow made to Krakow to get new ideas on helping children with complex disabilities to communicate. From Georgia, our colleagues at Mkurnali report on the vulnerable young people that they have saved from prison recently.
Dima is 22 years old and he has lived in a children’s home since he was four. This January he left and our partner organisation, Sunflower, was with him all the year. The preparation year was an anxious one. Dima was worried that something would go wrong with the accommodation he was promised. When his room was ready he didn’t move into it straight away. To start with he was only let out at weekends, which made his angry with his teachers. He fell out with his girl-friend too because she wouldn’t come shopping with him for his new room. Dima’s anxiety worried the staff at his children’s home so much that he was sent to the educational psychologist to establish whether he was capable of living independently.
Dima knows almost nothing about his family, just the names of his parents and that he had a brother who died before he was born. He also found out that he has a heart condition, but not how serious it is. He only knew “that I have something terrible wrong with my heart. The doctor at the children’s home said that it is dangerous. I could die at any moment.” Step by step Dima gathered all the necessary documents, was passed by the educational psychologist, and was given his medical records. All through he would come to Sunflower with his questions. Each time he was given some new information he would think about it carefully. Now he says, “it turns out that my illness isn’t that terrible. I simply have to avoid putting a heavy strain on my heart. I was given all the necessary treatment when I was little”.
When Dima finally moved into his bed-sit, he had difficulties which he wasn’t prepared for. He is frightened to take decisions, is scared to break into his small savings, and finds it difficult to be alone after work. He discusses these worries with Sunflower and they are teaching him how to manage a budget and helping him find ways to spend his spare time.
Dima comes to Sunflower’s support group and is beginning to open up with his peers. He’s also started chatting to his colleagues, not just to the lads from his children’s home. He says, “when I first came to Sunflower, I thought that it wasn’t for me. I kept quiet and was scared of the teachers. Now I see how the new guys behave and I even try to help them a bit so that they can get used to it. Before I would just think about how other people were reacting to me, but now I’m learning to pay attention to other people and to be interested in how they live and what they are thinking.”
Dima’s story shows how vital it is to look after the mental health of young people leaving the orphanage system. Sunflower listens to their fears and we also give them the skills to tackle their problems head on. None of this is quick or easy, but, thanks to their support, Dima will still be benefitting for many years to come.
If you’d like to help Sunflower continue their vital work you can donate at any time. However, if you donate via our page on Global Giving between 9th and 13th April, 2018 a 50% bonus may be added to your donation up to £35 or $50.
Download our winter newsletter to find out how our Alternative Technology programme helps find different ways to communicate for young disabled people who cannot speak, how we hosted Father Lev and his helpers from the Kondopoga Parish in the UK and about their plans after their return to Karelia, how Sunflower helps Russian orphans to be independent, and how our legal programme run by Mkurnali helps save young people from prison.
Our partners at Sunflower in St Petersburg are training mothers who grew up in orphanages to support and mentors younger mothers in the same situation. Sunflower helped Galina when her children were young. Now she is helping Natalia care for her baby son. Continue reading Mothers who grew up in orphanages mentor others
Last year, the programme’s participants often turned to the group for help in finding work, and for support in finding the sort of work that they would find interesting. They do not know how to adapt the training they had in college to real life and the majority did not complete their education. Reaching the point when they had to live independently, they stop feeling part of a society in which they are used to living. They begin to study themselves afresh, recognising their preferences and listening to their desires. Their greatest difficulty is in how they present themselves – their internal conception of themselves does not bear any resemblance to their actual appearance. That relates to how they feel about themselves and how they appear on the outside. This disconnect becomes apparent in conversation with the participants:
“I seem to be really thin because I wasn’t allowed to eat at the children’s home, they just didn’t give me anything to eat” (Taras, 22 years old, is of normal weight and does not look thin).
“I got my hair done in this fashionable way and now I look sporty” (Tanya, 26 years old, does not look after her hair and looks unkempt and dishevelled).
“I could do with losing weight, I’m so fat, I’ve probably got 25 kilograms spare” (Kirill, 23 years old, is a tall and strong boy who looks big but does not have excessive weight for his height).
The issue is that in the family a teenager openly receives information about himself, his opportunities and about changes both internal and external. He sees change in photographs, clothes and the physiological changes in his parents and his grandparents. His relatives can answer his questions about the changes in puberty, they can care for him when he’s ill and teach him to speak about his feelings. In orphanages and similar institutions, teenagers are deprived of such focussed and sensitive attention. It’s only when alone with themselves, after leaving the orphanage, that they begin to observe the development of their personality, feelings, emotions and sensations. They also begin to find the connection linking their blood family with their physiological peculiarities. In observing and answering this demand we put before our young people a complex exercise, directed at the study of their body, feelings and health.
In the context of an exercise about the construction of the body, we organised a visit to an exhibition entitled “The Human Body”, where there were real-life displays of, for example, skeletons and organs. Our youg people asked questions of the expert guide about the problems caused by addiction – they were interested in the various illnesses and the details of how the organs worked. “Can you show us how the heart looks after a stroke? My mum died from that, I want to understand what happened” (Kirill, 22 years old). “Are those the lungs of a smoker? If I smoke will my lungs be like that too?” (Lidia, 14 years old). “If I had a birth defect and my skull was deformed, would my brain be deformed too, or would it be like other people’s?” (Sergei, 23 years old).
Many of them could overcome their fears and dispel myths. Some started developing new habits. “I’m going to have breakfast every day now that I’ve seen this stomach ulcer – I don’t want mine to get any worse” (Tanya, 26 years old). Some of the teenagers started paying more attention to their personal hygiene, and others to the size of their clothes. Working with this theme – without penetrating into the personal stories of any of our young people – allowed them to experience the boundaries of their bodies and to study their personal boundaries. This will support them in forming an image of themselves.
“For two years I have been taking my daughter, Liza, to the Sunflower centre and in the summer we spend a week at camp with other families. This gives me the strength to carry on and gives me hope that my and my daughter’s lives will work out”.
All of our families come to us with difficult stories, so it it wonderful when we are able to light a path for them through to brighter times. If Liza’s grandmother had had the help her mother’s found with us, a whole world of suffering could have been prevented. We’re just glad that, thanks to you, we can be here for the family now and have been able to break the cycle of misery. Continue reading Sunflower did the impossible – they saved my daughter for me
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. Continue reading Seraphim takes the big step of moving into his own flat