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

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

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.

Sunflower did the impossible – they saved my daughter for me

Liza and her mum“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

How our Club for toddlers with impaired hearing helped Camilla learn to talk

Camilla at our ClubCamilla 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

Two brothers find a new family thanks to Kondopoga parish

Children being fed at Kondopoga parishEvery 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

Volunteering to teach English to three disabled girls

Dasha Getina and Anya Emmons SGF volunteerMy 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

Irina’s story of more than 20 years’ service

Irina LialinaAt 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

Seraphim takes the big step of moving into his own flat

Click on the picture to view Seraphim’s video of his flat.

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