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.”
Sunflower supported Lena with individual counselling. She talked about her mother, who was deprived of her parental rights because of alcoholism. As a child she went to live with her aunt for a time because her mother wasn’t feeding her. Her aunt also wasn’t able to look after her and she ended up back with her mother without even a bed to sleep in. She doesn’t remember being taken to the orphanage aged 12. As she says, her memories of that time are “all jumbled.” Now she has begun to forgive her mother and they now see each other frequently.
Her injury was also a difficult subject. Through a year of counselling, Lena continued to bandage her hand and to feel self-conscious about it. Gradually, through individual counselling, Lena began to believe in herself. She also started coming to group sessions and eventually took off her bandages so that her hand could be seen. She is now a valued member of the group, a friendly, attentive and supportive friend.
Lena has realised that her previous employer was exploiting her and has found a new job as a cook at a fast food restaurant. “It’s much safer there and I can chat to customers. They see my hand, but they don’t ask about it, and they don’t laugh or stare.” She is also in a new, warm relationship and is waiting for her boyfriend to come back from military service.
Lena’s mother, her aunt, the orphanage staff and her ex-boyfriend were unable to show her the love she needed. Now after this string of abandonments, Lena has a new start. She is rebuilding her life on firmer foundations. She says, “I almost don’t notice but I look different now. My appearance itself has changed. Before I didn’t understand myself. I didn’t even feel capable of being happy”.
Lena is just one of the young orphanage-leavers that our partners at Sunflower support through individual and group counselling, life-skills teaching, and outings. They are the subject of our Christmas appeal this year. We are aiming to provide this life-changing support for 100 orphanage-leavers through 2020.