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.
This New Year was indeed very happy for Mkurnali, because the Ministry of Penal Correction services of Georgia has released and sent to us a lovely girl. A year and a half ago she was arrested in Batumi and her sentence would have been 6-7 years’ imprisonment had we not intervened. However, we managed to reduce it to 3 years, even better, as a celebration of New Year and with the intervention of the Georgian Patriarchate we have managed to get her pardoned and released.
During her health check, we found that she had Hepatitis C. The prison administration had provided Lana with a free programme that will aid her recovery. However, after she was released, her free medical care came under question. Again, with our intervention and the prison administration’s help, we managed to continue this treatment for Lana. One week ago, during a routine health check, she got some great news: she has been completely cured of the disease! However, the treatment has to go on until the end of the course. I am deliberately not telling the story of what led Lana’s life to drug abuse and to the prison sentence as it is a very tragic story; however, I will tell you that she had given a birth to a child who had hydrocephalus and died within a year.
We have always supported Lana when she asked for help and we tried to get her to join us, but because of her bad habits, she didn’t want to live in Mkurnali. Luckily prison has changed her completely, she has made drug abuse a thing of the past. She came to us and wants to start a new life. In her time in prison, Lana has learned embroidery and we are trying to support her so she can use her embroidery skills to support herself. We would like to raise money and pay her as an instructor so she could teach other girls to embroider, as well as buy her own equipment so she can make items she could sell.
One more proud and happy new thing that happened this New Year: as you know, every New Year we invite our current and past beneficiaries to a party. On 30th December, due to extremely low temperatures our central heating broke down. However, we still managed to have a good time and used our open fireplace to keep warm. We couldn’t fix the heating as every maintenance provider refused to work during holiday time and as we found out, the cost of the repair is very high. One of our guests and a past beneficiary, Kote, who found out about the problem, came the next day with his co-worker and fixed the heating free of charge, which made us happy and was also an amazing example for the other kids. Kote had been in Mkurnali’s care for years and had lived 2 years with us in our shelter. 3 years ago, we helped him to start work in one of the building companies where he currently works and with his honest effort is able to support himself, and now – us too.
Thanks to your continued support to Mkurnali we are able to help more troubled young people like Lana, Kote and others like them, who without your help, would face a bleak future.
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
Jemal remembers how Mkurnali first made contact with him:
“The first time I ended up in the streets I got to know some children who lived there and they offered me to spend the night with them. I was hungry and it was quite cold. Continue reading Jamal and Giorgi explain how they went from street children to outreach workers for Mkurnali
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
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