Our colleagues in Russia have had serious adjustments to make in recent weeks. Some have had grants cut with no warning. All have had access to Facebook blocked. For some this was a very active way of communicating with the people they helped directly, and also with people from further afield who looked to them for advice. The Club for hearing impaired toddlers is filling this gap by using WhatsApp and being available on the phone to families that need advice in between sessions.
The Club has also welcomed a refugee family from Ukraine. Anastasia and her son Nazar are both deaf. They have found a warm welcome at the club and the support from other parents is very important for them. They left home without Nazar’s hearing aid, but the Club has been able to help them. When children get a cochlear implant fitted, parents donate the hearing aids that they no longer need. This means the Club has been able to give Nazar a hearing aid straight away.
We are delighted that on 13th October our Patron, His Royal Highness, Prince Michael of Kent, visited the Sunflower Centre in St Petersburg to find out about their flagship programmes at first hand. The Sunflower Centre focuses on providing psychological support for parents who grew up in orphanages and for teenagers leaving orphanages in St. Petersburg.
Almost all the children growing up in Russian children’s homes have living parents. The are sometimes called “social orphans”, but they are not orphans in the true sense. Their parents have been judged unfit to look after them, and they have been taken away from them for their own protection. If we think about them as “children in care”, then we can be more clear-sighted about how to help them. Let’s support organisations that really make a difference instead of giving to the “orphanages” that are part of the problem.
Milana is two and a half and she started coming to the Club for hearing impaired toddlers that we sponsor a few months ago. She’s a good example of how this club helps deaf children in their whole development. Families and children with deaf children often find it difficult to take part in mainstream children’s activities, so it’s vital we look at the child’s needs as a whole, and don’t just focus on their hearing.
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.
Our charity shop has unique gifts handcrafted in Georgia and Russia, exclusive card designs, jewellery, books, toiletries and more. Each purchase helps vulnerable children and families in Eastern Europe.