Lena grew up in an orphanage in St Petersburg. She joined Sunflower’s support programme two years ago after she split up with her boyfriend. She had realised that she was getting tetchy and tearful and was going out drinking more often. At around this time, Lena lost two fingers in an industrial accident. Her then boyfriend didn’t visit her in hospital, and this was when she decided to end their strained relationship. Not knowing how to live alone, she said, “I didn’t just lose myself, but my home too. I would do nothing but work, even putting in extra shifts just to avoid having to think about anything.” Continue reading Life changed in so many ways for this orphanage-leaver.
Dilyana grew up in a family and works as a teacher. So why does she need Sunflower’s help to raise her 3-year-old son, Timur?
Families can take part in the Sunflower programme whether one or both parents grew up in an orphanage. In this case, it is Timur’s father, Sasha, who had the orphanage childhood. Indeed, he is the pride of his children’s home and still works there to this day. Although on the surface, this family look as if they are coping well, Sunflower’s experience teaches them to pay particular attention to the way children are treated in families such as this. As they put it, in families where a woman marries a man who grew up in an orphanage, it is “as if her social skills and understanding of safety are somehow blocked. The woman from the stable background often submits to her husband’s initiative, and observes his rules, which were laid down in his children’s home past.” Continue reading Mother’s Day inspiration from Sunflower
Women who grew up in children’s homes are very vulnerable to all kinds of domestic abuse and exploitation. Our partners at Sunflower work a great deal on what a healthy, trusting relationship looks like. They also support any of the young women in their group who find themselves in relationships that worry them.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we are proud to share Vera’s story with you. She has shown great strength in recognising she was being treated badly and in standing up for herself. Thanks to you, Sunflower has been able to support her as she makes sense of what happened to her.
“Vera moved out of her children’s home into a flat this September, but she has been a member of our project for 3 years. We helped her prepare for the big move, and we knew that she was anxious about going it alone. At first it seemed as if all was going well. Vera furnished her flat, found out how to pay her bills, and was enjoying inviting her friends over to her new place.
After a while, Vera admitted to us that she wasn’t living alone. She was living with her boyfriend, who had helped her choose her furniture and doing minor repairs to the flat etc. It was very important to her that she had someone she could rely on.
It wasn’t long before Vera told the support group that she and her boyfriend argued from time to time. Apparently he said that she “spent too much time with her friends and should only see him.” After one of their arguments, he shouted at her and made a swing at her. Vera immediately broke it off with him and asked him to leave the flat. Before he left he broke her phone, stole anything of value as “payment” for the repairs he had done, and cut up her bank cards.
Vera was frightened and didn’t know what to do, so she turned again to us. With our detailed instructions, she was able to report the theft to the police. She still felt humiliated and confused, but has been working through those feelings in individual counselling and group support sessions. Now she can value the positive relationships she has managed to build with friends, but will also be more careful about who she lets into her life.
“I don’t think I would ever be able to trust another guy if I hadn’t had this support. Now I realise that everyone isn’t like him, but I will be more careful about who I choose.””
The young people that Sunflower supports all grew up in orphanages. They learn to value themselves and to recognise their emotional needs. They always have someone to turn to who will help them see situations objectively and they are able to build genuinely supportive relationships with their peers through our support groups. By supporting these groups you are helping break the cycle of domestic abuse.
One young man who desperately needed a home visit is Roma. He grew up in an institution for deaf children and he’s now studying at college. When he lived in an institution he was quite confident. It was only when he left that he began to be afraid.
Roma was given a flat, but it was a long way from the part of the city that he knew, and even after he was given the right to live there he continued living in a hostel.
“I don’t know anything about my flat. After I signed the documents I didn’t even go there. I don’t know how to get there and I can’t remember if it still needs work doing on it. I went to the flat once with a teacher from our children’s home by car, had a look and I can’t remember anything about it. I just have a bit of paper with an address and the keys.”
Like all the others, Roma is very scared of somehow being conned out of his flat by some “dangerous” people, so it is difficult for him to see his new home as secure and stable.
With Sunflower’s social teacher, Roma worked out a convenient route from home using his travel pass. They visited his new flat. They got to know the surrounding area and found out where the doctors’ surgery, the post office and other local services are. They worked out what furniture he would need, made a budget and together made a few purchases, teaching Roma how to do this independently in future. Lastly, the social teacher connected Roma with some local organisations that can help people with his disability, and helped him explore how he could spend his leisure time.
Seeing the smile on Roma’s face visiting his new flat makes it all worth while. Hopefully, he will also be able to join in the group activities and continue to grow in confidence and problem-solving ability.
It costs just £7 to make a home visit to someone like Roma, but you can see what a huge difference it can make to someone’s life.
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