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.
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.
They worked out the menus and the budget for a significant part of the trip. During the hike, the most challenging part was navigating the route and identifying suitable places to camp. Some of these experiences caused stress and anxiety, but the staff were there to help the young people cope with their difficulties. Over this short time, the young people grew more confident and resilient. This will be particularly useful for the three who are preparing to leave the programme, having worked with Sunflower for a few years. At the end of the hike, one of the young people said, “Now I can understand what my aims are for the summer more clearly, and I’m confident that I can reach them.
Alongside the walking and camping, the young people also had exercises to help them reflect. One interesting game was to find objects in their surroundings that expressed their personality. Their answers give us quite an insight. One likened themself to a little ant carrying a heavy load, another to a hare, which is scared all the time, but carries on. Kostya said, “I am like a path. Everyone walks on me, but I am solid and unchanging.”
Summing up at the end, one of the group said, “I was beginning to realise, but now I understand properly that I have to look after myself. Before I looked after the cat and my friends better than myself.” Sunflower will help the group transfer this learning into their ordinary every day lives back in St Petersburg. It should give them a great step forward as they become more independent and resilient.
Our partner organisation, Sunflower, supports young people who grew up in children’s homes. For many, the support group is the best way of supporting them. For some with complex needs, a period of individual support, either on its own or alongside the group, is more appropriate. This individual help can be in the form of counselling or helping to resolve practical issues.
Vadim is 19 years old and is one of those being supported individually, as well as being part of the group. Sunflower have worked with Vadim for about a year and a half. During that time he has moved into his own flat, left to him by his parents.
Our colleagues are working on a whole range of issues with Vadim. Firstly, they are helping him understand which documents he needs and why. They are helping him go through a medical commission so that he doesn’t lose his disabled status. In parallel, they are working with Vadim to help him understand and accept his special needs.
Again, on a practical front, our colleagues are working out with him what maintenance work is needed on his flat and how he can make it comfortable.
Most urgently, because of his special needs, Vadim finds it difficult to build safe and trusting relationships. He has often been taken advantage of by so-called “friends”. He is the first to admit that he can’t say “no” to them. “I am afraid they will kill me if I don’t give them money.” After the last incident, our colleagues helped Vadim understand how he could avoid this kind of situation, and where he can turn for help if he feels threatened.
For Vadim, the next step is helping him to find a job and adjust to working life. We wish him well.
Emotionally stable parents seem to know naturally how to play with their children. The parents Sunflower supports grew up in children’s homes and they need to learn this essential skill.
Lida’s childhood was marked by multiple traumas: alcoholic parents, time in a children’s home, and several failed adoption placements before she was successfully placed with her present family. She now lives in Lensovietsky, the suburb featured in our last newsletter, where Sunflower has recently set up a support group due to the high number of care-leavers in the area.
Lida was rather passive and would just say, “you see, she doesn’t listen to me”. The Theraplay method involves repeating the same simple games. This means that it is easy for the child to learn the rules and for the parents to concentrate on their child. Sunflower had a breakthrough when Liza’s dad also started coming to sessions. He too grew up in a children’s home and came from a family of alcoholics. He is rather jealous of Lida’s relationship with her adoptive family, and this makes it difficult for her to get support from them. This puts a strain on her relationship with Liza’s dad.
Theraplay has helped bring the three of them closer together. Lida values the sessions now and is keen not to miss them. She chats to her daughter and gives her cuddles. In return, Liza will ask her mama for help and also does what she is told more often. It’s obvious that Liza really likes playing with her mama and papa now. She particularly likes being swung in a blanket.
Sunflower continues to work despite the very difficult climate. With foreign funding from many quarters disappearing and local funding also drying up many local charities have had to cut services. Sunflower continues to support 21 families in crisis, including 30 children.
Lensovietsky is a new suburb of St Petersburg, which has become a “settlement of orphanage-leavers”. Its crime-rate and anti-social behaviour make it notorious. There is loud music, conflicts, fights, etc round the clock. Police raids and visits by social services have become the norm district. Understandable, orphanage-leavers are not popular with other residents. Quite apart from their antisocial lifestyle, they have run up debts for heating and water supply, and residents have complained about the disconnection of such necessary services. The infrastructure – medical, educational, social institutions – in the residential district is still underdeveloped. For leavers, this has become one of the main obstacles to their integration into society.
This is the context for a new class our partners, Sunflower, have set up this year for families in crisis with children under 5.
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.
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
Christmas cards and gifts for charity
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.