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.
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.
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.
We put families at the heart of all we do, working as a team with parents to improve their children’s life chances. This gives us a fantastic resource, as this example from our Club for hearing impaired toddlers in St Petersburg, Russia shows.
The St Gregory’s winter newsletter is out now with stories from our partners in Russia and Georgia. With Covid cases rising across the region this autumn and winter, you can find out how our colleagues are adapting to continue serving their communities. We have much to learn from their creative problem solving.
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.
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.
It all started when Demetre’s pregnant wife got toothache one evening during the Covid curfew (from 9pm to 6am at the time). They rang the doctor and discovered that she needed a painkiller that they didn’t have at home. Demetre popped out to the pharmacy.
On his way home, Demetre saw police. He hid between two parked cars. The owner was on a nearby balcony, thought Demetre was trying to rob his car and started shouting. Demetre panicked and ran away. The police caught him and tried to arrest him.
Usually, with our help, the Orthodox parish in Kondopoga, Karelia provides lunch and a range of activities to deprived local children – all based at their welcoming hub at Parish House. This year, group activities weren’t possible, but with unemployment rising the parish knew that the need was greater than ever.
The last few months have seen our work transform itself. Our colleagues have adapted and have proven remarkably creative as they have responded to the challenges of lockdown. In some cases their workload has doubled as they continue to support families who have been hit hard financially, practically and emotionally.
Our summer newsletter chronicles this extraordinary time, shows how your donations continue to work wonders, and pays tribute to our colleagues, and to those who have continued to fundraise for us through it all.
St Gregory’s has a long-standing partnership with Mkurnali, a charity that helps homeless young people in Tbilisi, Georgia. Nino Chubabria, Mkurnali’s director tells a story of an extraordinary coincidence which allowed the charity to save a young man.
“Not long ago, one of our residents saw a news report about a lad who tried to commit suicide. He had lost his job, and with no income, he had also been evicted. Vano recognised the young man because they grew up together in an orphanage, and he asked me to help him. When I watched the story, I also recognised the young man. He had been arrested about ten years ago for stealing toy binoculars. He was then a child living on the streets of Batumi and Tbilisi, and he survived by begging and stealing.
We got involved and saved him from prison on condition that we took responsibility for him. He came and lived in our shelter for two years. After that he started working and living independently, until he lost his job because of Corona virus. After seeing the story, Jemal found him and brought him back. He now lives at our shelter again, and will stay here until he can start work again.”