Our partners, Communication Space Centre in Moscow, support children and young people who do not communicate verbally. We support their Alternative Technology programme, using hi- and low-tech means to make communication possible. We are delighted that they have been able to move to bigger and better premises recently.
Sasha is one of thirty children and teenagers that Communciation Space help with regular one-to-one and group activities funded by St Gregory’s Foundation. Sasha is 14. Like all Communication Space’s young people he does not communicate verbally. He also has learning, emotional and behavioural problems. In just six months, Communication Space have helped him make great progress.
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.
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.
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.
Recently Kondopoga parish took a small group of children to the local music and drama theatre in Petrozavodsk. For the majority it was their very first visit to the theatre which became a wonderful discovery and brought a lot of excitement. The Parish uses every opportunity to broaden children’s cultural horizons and to teach them about the local history of Karelia.
All the children were from poor families and would otherwise not get the chance to travel beyond their small, provincial town.
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.
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.
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
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.
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