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.
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
Camilla and her mama are members of our Club for toddlers with impaired hearing that you have generously helped to sponsor. Some time ago she had a cochlear implant fitted and has just come back to the club. A cochlear implant can help replace the sensation of hearing for some deaf people. As soon as she came back we could see that Camilla had changed a lot! She has begun to make a lot of sounds and syllables. Continue reading How our Club for toddlers with impaired hearing helped Camilla learn to talk
Every summer we help Kondopoga parish to feed 30 of the town’s most deprived children during the summer holidays. Every day they came to parish house for a hot lunch followed by games. Some of the children come because their family is simply too poor to feed them, like the family with four boys under six whose father is too ill to work. Continue reading Two brothers find a new family thanks to Kondopoga parish
My name is Anya Emmons and for the last two months I have been volunteering with St Gregory’s Foundation in St Petersburg, teaching one-to-one English conversation classes to three wonderful girls – Sonya, Ksyusha and Dasha. My experience at Dinamika School can only be described as unique. Continue reading Volunteering to teach English to three disabled girls
At St Gregory’s we are very proud of our local partners, who add huge value to our grants through their care and commitment. Irina Lialina has been involved since before St Gregory’s was formally registered. First she helped distribute aid sent in containers from the UK. Now, she helps the very poorest families with food parcels. This is her story. Continue reading Irina’s story of more than 20 years’ service