Theraplay helps Lida and Liza to bond

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.

Physical Rehabilitation goes from strength to strength

St Gregory’s has worked with Ekaterina Klochkova to improve the care of disabled children since our beginnings as a charity. In recent months, Physical Rehabilitation, the charity she founded in St Petersburg, has developed significantly, allowing them to serve more families.

Continue reading Physical Rehabilitation goes from strength to strength

New fitness app for physically disabled

Keeping active is vital for children with physical disabilities, but it can be hard to do. This is why, our colleagues at Physical Rehabilitation in St Petersburg developed Move4Fit. The first fitness application for children with motor disabilities.

Surprisingly, until now, such fitness apps for children with cerebral palsy and other physical disabilties have simply not existed. The app allows families to draw up fitness plans and set goals. The regular workouts develop their motor skills, increase confidence, and are fun.

Move4Fit won first prize in the Inclusion category of the prestigious Social Idea competition2021 organised by Russian mobile operator MTS. All the exercises and methodology behind the app were developed within the SGF-funded A-Tech project. Your support for the project is now furthering innovation as well.

Outreach to care-leavers in troubled suburb

Family in Lensovietsky

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.

Continue reading Outreach to care-leavers in troubled suburb

HRH Prince Michael visits charity for orphanage-leavers in St Petersburg

HRH Prince Michael meets staff at the Sunflower centre

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.

Continue reading HRH Prince Michael visits charity for orphanage-leavers in St Petersburg

Supporting Masha through tragedy

Seraphim and Masha met at their children’s home. They married and Masha got pregnant. Seraphim has been involved with our programme for orphanage-leavers for some time. He brought Masha and their son, Tolya, to the group when Tolya was three months. Seraphim was such a proud dad, always showing photos of his son. He even put up their New Year tree in November, he was so excited. So it was a great shock when Seraphim died later that month.

How Masha and Tolya would be faring now without Sunflower’s support doesn’t bear thinking about. When Masha joined the parenting group she was struggling to bond with her baby. She found physical contact, or even eye contact difficult. Tolya responded by crying when he was touched, which dented her confidence further. She would say, “He doesn’t love me. He won’t look at me.

In the months before Seraphim’s death, Masha and Tolya had been making great progress. Sunflower used play therapy to encourage more contact between mother and baby. Each week showed Masha how to play simple games which encourage eye contact, physical touching and chatting. Gradually their bond grew with Masha holding Tolya closer and interacting much more. She started to relax, obviously enjoying their growing closeness. Tolya in return became less tense and more interested in the world around him. When he first came to Sunflower he had been stiff, almost like a doll. Now he could hold his head up and look around him. He no longer cried when he was held or touched.

Masha plays with Tolya in a Theraplay session.

During this time, Masha also built trusting relationships with Sunflower’s team. So after Seraphim’s death, Sunflower have been able to regularly visit her at home to support her through this traumatic time. They are happy that Tolya is receiving the care that he needs, and are committed to working with the family for as long as they are needed.

Thank you to all our donors who help this programme survive. We know there are many more orphanage-leavers out there having to cope with difficult life events without the backup of family or an organisation like Sunflower. Having seen how the right help can transform lives, we are working to reach more of them. This is through Sunflower’s support groups and their training for professionals working with families in crisis in St Petersburg and beyond.

Life changed in so many ways for this orphanage-leaver.

LenaLena 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.

Preventing abuse on Women’s Day and through the year

VeraWomen who grew up in children’s homes are very vulnerable to all kinds of domestic abuse and exploitation.  Our partners at Sunflower work a great deal on what a healthy, trusting relationship looks like.  They also support any of the young women in their group who find themselves in relationships that worry them.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we are proud to share Vera’s story with you.  She has shown great strength in recognising she was being treated badly and in standing up for herself.  Thanks to you, Sunflower has been able to support her as she makes sense of what happened to her.

