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.
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
St Gregory’s Foundation works with a remarkable charity, called Mkurnali, in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia. Mkurnali provides sheleter, vocational training and employment, and a legal service to homeless young people in their city.
Nino, Mkurnali’s director, met Fedya and his brother Artur in 2002. They were sleeping near Dighomi market along with other “street children”. He was always cheerful and friendly despite all the difficulties. After the death of his father, Fedya, his mother and brother were thrown out of the house by their uncle and had no other place to go. They had to live on the street and sleep in cellars or wherever they could find a shelter.
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.
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.