Yulia Bondarkova has volunteered with our partners Sunflower, to help them run their summer camp for parents who grew up in orphanages and their young children. This is her story.
“As it happened my first meeting with the families happened quite naturally – I traveled with them on the train. We met at the station, bought our tickets, and loaded our noisy group with its bags and baggage, little children and one pregnant mother onto the train. It was a long journey with two changes. There was no way of knowing that these attentive, caring mothers, who were all helping each other, had had such a hard life. Continue reading A volunteer’s view from our summer camp
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, 2018a 50% bonus may be added to your donation up to £35 or $50.
James Colston is planning to take part in the Denang Ironman 70.3 in May 2018 and is collecting sponsorship in aid of St Gregory’s Foundation. Could your interest or passion help you raise money for St Gregory’s?
“My names is James Colston. I grew up in West Auckland, New Zealand and came from very humble beginnings.
I always enjoyed and excelled at sports from a very young age, I have tried most sports from football, to tennis, badminton, running and more recently surfing and triathlon. So sport has always been a central part of my life and something I’m very passionate about.
Giving and philanthropy is something that took my interest later in life, often I would get lost in the “how” I can give back rather than just doing it. I got introduced to the St Gregory Foundation through my best friend’s wife and straight away felt it was a cause I could align with because of the focus on the young a disadvantaged. This world does not treat everyone equally so it’s good to see chances to help those less fortunate.
For me personally the ability to mix giving with completing a half Ironman and eventually a full is a great opportunity to full full two long held dreams.”
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.
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 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.”
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.
Many 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…
Liza’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.