“Vera moved out of her children’s home into a flat this September, but she has been a member of our project for 3 years.  We helped her prepare for the big move, and we knew that she was anxious about going it alone.  At first it seemed as if all was going well.  Vera furnished her flat, found out how to pay her bills, and was enjoying inviting her friends over to her new place.

After a while, Vera admitted to us that she wasn’t living alone.  She was living with her boyfriend, who had helped her choose her furniture and doing minor repairs to the flat etc.  It was very important to her that she had someone she could rely on.

It wasn’t long before Vera told the support group that she and her boyfriend argued from time to time.  Apparently he said that she “spent too much time with her friends and should only see him.”  After one of their arguments, he shouted at her and made a swing at her.  Vera immediately broke it off with him and asked him to leave the flat.  Before he left he broke her phone, stole anything of value as “payment” for the repairs he had done, and cut up her bank cards.

Vera was frightened and didn’t know what to do, so she turned again to us.  With our detailed instructions, she was able to report the theft to the police.  She still felt humiliated and confused, but has been working through those feelings in individual counselling and group support sessions.  Now she can value the positive relationships she has managed to build with friends, but will also be more careful about who she lets into her life.

“I don’t think I would ever be able to trust another guy if I hadn’t had this support.  Now I realise that everyone isn’t like him, but I will be more careful about who I choose.””

The young people that Sunflower supports all grew up in orphanages.  They learn to value themselves and to recognise their emotional needs.  They always have someone to turn to who will help them see situations objectively and they are able to build genuinely supportive relationships with their peers through our support groups.  By supporting these groups you are helping break the cycle of domestic abuse.

Roma’s first home post-orphanage

Orphanage-leaver Roma smiling as he goes into his new flatSunflower, our partners in St Petersburg, help orphanage-leavers adjust to independent living.  Much of their work is done through support groups, but an individual home visit can work wonders when there is a particular crisis.  By donating to St Gregory’s you make this service happen.

One young man who desperately needed a home visit is Roma. He grew up in an institution for deaf children and he’s now studying at college. When he lived in an institution he was quite confident. It was only when he left that he began to be afraid.

Roma was given a flat, but it was a long way from the part of the city that he knew, and even after he was given the right to live there he continued living in a hostel.

“I don’t know anything about my flat. After I signed the documents I didn’t even go there. I don’t know how to get there and I can’t remember if it still needs work doing on it. I went to the flat once with a teacher from our children’s home by car, had a look and I can’t remember anything about it. I just have a bit of paper with an address and the keys.”

Like all the others, Roma is very scared of somehow being conned out of his flat by some “dangerous” people, so it is difficult for him to see his new home as secure and stable.

With Sunflower’s social teacher, Roma worked out a convenient route from home using his travel pass. They visited his new flat. They got to know the surrounding area and found out where the doctors’ surgery, the post office and other local services are. They worked out what furniture he would need, made a budget and together made a few purchases, teaching Roma how to do this independently in future. Lastly, the social teacher connected Roma with some local organisations that can help people with his disability, and helped him explore how he could spend his leisure time.

Seeing the smile on Roma’s face visiting his new flat makes it all worth while. Hopefully, he will also be able to join in the group activities and continue to grow in confidence and problem-solving ability.

It costs just £7 to make a home visit to someone like Roma, but you can see what a huge difference it can make to someone’s life.

Kindergartens equipped to look after disabled children

Kindergarten pupilFor most children in Russia, kindergarten is the first step in a their education and the first experience of a life outside the family.  This is a stage that many disabled children miss out on because mainstream kindergartens aren’t equipped to look after them.  There just aren’t enough places in mainstream or special provision.

This term we hope that more children with special needs will have a more positive start in kindergartens, and that the staff will feel more confident meeting their needs.  Our partner organisation, Physical Rehabilitation, in St Petersburg has been running a programme particularly aimed at training kindergarten staff Continue reading Kindergartens equipped to look after disabled children