SGF supporters visit Mkurnali, Georgia

Our recent fundraising trip to Georgia was an eye-opener for St Gregory’s supporters. Not only did we enjoy the famous Georgian hospitality with our Mkurnali partners, but we also were given the full tour of the shelter we sponsor, including a jewellery-making workshop. This shelter gives a home to young people who faced homelessness or experienced the criminal justice system. Here they also find a pathway to a vocation and an entirely new life.

The shelter provides a variety of workshops, including jewellery-making, car and printer repair and more. We also viewed the newly renovated loft completed by Nino Chubabria and her team, designed to house more families and youths. The immediate goal is to furnish two rooms, with a local donor already contributing a sofa and a toddler bed. Future plans might involve purchasing a garage near the shelter to start an income-generating venture like bicycle repair, offering valuable apprenticeship opportunities. The late George Guest, one of our main supporters of Mkurnali, was passionate about developing Mkurnali’s infrastructure, and his legacy continues to support these efforts.

Currently, Mkurnali is home to approximately 15 young people and two families. Four children, between one to ten years old, live there with their parents. Our group congratulated Christina, who has become Georgia’s official athletics champion and was recently featured on a TV programme, the Georgian equivalent of Little Big Shots.

Progress for Gordei

7 year-old Gordei has been making great progress with his communication book thanks to the skilled professionals at Communication Space.

St Gregory’s works in partnership with Communication Space to introduce alternative technology to Russia to benefit people with disabilities. Gordei is one of the children who has recevied bespoke teaching, opening up new ways of communicating.

Gordei has cerebral palsy, which affects his ability to speak. fortunately, his parents found Communication Space, and he is now learning how to use PECS – a language of visual symbols contained in his communication book.

Until recently, Gordei would only use one symbol at a time. He would rely on the person he was “talking” to being able to guess what he meant. The therapists at Communication Space have made some simple adjustments to the way the symbols are arranged in his book, and now he is putting two or even three symbols together in phrases. Recently, in answer to the question, “How are you?”, Gordei answered “bad” and then himself found the symbol for “cold”. It is already becoming easier for those around him to understand Gordei. The solutions may seem simple, but it takes skill, empathy and patience to make this kind of breakthrough. We are so glad our colleagues are helping train others so that many more children like Gordei can express themselves.

May newsletter out now

Our May newsletter is out now, including a round up of our news from Moldova, Georgia and Russia. You will see how your donations are being used to support Luisa, who found herself homeless in Tbilisi, and Vika in St Petersburg, whose mother died. We report on our colleagues who are teaching others how to adapt books for people with a range of disabilities, and providing the only therapy available for children with special needs in Călărași, Moldova.

An urgent problem we have this year is helping Sunflower recover from a fire at their summer camp base. This was caused last year by a fault at a local substation. Sunflower have managed to get the lights back on, and have also fundraised locally to replace damaged kitchen equipment. What they now need help with is transport both for their new equipment and for their volunteers, and food to sustain the volunteers as they make the site ready for this year’s camp.

Check out our appeal page if you would like to help.

Vika’s story

In some ways, Vika is not typical of the young people that Sunflower help. She is actually an orphan – her mother died when she was 16 – and she is living in an institution until the paperwork is completed on the flat she is entitled to.

The majority of the young people in these institutions are there because their parents were not capable of looking after them. Sunflower has also recently started accepting young people who have grown up in foster care or an adoptive family onto its programme. What they all have in common is an experience of trauma. They are all alone in the world, without family to guide or support them.

Vika explains something of what life has been like:

“I have lived all my life in St Petersburg. Me and Ilya are twins. I ended up in a children’s home after the authorities turned up at home. We had a lot to deal with in our life, we were hiding from the pandemic, there wasn’t any money then, we often moved around, we lived in Krasnogorodsk near Pskov, where Mama got ill and died. Then Dad (she calls her step-father dad) started drinking. It was scary. It was a good thing that we ended up in a children’s home, there we get all our benefits, and they’ve even shown us a flat in our own district. That’s some kind of luck.”

