A visit to The Wish Centre

The journey from Chişinău to Călărași was just over an hour to The Wish Centre for disabled and autistic children and youths. This centre is a beacon for many local families who are raising children with special needs. Currently it is the only place in the region they can turn to for help and guidance.

Eugenia, who is just over 30, saw her life take a dramatic turn a decade ago when her sister lost her parental rights, and Eugenia found herself looking after her niece Ana, a baby with Down syndrome.

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Parent praises Deaf Club

At first sight, it might seem as if not much is happening at the Deaf Club we sponsor in St Petersburg. Children play, parents chat. They get together for a sing-song and a chat. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, but something extraordinary is happening. Parents are gaining confidence, and children are learning new skills, skills they might not have had a chance to develop so early or so well because they are deaf.

Recently, the Deaf Club surveyed it’s parents. Grisha’s mum, Anastasia, responses show us just what the Club means to families.

What does visiting our club give you?

We go to the Club with our 2-year-old son Grisha. Coming to the Club with my child, I feel calm. I learn a lot bout child development. I can also talk to other parents and discuss problems. Grisha has the opportunity to socialize from an early age, being with both children and adults in the same place.

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Communication Space make communicating worthwhile

When talking comes easily to you, it’s hard to imagine finding it so boring, you just can’t be bothered. However, until Pavel started sessions at Communication Space, boredom was seriously holding him back.

Up until last year, Pavel had taken part in various programmes to help him communicate. These even included using alternative communication, since he doesn’t talk. However, the same pattern would emerge each time. He would learn some simple symbols, they would enter his vocabulary, but then he would get bored and stop using them. He was getting quite disengaged with the whole thing until Communication Space tried a new approach.

Continue reading Communication Space make communicating worthwhile

Sunflower summer camp for families

Six families with children aged 5 to 11 took part in Sunflower’s summer camp this year. The venue this year was different: they stayed at a centre in Komarovo beside the Finnish Gulf as the log cabin (the dacha) required some repair and later a dramatic fire happened at the site.

A new location offered lots of scope for outdoor fun and games, and as usual special training was organised for both parents and children. Many of the activities related to the levels of freedom and responsibility that the parents give their children as they grow and establishing an appropriate balance. The children were able to explore the theme too through a fairy story, ‘Dwarf Long-nose’ in which a little boy has to cope with a magical transformation so complete that his parents don’t recognise him.

Fire at Dolbeniki

This is the scene in Dolbeniki at the dacha used by Sunflower for their summer camps. A serious accident at a local electrical substation led to a power surge and a wave of fires hit the area.

The free-standing dining room caught fire immediately, destroying the building, the furniture and also the kitchen equipment, which was stored there. Fortunately, no-one was hurt. The fire brigade arrived swiftly and the fire was extinguished. It did not spread to any of the other buildings used during the summer camps.

Sunflower are assessing the damage and the cost of creating a new eating area so that they can run summer camps there again. Meanwhile, volunteers have started to clear the site already, although the weather will soon force a break in the work. Serious work will start in spring 2024, when we hope to be able to help Sunflower recover.

Kondopoga’s inclusive summer activities

This year, the summer camp started on 6th June and the Parish is planning to continue summer activities until 31st August before children return to schools in September. 

Currently up to 18 children benefit from the summer camp, 15 of them are disabled children with a range of disabilities: learning disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, eyesight problems, heart and lung conditions and 4 children are from poor families. All came from the Kondopoga region, the youngest is 6 years of age and the eldest is 15. 

At the beginning of the camp, there was a slight problem with finding volunteers, which  has now been resolved – 2 people help in the kitchen and 3 help run summer activities. One of these volunteers came from ‘ Zabota’ (Care) social centre. 

Every day is organised differently, with different activities such as sewing, drawing, clay modelling, educational games and outdoor games. The camp is also somewhere their parents can get advice, consultation with specialists and volunteers at the Parish and most importantly moral support and a boost to their family budget. Depending on the weather,  lessons are held outdoors and this helps to boost the children’s physical stamina. Masterclasses are held for children to create their own masterpieces in needlework, drawing and applique. Everyone is particularly excited to spend time with Danae, the dog of one of the volunteers who made friends with all the children last year. The children enjoy joining in theatre performances too. 

The Parish is also planning to provide children with school supplies for the new school term.  

Counselling for special needs parents

staff member from Communication Space with a parent

Back in the first lock-down of the pandemic, we helped Communication Space set up an online counselling service for parents whose children have special needs.

The pandemic crisis may have passed, but parents can still easily find themselves overwhelmed, particularly in a society that has little positive to say about disabled people. So we have continued to fund the service, and are delighted that a second, local funder has also been found. This means that more families can be reached – 109 families in the last year. Each family can access a course of individual counselling as well as support groups led by psychologists.

Read more: Counselling for special needs parents

The feedback we have is very positive. Yulia wrote,

” I need these groups because they help me feel more stable. This influences how I feel about my child’s special needs, my relationship with the professionals we work with, and relationships within our family. In the end it influences the quality of my choices for child’s education and socialisation.”

Natalia can point to a very concrete improvement in her quality of life. Thanks to the course, she has been able to improve her relationship with her mother.

We are also delighted that Communication Space have been able to set up a training flat. Sergei stays the night once a week with other young adults. This is the first time he has slept anywhere other than at home. At first he found this distressing, but now he is much more settled. While Sergei learns valuable life skills, like cooking, his mother Lydia gets some essential respite. For the first time, she has time she can call her own, to get things done, to spend time with her other children, or just to rest.

