Our summer newsletter is here!

Front cover of SGF summer newsletterDownload 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.

Overcoming Dima’s anxiety about leaving the orphanage

orphanage-leaver DimaDima 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.

Read our winter newsletter

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.

Christmas appeal: help Gleb communicate

We all take being able to communicate for granted, but just imagine if, aged just 15, you had had to face spending the rest of your life virtually house-bound and unable to communicate with anyone.  This is the future for many disabled people like Gleb in Russia today without our help.  This is why we are launching our Christmas appeal to bring them the chance to communicate.

Our Alternative Technology programme is about finding different ways to communicate for disabled young people who can’t speak and may never speak.  It is about opening up the world and giving them the possibility of making friends.  And it works!

Gleb and his mother ZhannaGleb is 19 and an only child. He does not speak because of a rare genetic syndrome, which affected his development from the first months of his life. He needs to be accompanied and helped in his daily life. Gleb is a sociable and determined young man and he is happiest when he is busy. But he can only communicate by a gesture or a sound so communication is critical for his development, making new friends and exploring the outside world.  Unfortunately there are simply no other facilities in Moscow which can offer disabled young people a chance to be active in the community and give them a different perspective on life.

Zhanna is totally focussed on helping and encouraging her son.  Since he was 10, Gleb has been attending sessions at “Communication Space”, our partner charity in Moscow. Since the start of our Alternative Technology programme last year Gleb also began using special books and software which help even more to express himself through signs, symbols and gestures and he is making big progress.

Zhanna says: Alternative communication is the most important aspect of Gleb’s and my lives today. Last week Gleb managed to explain with his communicative book that he played compunter games with someone who wasn’t familiar with alternative communication. That’s great and this means it works! So all my efforts are not in vain. And of course the specialists’ efforts – we could not do it without them.”

Find out more about how our partners help Gleb and others like him in this short video.

Nothing is lost in Kondopoga parish

Since 1991 St Gregory’s Foundation has worked with the exceptionally active parish in Kondopoga to serve their poor community.  During that time Russia and Kondopoga have changed greatly, but the parish continues to meet the challenges in its path.  Tamara Dragadze, one of our directors, reflects on what supporting Kondopoga has meant to her personally.

Kondopoga parish's carpentry workshopMany years ago, St Gregory’s Foundation provided funding for the parish in Kondopoga to have on its land a small sawmill and a woodwork workshop (which made furniture and used the saw wood profitably too) and all that went with it. Unfortunately in time these stopped being commercially viable and they closed. We at St Gregory’s accepted that things like that happened…

However, many years later a devoted member of their parish appeared from nowhere and decided to revive it as a centre for teaching woodwork to Continue reading Nothing is lost in Kondopoga parish

5-year-old Liza learns to play

Liza with speech therapist using her communication buttonLiza’s multiple disabilities have made life more challenging for her and her family.  She has cerebral palsy and poor sight.  When our colleagues first met Liza she couldn’t sit or stand unaided, or use her left hand.  She could only play with the simplest toys, like a rattle, and, being unable to talk or express herself, she easily got frustrated and angry.

As part of our Alternative Technology project for disabled children, Liza and her family have had regular sessions with a physiotherapist and a speech and language therapist.  These have helped her learn to communicate, play and become more independent. Continue reading 5-year-old Liza learns to play

Mothers who grew up in orphanages mentor others

Galina with Natalia's son
Galina with Natalia’s son

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

Dutch visitors to Dinamika school are impressed

Julia Ashmore has recently returned from a visit to St Petersburg to meet our partners.  While she was there, she introduced a group of 30 trainee teachers from Leiden in the Netherlands to our colleagues and pupils at Dinamika School for disabled children.  They had found out about Dinamika through our website and wanted to find out what education was available to disabled children in Russia.  They were positively surprised by what they found.  They were particularly impressed by the equipment that teachers at the school had made or adapted themselves to meet the needs of the children, and by the facilities that St Gregory’s had a hand in providing: the model flat for teaching domestic skills, the craft workshop and the well-equipped gym.  This was an excellent opportunity to introduce our work to a broader circle of young people and raise our profile and share our plans.

An eye-opener exhibition for the Russian orphans

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 Human body exhibitioninteresting. 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 y2ou 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.