Vika is carrying a lot of responsibility. She worries very much about her brother, who she says is depressed. She can’t imagine life without him. She finds it difficult and frightening to think about the future.

Vika is really benefiting from Sunflower’s individual counselling. It doesn’t just allow her to get things off her chest, but to put the events of her life in order and to think about them clearly and calmly. She also goes to the group meetings once a month.

News from Mkurnali’s shelter

We are very much looking forward to meeting Mkurnali’s residents during the supporters’ trip to Tbilisi this summer. We will meet some longstanding members of the commuity, like Jemal (once a beneficiary and now Nino’s right hand man). We will also meet some new residents, like Luisa, whose story we tell today.

Luisa is an Azerbaijani Kurd and she came to Georgia with her mother and her brothers and sisters when she was a child. The family earned their living by begging and petty theft, but Luisa ran away. She appealed for help so she could study and lead a normal life. First she lived in an orphanage and then in foster care in a town some 200km from Tbilisi.

Continue reading News from Mkurnali’s shelter

A visit to The Wish Centre

The journey from Chişinău to Călărași was just over an hour to The Wish Centre for disabled and autistic children and youths. This centre is a beacon for many local families who are raising children with special needs. Currently it is the only place in the region they can turn to for help and guidance.

Eugenia, who is just over 30, saw her life take a dramatic turn a decade ago when her sister lost her parental rights, and Eugenia found herself looking after her niece Ana, a baby with Down syndrome.

Continue reading A visit to The Wish Centre

Retirement of SGF director and Acting Treasurer

Vivian Wright, our longstanding Director and Acting Treasurer, will be retiring at the Annual General Meeting on September 16th. Her invaluable support has been crucial for our charity’s operations and our ongoing commitment to assisting hundreds of children and families from Georgia, Russia, Moldova, and Ukraine. We extend our heartfelt wishes for a joyful retirement to Vivian and remain very grateful for her unwavering dedication and assistance to SGF.

As we navigate this period of transition, we are in search of a new volunteer Director. If you know someone who would be a perfect fit, or if you are interested in taking on the role yourself, please refer to the vacancy details here.

Making books accessible

If you have young children in your life, you have probably come across the “That’s not my” series of tactile books. The chances are you won’t have seen them in this format.

This spring, our colleagues at Communication Space have been leading workshops on how to adapt books for those with multiple disabilities. The changes may be as simple as making pages easier to turn, or they might involve translating text into the PECS language of symbols used by some non-verbal people. As ever, the adaptations are simple, achievable and tailored to the specific needs of each person.

28 professionals and parents took part in the course and between them they made more than 50 adapted books.

The family we can’t help right now

In the last couple of months our partners at The Wish in Moldova have been supporting 18 disabled children.  Each one of them has a personalised care plan and has benefitted from speech therapy, ocupational therapy and specialist education to help them develop their thinking skills.  Two thirds of the families come from rural areas.  These areas are already poor, but having a disabled child usually makes it impossible for both parents to work.  When a child isn’t able to go to school someone has to look after them.  Those who live in the countryside also find it harder to access all kinds of services.  Where possible, The Wish provides free transport.  Very sadly, they can no longer offer this to everyone who needs it, which means some families are missing out.

Continue reading The family we can’t help right now

The fight to allow Liviu to attend kindergarten

When Liviu was a baby he was very agitated.  At a very early age, his parents noticed that he wasn’t starting to babble like other babies.  As a toddler, he didn’t respond to his own name and seemed to be in his own little world.  He would often have melt-downs.  After some time, Liviu was diagnised with autism, a diagnosis which scared his mother.

picture of Liviu working on an activity

Now Liviu is nearly five and he has been attending The Wish centre for a year.  He has benefitted from speech therapy, occupational therapy, a psychologist and ABA therapy.  At first he found it difficult to join in, but little by little he became comfortable with the staff.  He stopped crying and started to be interested in the activities and to react to his name.

Continue reading The fight to allow Liviu to attend kindergarten