News

Summer newsletter – out now

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Our newsletter is out now with stories from Moscow, St Petersburg, Kondopoga and Tbilisi. To celebrate our 30th anniversary we look back and appreciate how far we’ve come. We take stock of the extraordinary present day and look ahead to future plans. Dive in, and join our efforts to create a brighter future for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our regions.

The Olympic spirit comes to St Petersburg

Children taking part in the sports day.

Recently, our colleagues in St Petersburg held a wonderful sports day for children with complex disabilities.  Everyone was able to take part, whether they were standing on their head, or bashing the punchbag.  The physios running the day were using a framework set up by the Special Olympics, which allows everyone to learn new skills and enjoy sport, even if they find it difficult to compete in a specific sport.

Life at Mkurnali’s homeless shelter – Tbilisi

Planting potatoes at Mkurnali

The pandemic noticeably worsened the working conditions in Georgia, as it did in the whole world. The majority of companies started working from home and now they don’t use many printers – we lost a lot of orders for fixing or changing cartridges. Our other small business – a car repair shop – continues to work, but only with a limited capacity: the prices of fuel have drastically increased and there-fore people are driving less. Many young people lost their jobs. Regular work remained only for those who worked at grocery stores and supermarkets and perhaps as street cleaners.

Continue reading Life at Mkurnali’s homeless shelter – Tbilisi

Kondopoga responds to the pandemic

Last year after the schools in Kondopoga were closed due to quarantine, and the curriculum was supplemented with online teaching. No children from poor families could join as they did not have access to computers or internet. This made studying very hard for them. The Parish stepped in to help these children in their education and with St Gregory’s support they bought two laptops and hosted online classes which children could attend at the Parish House.

Continue reading Kondopoga responds to the pandemic

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.

Acquitted for New Year

Tbilisi courthouse

In 2020 Mkurnali defended 37 cases.  Twelve of these young people, who faced probable conviction were found completely innocent thanks to our lawyer’s intervention.  Twelve received a suspended sentence, and the others were all given much-reduced sentences.  We have the story of one of these cases for you today. 

Mamuka has served a sentence for theft before, but since his release he has changed dramatically.  He has married, had a child, trained as a heating installer and worked very hard.  One day, when he was shopping at his usual grocery store he was arrested again for theft.  Had Mkurnli not been able to confirm his alibi, he would now be facing four years in prison for something he did not do.

Continue reading Acquitted for New Year

Reports from our virtual AGM

St Gregory’s first ever virtual AGM was held on Tuesday 1st December. It was good to see members join us from round the UK, an advantage of being online. It was fantastic to be joined by Anastasia Ryazanova, director of Communication Space, our partner organisation in Moscow that works with young people on the autistic spectrum and others with communication difficulties. She was able to give us a real flavour of the wonderful work they are doing to introduce Alternative and Augmentative Communication methods to Russia.

If you missed our meeting, you may be interested to read our Executive Secretary, Julia Ashmore’s, presentation. She gives a good round up of what we have achieved this year, and where we are heading. Do feel free to get in touch with any questions.

Orphanage-leavers: survivors not victims

We aren’t helping victims, we are helping survivors of childhood trauma. Our colleagues in St Petersburg work to bring out the strengths of the orphanage-leavers they support. With time, many of the young people go on to become mentors, formally and informally supporting other young people. Just watch this video if you doubt how extraordinary these young people can be when they are given the chance.

This Christmas we are all hoping that 2021 will be better than 2020. Our Christmas appeal is aimed at making sure that is true for the most vulnerable as well, and particularly the orphanage-leavers.