Our colleagues at Sunflower in St Petersburg have a fantastic record working with young people who have grown up in children’s homes. With their support, the young people learn to understand and manage their emotions, to plan and take responsible decisions, and to develop healthy, trusting relationships. This takes time. The young people have complex needs having experienced a life-time of trauma. Several have run away from their chidren’s home before. Several are addicted to solvent abuse or have criminal records. Many of them have physical and/ or mental health problems. Vadim, aged 19, is one of the newcomers to Sunflower’s support programme. He has yet to fully trust the staff and his peers, but this lad who others were unable to help, is engaged and motivated to change.
Our newsletter is out now with stories from Moscow, St Petersburg, Kondopoga and Tbilisi. To celebrate our 30th anniversary we look back and appreciate how far we’ve come. We take stock of the extraordinary present day and look ahead to future plans. Dive in, and join our efforts to create a brighter future for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our regions.
Seraphim and Masha met at their children’s home. They married and Masha got pregnant. Seraphim has been involved with our programme for orphanage-leavers for some time. He brought Masha and their son, Tolya, to the group when Tolya was three months. Seraphim was such a proud dad, always showing photos of his son. He even put up their New Year tree in November, he was so excited. So it was a great shock when Seraphim died later that month.
How Masha and Tolya would be faring now without Sunflower’s support doesn’t bear thinking about. When Masha joined the parenting group she was struggling to bond with her baby. She found physical contact, or even eye contact difficult. Tolya responded by crying when he was touched, which dented her confidence further. She would say, “He doesn’t love me. He won’t look at me.“
In the months before Seraphim’s death, Masha and Tolya had been making great progress. Sunflower used play therapy to encourage more contact between mother and baby. Each week showed Masha how to play simple games which encourage eye contact, physical touching and chatting. Gradually their bond grew with Masha holding Tolya closer and interacting much more. She started to relax, obviously enjoying their growing closeness. Tolya in return became less tense and more interested in the world around him. When he first came to Sunflower he had been stiff, almost like a doll. Now he could hold his head up and look around him. He no longer cried when he was held or touched.
During this time, Masha also built trusting relationships with Sunflower’s team. So after Seraphim’s death, Sunflower have been able to regularly visit her at home to support her through this traumatic time. They are happy that Tolya is receiving the care that he needs, and are committed to working with the family for as long as they are needed.
Thank you to all our donors who help this programme survive. We know there are many more orphanage-leavers out there having to cope with difficult life events without the backup of family or an organisation like Sunflower. Having seen how the right help can transform lives, we are working to reach more of them. This is through Sunflower’s support groups and their training for professionals working with families in crisis in St Petersburg and beyond.
We aren’t helping victims, we are helping survivors of childhood trauma. Our colleagues in St Petersburg work to bring out the strengths of the orphanage-leavers they support. With time, many of the young people go on to become mentors, formally and informally supporting other young people. Just watch this video if you doubt how extraordinary these young people can be when they are given the chance.
This Christmas we are all hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020. Our Christmas appeal is aimed at making sure that is true for the most vulnerable as well, and particularly the orphanage-leavers.
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.
Our winter newsletter is out now with more in depth stories of the people that we are able to help thanks to our wonderful, generous supporters.
- how Sunflower helped Natasha adjust to life after the children’s home,
- how Mkurnali are supporting Luka’s family so he doesn’t have to put himself at risk working on the streets,
- and how Elya is overcoming disability to feed herself for the first time aged 19, and more.
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.
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