HRH Prince Michael of Kent speaks in support

In February, our long standing supporters, Damon de Laszlo and Alexandre Demidoff, the President of the European Demidoff Foundation, organised a fabulous reception at the iconic Lord Byron’s Chambers, Albany. The evening raised a wonderful £6,500 towards Sunflower’s work with orphanage-leavers that St Gregory’s is helping to fund.

We are very grateful to our organisers, to our Patron, HRH Prince Michael of Kent for attending and speaking about Sunflower Centre, which he has visited. Below you can read a copy of his speech.

As Patron of St Gregory’s Foundation, I am very pleased to be here with you all this evening, and thank you for coming.

St Gregory’s remains one of the very few British charities approved by the Charity Commission to operate in Russia and help the most disadvantaged. And it has been doing so for the last 32 years. In these devastating times in Ukraine and the resulting crises, this amazing small charity continues to work hard helping children and families in dire need – the homeless in Georgia, refugee children and families in Ukraine, orphans and disabled children in Russia.

Today we are raising funds for our partner the Sunflower charity in St Petersburg and their work with children after leaving their orphanage. Sunflower enables people with non-visible disabilities to gain the support they need. When I visited them in October 2021, I returned highly impressed by their compassion and commitment to the young people in their care. That includes reducing the risk of dangerous behaviour and providing them with a smooth transition to independent living. And it teaches parents how to take care of their children and build a harmonious life. Your contributions tonight will help make it happen.

I would like to thank the generous long-standing supporter of St Gregory’s and sponsor of tonight’s evening: Damon De Laszlo. We warmly welcome Alexandre Demidoff and the European Demidoff Foundation, our close and long-standing partner for 12 years. The Foundation under the Patronage of my cousin Princess Elizabeth Karageorgevitch consistently supports St Gregory’s, through funding, and it introduces our important work to loyal supporters and new members, many of whom we meet for the first time today. Especially welcome are those guests who have travelled from Switzerland and Italy to attend today’s event. You all are new friends to St Gregory’s and go to prove that our network of supporters is expanding internationally.

By helping St Gregory’s Foundation you help us to continue our work in the best traditions of British and European philanthropy.

We are deeply grateful. Thank you.

Photo: HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO, Contessa Giulia Farneti Merenda Salecchi, Avv. Giancarlo Parrini

News from Kondopoga

We weren’t able to transfer money to Kondopoga in time for their summer activities. However, the parish managed to continue with their food parcels and their children’s activities through June and half of July. A local supplier even provided the food on credit. Fortunately, we have now been able to send them half their grant in our first trial transfer. They can now pay back their debt and contine serving the very poor families in their town.


This summer, the parish managed to take a small group of children aged 12-15 to St Petersburg. The six children were chosen for their maturity and committment to parish activities. Three packed days of sight-seeing were planned, and it was important that the children who took part would enjoy it. All six of the children also come from socially disadvantaged families, so this was their first opportunity to see some of the highlights of world culture to be found in St Petersburg.

Over three days, the group visited the great cathedrals of St Petersburg and nearby island, Kronstadt. The children were particularly amazed by the Church on the Spilt Blood. Outside, the colourful domes are a striking landmark, but inside the mosaics covering every inch of the walls and ceiling really impressed. The children also visited the Hermitage with a tour of galleries devoted to Rembrandt, Rubens, Caravaggio and others. The girls were particularly taken by the portraits of women in the Romanov gallery.


Later this month, Kondopoga parish will be taking a larger group of children to the regional capital, Petrozavodsk to visit the museum and a couple of very fine churches. In this way they continue to broaden the cultural horizons of
children in Kondopoga.

A challenging time for Sunflower

For 15 years Sunflower has been supporting young people who grew up in orphanages. They have helped over 650 teenagers and young parents, 300 families in crisis, and 200 foster families with teenagers to build independent lives and develop their parenting skills. They have become a respected training provider, helping over 2,000 specialists who work with orphanage-leavers and improving standards across St Petersburg and beyond.

None of this has been easy, but this autumn, they face their most challenging times. In September, Elena Sukhorukova, director and co-founder of Sunflower, died after a serious illness. She is enormously missed by all who worked with her.

Since her death, the Sunflower team have rallied round. Such is their committment that they have been working largely as volunteers since September because of our difficulties transferring money to Russia. To make life even harder, their bank is not allowing them to access their account until Elena’s role is officially transferred, a process that has taken more than a month.

For Natasha Andreeva, who founded the charity with Elena, a key moment came when she ran training courses for professionals in October. This was a programme that Elena headed up. It felt like a turning point when the three-day course was a success. Everyone realised that Sunflower would be able to continue the work that Elena and Natasha started.

Having provided training for professionals from Izhersk, Volgograd and Chelyabinsk in October, Sunflower will be welcoming more trainees from Siberian towns this month. They aim to improve standards of care and reduce worker burn-out by helping trainees understand the particular needs of orphanage-leavers.

This year has brought challenges for all NGOs in Russia, and indeed for their beneficiaries. Despite this cluster of difficulties, Sunflower has managed to respond to increased demand for their parenting support groups. They are now supporting 50 families of orphanage-leavers, up from the 35 of recent years.

We are in awe of this committment, and relieved that the Charity Commission have approved a safe and legal route for us to transfer money to Russia. Although our colleagues continue to work in a very difficult climate, we are hopeful that we will be able to continue our funding. You can be assured that every care is taken with your donations.